Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Friday that a “Team Canada” approach to the COVID-19 crisis doesn’t mean the Liberal government’s response to the pandemic should be free from criticism.
“Taking a Team Canada approach does not mean no tough questions or oversight. In fact, the opposite is true,” Scheer said, while promising to put forward “constructive solutions” and “call out mistakes” that need to be corrected.
Scheer said the opposition has concerns about some of the measures the government has announced to this point, citing the possibility that the wage subsidy for businesses will take too long to arrive and won’t be large enough.
The Saskatchewan MP said the federal government should release internal projections on just how long the COVID-19 pandemic could last and how deadly the virus could be.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his health officials released figures Friday that suggest between 3,000 and 15,000 Ontarians will die from COVID-19 even with aggressive public health measures. The number of deaths could have been closer to 100,000 if the province took no action, provincial public health officials said.
Other countries, including the U.S., have offered models stating how many people they predict will be hospitalized and how many will die from a pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 150 Canadians while infecting thousands more.
“Mr. Trudeau should be open and transparent with Canadians,” Scheer said, adding there should be regular, weekly updates on Canada’s ability to fight the pandemic with hard data on the number of hospital beds available, how many medical professionals are ready to work and how many gloves and ventilators are on hand.
“Do we have enough supplies for the various scenarios that the government has modelled?” Scheer asked. “Mr. Trudeau says his government is being guided by the evidence. So it’s time to release that evidence.”
The models that have been circulated in other countries are inherently imprecise, given the fast-changing and unpredictable nature of COVID-19. But they have informed policy makers on how best to combat the virus.
U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to continue a partial nationwide shutdown until the end of April after health officials showed him modelling that suggested as many as 200,000 people will die even with strict social distancing measures in place.
The data also prompted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, to finally issue a stay-at-home order Tuesday. The caseload in that state has jumped sharply in recent days.
When asked Friday why Ottawa hasn’t yet released its modelling on how long and how deadly the pandemic could be, the prime minister said the data aren’t ready yet.
“We need to make sure that the projections that we will be releasing are based on the most accurate, most deepest, most properly collated information out there,” Trudeau said.
“We are working with the provinces to be able to build a robust model to give the projections that people want to see.”
Refund GST remittances: Scheer
Scheer also pitched policy proposals Friday that he says would help businesses endure the economic disruption, including a refund of all GST remittances they’ve paid to Ottawa over the last six months.
He says it’s an easy solution to implement and one that would flow money right away to businesses facing a cash crunch.
The Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy, the government’s plan to rebate wages up to 75 per cent, could take up to six weeks to implement.
Scheer said some businesses will fold before they can get that subsidy from the Canada Revenue Agency.
Watch: Scheer proposes no tax hikes and a virtual Commons to hold government to account
He also said Parliament should start to regularly meet by video conference so the opposition can challenge the government while maintaining social distancing.
He said reconvening Parliament more frequently would avoid a repeat of what he calls the Liberal “power grab” — proposed provisions added to the the federal COVID-19 aid bill that would have given cabinet extraordinary powers to borrow and spend without parliamentary approval. The government ultimately amended the tax-and-spend powers it sought after pushback from the opposition parties.
“We would like to see more parliamentary accountability. We believe it helps the government make better decisions. We need to get this right on behalf of all Canadians. As a country, we have to get this right,” Scheer said.
“Where there are gaps, where there are shortcomings, we need to identify those as quickly as possible and propose the solutions to fix them as well.”
Scheer renewed his call for Ottawa to cancel the carbon tax, a frequent political target for the Opposition Conservatives. He said the tax is an “added cost and barrier to investment” in the beleaguered oil patch and it makes “life less affordable for all Canadians.”
When asked about the prospect of scrapping the carbon tax increase that took effect on April 1, Trudeau said the carbon tax is rebated to most families at tax time. He said the fight against climate change continues during a pandemic.
“That is something we are going to continue to do because we know that we need to do things to make sure that we’re both supporting families through ordinary times and through difficult times and moving forward on continuing the fight against climate change, which remains even at a time of immediate crisis and pandemic,” Trudeau said Monday.
The price of oil has tanked in recent weeks due to the pandemic’s economic disruptions and a decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the cartel that controls a substantial part of the world’s oil supply, to sell more oil when demand is low.
The decision has pushed North American oil prices to levels not seen in decades, threatening the viability of some firms.
Prices at the pump have also dropped substantially.