Trudeau says more aid coming as social distancing measures could last months

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the $82-billion financial package announced to offset the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is just “a very first step” as health-care officials warn social distancing could last months.

A smaller-than-normal number of MPs will be called back on Tuesday at noon to adopt emergency measures announced earlier this week by the federal government that are intended to offset the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate will be called back Wednesday to pass the bill. Royal Assent is expected the same day, Radio-Canada has learned.

The package includes $27 billion in direct supports and another $55 billion to help business liquidity through tax deferrals.

“These are only a very first step,” said Trudeau from outside his home in Ottawa, where he’s been giving daily updates from self-isolation after his wife tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a press conference on COVID-19 at Rideau Cottage, his residence on the grounds of Rideau Hall in Ottawa, on Saturday, March 21, 2020. The Business Council of Canada says Trudeau could be doing more to help stop the spread of COVID-19. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

“We are looking now at what those next steps are to ensure that our economy is able to pick up again once we’re through this, whether it take weeks or months. It is likely to take months before we’re fully through this.”

To respect social distancing guidelines, a limited number of MPs will be present in the chamber.  

Just over 30 MPs are expected to sit, including 14-15 Liberals, 11 Conservatives, three members of the Bloc Québécois, three New Democrats and one member of the Green Party.

Scheer supportive of measures 

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his party supports getting money out to Canadians.

“We’re supportive of the government, of the House coming back very quickly and passing these measures quickly,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

“We believe that there needs to be more done. We have been calling on the government to do more for workers who are affected by retail stores and restaurants ordered to close as well as for those small businesses themselves.”

Scheer said he’s asked the government to refund the GST collected during the last six months, plus increase wage subsidies to keep people employed during these uncertain times.

“Relief should be targeted and last for as long as needed,” he said

WATCH: Canadians can expect social distancing to last months, health minister says

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is sending a warning to Canadians ignoring social distancing measures, saying it jeopardizes civil liberties and puts lives at risk. She anticipates these measures will last months, stressing ‘now is not the time to take your foot off the social distancing measures.’ 2:25

Health Minister Patty Hajdu gave a stern warning to Canadians defying self-isolation orders on Saturday, saying that a failure to follow public health guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 could “put our civil liberties in jeopardy.”

Trudeau said stronger federal measures are on the table under the Emergencies Act, but for now Ottawa is working with the provinces who are restricting movement on their own.

Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency Sunday morning, limiting gatherings to no more than five people.

Premier Stephen McNeil ​​​​​​said he made the decision after people flagrantly ignored public health officials’ calls for social distancing.

Police in that province can now issue summary offence tickets for people who are not adhering to orders related to self-isolation and social distancing.

Trudeau said WestJet will run more than 30 flights from Monday to Wednesday to get Canadians stuck abroad home.

On Saturday Trudeau said the government is doing all it can to help bring home Canadians who are stranded abroad due to COVID-19 travel clampdowns, but conceded it won’t be able to help everyone.

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