Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $1.5 billion in further support for provinces on Friday as coronavirus cases surge across the country – though he warned that the federal government’s resources “are not infinite.”
The funds, which will be in addition to the $3.4 billion that has already been announced, will be invested through the Workforce Development Agreements with provinces and territories and come on the heel of urging from the prime minister for the provinces to act now to stop the rapid spread of the virus through their communities before it gets out of control.
“This new investment will ensure quick access to training so that workers in sectors hardest hit by COVID-19 – as well as underrepresented groups like persons with disabilities, women and Indigenous Peoples – can find and keep good jobs,” Trudeau said, speaking to reporters on Friday.
In addition to the fresh funds, the prime minister announced that the federal government is going to ramp up supports in some long-term care homes.
Trudeau said Friday that the federal government has approved Manitoba’s request for support in its long-term care facilities and will provide boots on the ground until Jan. 15, 2021. He said the government also plans to extend the Red Cross presence in Quebec long-term care homes until mid-January.
The announcements come as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the country, with Ontario breaking daily case count records and multiple provinces, including Manitoba and Alberta, ramping up their restrictions in recent weeks.
“This situation is very worrisome, as it is putting pressure on local healthcare resources,” Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, warned during the Friday press conference.
“If we continue on the current pace, it is estimated that there will be over 10,000 cases daily by early December.”
Trudeau took aim at the provinces on Friday, warning them that a failure to get the case counts under control could force Canada to make “impossible” choices.
“I reassured the premiers that the federal government will always be there to help, but reminded them as well that the resources are not infinite,” Trudeau said, referring to a conference call he held with the premiers Thursday evening.
“Controlling the virus now reduces the impossible choices we might have to make down the road.”
A summary of the call issued by the Prime Minister’s Office says Trudeau asked premiers to “identify their specific needs to protect the health and safety of Canadians and bring the virus under control in their jurisdictions.”
And he assured them the federal government will continue to provide them with assistance and “will do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to keep Canadians safe and supported.”
Federal officials, who spoke to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly, say Trudeau stressed that he’s not trying to tell premiers what to do or cast blame for the alarming surge in COVID-19 cases across the country.
Rather, he wanted to emphasize that the federal government has put in place billions worth of support programs to help individuals and businesses weather lockdowns — and stands ready to pour more money into the effort to get the second wave under control.
Trudeau issued a similar message Tuesday.
“With rising cases of COVID-19 here at home, there’s added pressure on all orders of government to keep people safe, and to protect jobs,” he told a news conference.
“But I would hope that no leader in our country is easing public health vigilance because they feel pressure not to shut down businesses or slow down our economy.
“I’m imploring the premiers and our mayors to please do the right thing: Act now to protect public health. If you think something is missing in the support we’re offering for your citizens, tell us.”
That message did not sit well with all premiers. Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe said it was “extremely unhelpful” for the prime minister to frame the issue as a “false choice” between protecting Canadians’ health and protecting the economy.
Still, officials said Thursday’s conference call was collegial and constructive. The readout added that “all first ministers reiterated their support for the Team Canada approach to fighting COVID-19.”
—With files from The Canadian Press