Speaking Notes for The Honourable Bill Blair Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness: (TBC) House Debate on COVID-19 Legislation

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Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’m pleased to take part in this debate.

And I want to thank all members for coming back to Ottawa, so that we can take immediate and decisive action for Canadians facing hardship as a result of COVID-19.

From Day One, we’ve all been working together in the face of this unprecedented crisis.

We all share the understanding that the health and safety of Canadians is paramount.

And we know that stabilizing the economy with economic measures to help them through this challenging period is a key part of that.

As members know, on March 18th, Prime Minister Trudeau announced a new set of economic measures to do that.

These measures are part of a comprehensive plan, the Government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, providing up to $27 billion in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses.

And this legislation will put many of those measures in play.

It means temporary income support for workers and parents, and for individuals who need it most.

It means longer-term income support for workers.

Flexibility for taxpayers.

Support for Canadian businesses – to help them keep their workers, give them flexibility in filing taxes, and ensure they have access to credit.

And a stabilized economy in these uncertain times.

To be clear, other supports have already taken effect.

That includes $55 billion in flexibility for individual and corporate taxpayers, through tax payment deferral until September.

It includes a credit program for businesses, through Business Development Canada and Export Development Canada, in the range of $10 billion.

And it includes credit and liquidity support through financial crown corporations, the Bank of Canada, CMHC and others.

Mr. Speaker, underlying all of these measures is the fact that our country is able to withstand the economic pressures posed by a pandemic.

One of the key reasons for that is our trade relationship with the United States.

We share the longest undefended border in the world.

It would be difficult to imagine two countries that are more closely linked and allied through economic integration and friendship than Canada and the US. 

We share geography, history, culture and trade. 

Our people are linked by our shared values and by our economies. 

Every day, over $2.7 billion in cross-border trade takes place between Canada and the U.S.

Both Canada and the U.S. recognize how closely our economies are integrated, and how important it is that we work so closely together to maintain the integrity of that border while maintaining trade.

That importance is reflected in the agreement Canada and the U.S. made together, to temporarily restrict all non-essential travel across the border.

The agreement acknowledges that trade must continue during this difficult period.

That’s key, because our supply chains ensure that food, fuel, and life-saving medicines continue to reach people on both sides of the border.

The agreement secures the vital economic supply lines that are essential to maintaining health and safety but also economic recovery.

Mr. Speaker, broadly speaking we have agreed that travellers will no longer be permitted to cross the border between Canada and the U.S. for recreation or tourism.

But essential travel will remain unimpeded.

As I’ve noted, supply lines are essential.

Canadians and Americans cross the border every day to work, for example in hospitals, and other sectors of our economy.

All of those people and goods will not be impacted by the new measures.
And international students, workers with visas, and temporary foreign workers whose work is important to maintaining our country will be allowed to enter Canada.

Canadian and American citizens and permanent residents who are currently visiting each other’s country can still return home.

Mr. Speaker, with every step we have been careful to balance economic considerations with strong health and safety measures.

Those measures have been carefully targeted, informed by science and evidence, and done in full collaboration with all partners and jurisdictions.

Mr. Speaker, our response began with an immediate announcement of $1 billion for public health measures to ensure health and safety, and $50 million to support initial actions, including border and travel measures.

We announced $500 million to provinces and territories for critical health care system needs preparedness and mitigation efforts, understanding that financial considerations should not and will not be an obstacle to hospitals and health systems making the necessary preparations.

We also began by providing $7.1 million to the support the repatriation of Canadians, and $2 million to the World Health Organization to support their efforts to contain the outbreak.

That $2 million was followed by an additional $50 million in international assistance to the WHO and other partners for potential bi-lateral support for developing countries in response to COVID-19.

We are providing Canadians with information on a daily basis – including through a dedicated website and phone line, regular briefings, media advertisements, and social media, among other sources of information.

We are supporting Canadian travellers, through consular assistance, assisted departures, information at airports and screening measures to protect everyone’s health.

We are issuing regular public health guidance to partners, and investing in research.

We are supporting testing and laboratory capacity.

We are ensuring, in concert with provincial and territorial governments, that Canada has the health supplies and surge capacity needed to respond to the pandemic.

And we continue to work very closely with all provinces, territories, Indigenous leaders, municipalities and international partners as events unfold.

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, COVID-19 continues to evolve rapidly, and the Government of Canada is working around the clock to limit its spread and do everything necessary to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

The legislation before us today is absolutely vital to that effort.

We will continue to take important measures based on science, to prioritize the health and safety of Canadians, ensure the capacity of our health care system, support international and domestic efforts, and mitigate the economic impacts on Canadians and Canadian business.

And I encourage all members to join me in supporting this Bill so that we can do just that.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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