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Trudeau addresses fall update but remains mum on vaccine specifics

Tuesday, December 01, 2020 @ 4:25 PM | By Terry Davidson

A day after his government pledged more than $13 billion for its COVID-19 vaccination plan as part of a massive spending package for Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued to shy away from providing details on distribution.  

On Dec. 1, Trudeau used an address to the nation to talk about the Nov. 30 release of the federal government’s long-awaited fall economic update, titled Supporting Canadians and Fighting COVID-19: Fall Economic Statement 2020.

Presented by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, the update details post-COVID-19 spending of between $70 billion and $100 billion over the coming three years — all while staring down the barrel of a $381.6-billion deficit.

The plan includes spending to develop national standards for long-term care homes, a cutting of interest on post-secondary student loans and a tax break that will allow those working from home to claim up to $400 in “modest expenses” on their 2020 taxes.

It will also see $13.6 billion to go towards the development, securing and deployment of “successful” vaccines.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

During his address, Trudeau was asked how he sees the Health Canada approval process unfolding and if Canadians should be prepared to be behind the U.S., which reportedly could see approval from the Food and Drug Administration as early as Dec. 10.

“In this COVID-19 pandemic, keeping Canadians safe means getting a vaccine as quickly as possible, but it also means making sure that that vaccine is safe for Canadians,” said Trudeau. “We will watch carefully what is going on around the world. Our Health Canada regulators are paying close attention. At the same time, they’re currently evaluating the four top vaccines that have come forward right now. We will ensure that all the steps are taken to make sure they’re safe for Canadians, so that when we start rolling them out … they can get that vaccine with confidence.”

Trudeau was asked who will sit where on the vaccine priority list after it is first delivered to vulnerable seniors and frontline health-care workers. He was also asked if the provinces will have a say in that.

“Those are very much conversations that are ongoing right now. Obviously … the priority is to get it out to the most vulnerable Canadians quickly, but we have a panel of top experts and scientists looking [into] these challenging ethical and societal questions of who gets … access first. We talked about it with the provinces last week … and there was a number of perspectives, but there seemed to be a consensus that we should all agree … on what that list looks like and make sure it’s applied fairly right across the country.”

Late last week, Trudeau announced that Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin of the Canadian Armed Forces would head a new national operations centre, which would serve as a command post for vaccine storage and distribution.  

The fiscal plan will also provide just over $329 million in relief to recent post-secondary graduates by eliminating the interest on repayment of the federal portion of Canadian student loans.

According to the plan, the national deficit will balloon to $381.6 billion in 2020-21, but is expected to fall to $121.2 billion in 2021-22 and $50.7 billion in 2022-23 “as the economy recovers and the need for temporary measures wanes.”

When introducing the plan, Freeland called Canada’s response to the health crisis “the largest economic relief package for our country since the Second World War.”

Shortly after Freeland’s speech, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole criticized the government for not providing a solid vaccination plan and took aim at when he called a slow rollout of the government’s wage subsidy — one of the measures put in place to deal with widescale economic shutdowns caused by the pandemic.

“The truth is the Liberals’ economic response has been erratic and confused,” said O’Toole in a statement. “Millions more Canadians were put on the [Canada Emergency Response Benefit] than necessary when their jobs could have been maintained if the Liberals had implemented a wage subsidy earlier. The Canadian economy was already showing serious signs of weakness before the pandemic hit. Ignoring our warnings, the Liberals took pride in running large structural deficits and raising taxes in good economic times. Now, Justin Trudeau is running a historic deficit of almost $400 billion — and still leaving millions of Canadians behind.”

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