OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that the Canada- U.S. border will close to all non-essential travel, and that the federal government is prepared to spend a combined $82 billion on direct financial help and economic stimulus in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Among the “extraordinary” aid measures unveiled: deferring the tax deadline, boosting the Canada Child Benefit, wage subsidies for small businesses, and targeted assistance for vulnerable demographics to help “bridge to better times.”
The prime minister said that all Canadians are, or will feel the consequences of COVID-19, and many are wondering how long the current restrictions are going to last, and how long their savings will last.
Trudeau said the government’s suite of measures are meant to “make sure that no matter where you live, what you do, or who you are, you will get the support you need during this time,”
“In Canada, public health should never hinge on financial considerations,” Trudeau said.
Moments before PM Trudeau began speaking, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the border between Canada and the United States will be "temporarily" closed to tourists and visitors, "by mutual consent."
The major new economic measures that the federal government is taking in response to COVID-19 include $27 billion in direct assistance to workers and families, as well as making $55 billion available in liquidity to businesses to help stabilize the economy.
Speaking from self-isolation for the third time in as many days, the prime minister addressed the nation on the latest moving parts in his government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he remains symptom-free.
Trudeau was followed by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz, who are elaborating on new economic supports aimed at offsetting the wide-ranging impacts of the novel coronavirus outbreak and subsequent shutdowns.
The financial aid package includes ways to see money delivered directly into the hands of Canadians and their families; as well as new help for the country's hardest-hit sectors; and broader economic stimulus measures.
As for what's included in the $27 billion for families, aimed at relieving pressure to make rent and mortgage payments or paying for groceries:
- Temporary boost to the Canada Child Benefit payment by nearly $2 billion;
- Introduce emergency care benefit of up to $900 bi-weekly for 15 weeks for those who have to stay home and don't have paid sick leave like those who can't access EI and are sick, or who are taking care of a child or someone who is sick;
- A $5 billion emergency support benefit through the CRA for support workers who are facing unemployment as well as an additional amount for low-income people through the GST credit;
- Waiving the one-week waiting period for EI sickness benefits for six months and waiving the requirement for a doctor's note to access this assistance;
- Extending the tax filing deadline for individuals to June 1, and allowing taxpayers to defer payment until after August 31;
- Providing eligible small businesses a 10 per cent wage subsidy for the next 90 days, up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer;
- Allowing lenders to defer mortgage payments;
- Plus a host of other targeted supports for vulnerable groups including seniors, the homeless population, implementing a six-month interest free moratorium on student loan payments, Indigenous people and women and children fleeing domestic violence.
As for what’s in the $55 billion being offered to stabilize the economy and boost consumer confidence:
- Allowing all businesses to defer until after August 31, payment of income taxes, interest-free;
- Making additional funds and credit available to businesses of all sizes, including farmers;
- Purchasing up to $50 billion insured mortgage pools to stabilize funding to banks and lenders
This massive package is equal to three per cent of Canada's GDP.
Trudeau, facing questions about the reality of Canada entering a recession, said that Canada has the fiscal room to take these multi-billion dollar actions in order to “ensure that our economy gets back up to speed very quickly.”
Canada-U.S. Border shutdown
It remains unclear precisely when non-essential travel will be restricted across the border.
“In both our countries we’re encouraging people to stay home,” Trudeau said, adding that essential workers will still be able to cross between the two countries.
The border is already closing Wednesday to most non-citizens, and international flights are being rerouted to four airports where enhanced screenings are happening and passengers returning to Canada are being instructed to enter a 14-day self-isolation, to lessen the spread of the global pandemic.
Shipments, trade and commerce will not be affected by the new restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border.
This unprecedented measure is the latest effort from governments attempting to limit the cross-border spread of COVID-19, while considering the ongoing need for workers who cross the border daily, such as truck drivers who are transporting everything from groceries to medical supplies.
Trudeau and his federal cabinet are also deliberating whether to invoke the Emergencies Act, which would grant the federal government sweeping powers to regulate the movement of people and goods within the country during a state of emergency.
As of Wednesday, Trudeau said his government is not closing the door to this measure but it's not the step to take at this point.
Parliament is expected to be recalled imminently to pass whatever legislative measures the government needs to respond to this rapidly evolving health crisis, and Trudeau is committing that the money will flow to Canadians as quickly as possible, despite the pressure of intense demand on federal departments.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and other federal officials will also be providing an update Wednesday afternoon.
Prior to Trudeau's address, there were 599 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada, and more than 200,000 globally.