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COMMENTARY: Trudeau isn’t the ‘decider’ on reopening the economy. And that’s as it should be

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says they’re working on ‘elements’ for provinces to follow in reopening' Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says they’re working on ‘elements’ for provinces to follow in reopening
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlined Friday what he called "elements" that need to be in place for when or if provinces and territories reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. – Apr 24, 2020

While he hasn’t claimed to possess “total authority” when it comes to reopening the economy or to loosening public health restrictions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indeed implied that he’s very much in the driver’s seat on such matters.

On Friday, Trudeau spoke about what he sees as the need for co-ordination at the national level and announced that his government would be working on “guidelines” and “principles” for the provinces to follow in safely transitioning out of our current lockdown measures.

READ MORE: Here’s what reopening a city under coronavirus lockdown would look like, according to one expert

Trudeau has spoken often in recent weeks, as well, about what he envisions as a timeline for starting to return to normal.

The prime minister is certainly entitled to share his views on how Canada is faring in its battle against the virus. Moreover, there is clearly some national interest at stake here, as a province acting recklessly in handling its COVID-19 outbreak could obviously mean repercussions for other parts of the country.

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Ultimately, though, it does not appear as though the prime minister is the final word on the matter — and that’s okay.

With both Saskatchewan and New Brunswick now having laid out their plans for a phased removal of their respective public health restrictions, it’s apparent that provincial governments are the ones in the driver’s seat here. And that’s how it should be.

As much as Trudeau has stressed the need for a national approach to this question — and even Conservative leader Andrew Scheer this week lamented the possibility of a “patchwork” of provincial approaches — it makes sense that provincial governments would be making these decisions.

These are provincially declared public health emergencies that are in effect at the moment and apply to areas of provincial jurisdiction. And while there are some obvious similarities in those restrictions, there are also some key differences in the sorts of measures that the provinces have imposed.

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Moreover, though, the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic varies greatly across the country, so it’s certainly reasonable that provinces make decisions based on their own situations. Why should the situation in Quebec, for example, have any bearing on whether golf courses or dentist offices can open in Saskatchewan?

None of that necessarily erodes our national identity or the idea of confederation. Quite the opposite, in fact — this is very much in keeping with the notion of Canadian federalism. Furthermore, there’s an opportunity for provinces to learn from one another and get a clearer sense of which policies and which approaches make the most sense.

While provincial governments might be the ones in charge when it comes to lifting their own public health restrictions, it in no way makes the federal government irrelevant. As we’ve seen already, the feds have a huge role to play in providing an economic safety net to try and get individuals and businesses through this period.

READ MORE: What will Canadian schools look like after COVID-19? Here’s what could change

The federal government certainly has a role to play in ensuring that we have sufficient quantities of media and personal protection equipment. And clearly Ottawa is in charge when it comes to our borders and those coming and going from our country.

It’s possible that we could have a constitutional showdown of sorts if a province decides it wants to proceed in a manner or at a pace that the federal government deems to be irresponsible or dangerous. But nothing we’ve seen so far would indicate that such a scenario is at all likely.

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Opinion polls have shown that Canadians overwhelmingly support an approach that relies on progress on the public health side, and Canada’s premiers have demonstrated a willingness to be cautious and prudent when it comes to any talk of reopening the economy.

The provinces made the decision about when and how best to implement public health measures. They should also be the ones to decide when and how to lift them.

Rob Breakenridge is the host of ‘Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge’ on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.