Westwind Weekly News
Issues on the current COVID-19 pandemic dominated a recent virtual town hall with the prime minister.
On Dec.2, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland hosted a virtual town hall, where, among other topics, they answered questions about the current pandemic.
One question asked was if they had a date when a potential COVID-19 vaccine would be ready, who would get it first, how they would get it to people as fast a possible and when is the soonest we can get rid of COVID-19. Trudeau noted that when this will be over is a question everyone has been asking.
“We made it through that first wave in the spring, we were so happy to get to the summer. We had a summer that was was a lot flatter in terms of the curve than the spring had been, but now we are in the second wave. We’re looking at a winter where people are tired of COVID, tired of having to go through all these public health restrictions, tired of having to be constantly on our guard for this. We want this to be over,” said Trudeau. “The good news is from earlier this year when nobody knew whether or not a vaccine was even going to be possible for COVID-19, we now know it is possible, because there are a number of leading companies around the world pushing and creating great vaccines by working hard with their scientists and making it happen.”
While a vaccine is on the horizon, Trudeau cautioned the vaccines need to be approved, manufactured and rolled out around the world, so one won’t be available right away.
However, last spring Canada had signed deals with seven different vaccine manufacturers to help secure “more potential doses per Canadian than just about any other country”, because nobody knew which vaccine would be most effective or arrive first. Four potential vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Jannsen are “very advanced and very close to approval”, and Health Canada is working through a rolling approval process so they can distribute them as soon as they arrive in Canada.
As to who gets them first, Trudeau said they turned to experts such as immunologists, doctors and community specialists to determine the best path for that, although it shouldn’t be a surprise they were prioritizing the most vulnerable populations first, such as the elderly, front line workers and remote indigenous communities. However, with 154 million doses of vaccine having been purchased and options of up to 400 million if necessary, they’re hoping that “everyone who wants one is going to be able to get one next year”.
“There are lots of vaccines, they are coming, but we’re going to make sure, that before we give the vaccine to any Canadians, we are certain that it is safe for people, because we only get through this with a vaccine, but we get through this with a safe vaccine.”
Freeland said one thing that is important for Canadians to know is these vaccines will be free.
“We have a national health care system. We take care of each other,” said Freeland. “The coronavirus is a novel virus — that’s why it’s been hard to develop a vaccine and we haven’t know what vaccine would work. But vaccination is not a new thing, and it is something that the Canadian Health Care system knows how to do. Millions and millions of Canadians get vaccinated in their provinces and territories, by their provincial and territorial health care system every year. So we should rest assured that this is something we have a national system to do, and it’s going to work.”
Freeland added she thought “all of us were so impressed by and grateful for” the Canadian Armed Forces when they went into long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario to take care of the residents there in the spring. She is also grateful and reassured by the fact the CAF will be playing a key logistical role in getting the vaccines distributed and delivered across the country, playing a nod to Major-General Dany Fortin logistical experience as the NATO commander in Iraq, noting his role in the distribution should give people “a little more confidence, too”.
When asked — given the faults that were exuberated during the pandemic and the challenges it already had — what the federal government’s plan is for investing in health care for all Canadians, Trudeau noted the country’s health care system was a point of pride for people, although it was not without its challenges. One of the promises the Liberals made during the 2019 election was to ensure everyone could find a family physician or health worker to support them, and they were working on it before the pandemic.
They have been working with provinces and have signed “historic deals” with provinces to increase health care funding over the years, moved forward on investments “in a record way” for things like home care and mental health care.
“COVID has highlighted further gaps and impressed upon us all the need to keep moving forward on supporting our health care system,” said Trudeau, adding he’ll be speaking with the provinces the week of Dec. 7 on the issue.
The federal government had transferred an extra half billion dollars to provinces for their health care systems in March, and done “even more” through investments for the Safe Restart Program and through other investments and partnerships to help support provinces.
Freeland said the federal government has provided tremendous support to provinces and territories in the fight against COVID, and so far this year, their transfers for health care total 23 per cent higher than in previous years.
“And we transferred, just on the COVID health care part of the fight, I’m not talking about things like support for cities, support for child care, all that other stuff we did in the safe restart agreement. But on health alone, we transferred $24 billion to provinces and territories to help in the fight,” said Freeland. “I think COVID has been a wake up call for all of us, about just how much we depend on everyone who works in the health care system. Doctors and nurses, of course, but also the health care workers in our hospitals who do such difficult and essential work, our research scientists, people who work in our labs, that whole network. And I think one of the lessons we have to take from this pandemic is we need to support those workers, we need to be sure that every single one of them has good, solid, safe working conditions and is well supportive.”
When asked if there will be a special exemption or tax credit this year due to costs of purchasing masks, hand santizer and other PPE because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Freeland said they announced late last month they are lifting GST on those items, and are doing a new tax deduction for working from home.
“Not everyone does a job they are able to do remotely, but for people that do have a job that can be done remotely, they have been working from home a lot… and that costs money,” said Freeland. “There is an existing tax reduction for working from home, but to be honest, it is pretty fiddly. So, to make things easier for all of the basementdwelling working Canadians, we have set up, for this year, a very simple, straight $400 tax deduction that you can claim if you have been working from home.”
Another question raised was what the federal government is doing to support seniors, who have been socially isolated due to COVID restrictions, and their mental health, and what role young people can play in supporting these efforts.
Trudeau noted seniors have been going through a tougher year because of the pandemic, and the isolating they had to do has been hard on them, their families and their communities. He praised the efforts of youth, neighbours and communities for reaching out and supporting them.
“As a government, we’ve invested in extra supports for seniors, both directly but also through programs like New Horizons for seniors, where they’ve started doing things like yoga classes for seniors over zoom, and gatherings so people could play bingo over zoom and things like that that actually continue to make people feel that they are connected and part of the community,” said Trudeau. “But there’s no questions that this is a very, very difficult time for a awful lot of Canadians, and it’s not going to get easier as quickly as we’ll like it to.”
Noting it’s going to be a tough winter, he urged people to follow public health advice.
“The more we can reach out, the more we can be there for our seniors as individuals, as community members and as a government, the better off we all are going to be.”
Freeland said the first thing we all could do was think of who the seniors are in our lives and communities that we can reach out to, and do so.