By Lee Berthiaume
The Canadian Press
Ottawa: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will convene his cabinet ministers for two days of closed-door meetings starting Monday as a rising number of new COVID-19 cases threatens to pull the Liberals’ attention from long-term rebuilding to surviving a second wave.
The past several weeks have seen a resurgence in COVID-19 across Canada, with the trendlines increasing after a summer lull, sparking reminders from the country’s top public health officer for Canadians not to let their guards down as colder temperatues come.
“Our challenge now is to guard against the fatigue that can lead us to relax these personal precautions,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement as provinces reported nearly 500 new cases on Sunday.
“At the same time, as we shift more of our activities indoors, we will need to increase our awareness of COVID-19 risk factors in reopened settings.”
It is in this context that the Liberals’ two-day cabinet retreat will be held. Originally focused on building a post-pandemic economy, the meeting will now also have to contend with the immediate challenge of limiting the damage from a second wave.
Underlining that point, ministers are expected to hear presentations from Tam and the co-chairs of two federal task forces: one created to advise the government on measures to support developing a COVID-19 vaccine and the other on COVID-19 immunity.
The retreat comes as Parliament is set to resume with a throne speech on Sept. 23, which Trudeau has promised will outline “a detailed vision for the future and a plan to keep Canadians safe while we rebuild a stronger Canada that works for everyone.”
The speech itself is now expected to focus more on getting through the pandemic than how to rebuild after it’s over, with details on the longer-term recovery measures not revealed until an economic statement later in the fall.
The prime minister last week warned Canadians are “going to have to learn how to continue to live with COVID-19 for many, many more months,” while Tam warned that failing to control its spread could result in another lockdown.
“Another important reason to keep the infection rate low in the community is to prevent spread into these and other public settings that could necessitate targeted restrictions to control transmission where the virus is surging,” she said in her statement.
The government is operating on the assumption that the global fight against the deadly coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will continue for at least two more years, and that rebuilding the economy then will depend on protecting it now.
To that end, insiders, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter, laid out three priorities that will be included in the throne speech.
Those are measures to protect Canadians’ health and avoid another national lockdown; the economic supports needed to keep Canadians financially afloat while the pandemic continues; and longer-term measures to eventually rebuild an economy.
In particular, the Liberals are expected to promise more funding for health care, including long-term care homes, along with affordable housing and child care to help parents, especially women, get back to and stay at work.