Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the media before the first day of a Liberal cabinet retreat in Ottawa, Monday September 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Threat of fall federal election eases as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Congeniality emerged as fears of second wave of COVID-19 were heightened after another case increase

The threat of a federal election seemed to be easing as the Liberal government and opposition parties prepared for a return to Parliament amid concerns Canada could already be dealing with a dreaded second wave of the novel coronavirus.

Fears of a COVID-19 resurgence hung over the distinct Old City Hall building down the street from Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Tuesday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers met behind closed doors for a second straight day to plot a path through — and eventually beyond — the pandemic.

Yet politics were also heavy in the air as talk moved to the return of Parliament with a throne speech on Sept. 23 that Trudeau had previously suggested would lay out a bold plan for rebuilding Canada’s economy. The government now says it will largely focus on containing the effect of the illness.

There had been questions in the past few weeks about whether the throne speech would serve as the catalyst for a fall election, as the minority Liberal government would need the support of at least one opposition party to survive a confidence vote in the House of Commons.

There was also speculation the Liberals wanted an election, and were planning to use the throne speech as an excuse for launching a campaign in the hopes of winning a majority government.

Such talk was emboldened by Monday’s election results in New Brunswick, where the Progressive Conservatives under Blaine Higgs went from a minority to a majority government by riding a wave of support for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh appeared to take the wind out of federal election speculation on Tuesday, suggesting his party would hold its nose and give the government a pass on the throne speech and then hold the Liberals to account on the budget or future legislation.

“What they say in the throne speech really doesn’t have that much impact. It doesn’t really matter when it comes down to it because they’ve said a lot of things in the last throne speech that they haven’t followed through on,” Singh said.

“I want to see implementation, perhaps in the budget. The budget bill might be a way for us to really gauge if the government is serious about following through.”

READ MORE: Elections Canada says two-day voting possible amid COVID-19 if election called this fall

Singh added he is scheduled to speak to Trudeau by telephone later this week, in which the NDP leader planned to push the government not to reduce the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Trudeau is also scheduled to speak to Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet and Green party Leader Elizabeth May about the throne speech later this week, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

The theme of congeniality emerged as fears of a second wave of COVID-19 were heightened after another increase in the number of positive cases in Canada. That continues a troubling trend in recent weeks that has hijacked the Liberals’ talk of setting a bold new post-pandemic course for Canada.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu was unable to say Tuesday whether the trend is a temporary blip — or a cause for larger concerns, saying: “It’s hard to speculate because we still have time to actually keep these numbers under control if we all work together as governments and as individuals.

“But listen, we can’t rule that out. We can’t rule out that we could continue to see these numbers rise across the country. And that is the real risk of COVID-19.”

The threat posed by COVID-19 was underscored on Monday when the Bloc Quebecois announced that Blanchet and the rest of his caucus were self-isolating after a staff member tested positive for the illness. The positive test came after an in-person caucus meeting.

Ministers said they were following public health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during their cabinet retreat in Ottawa, which included sitting at several different tables and wearing masks during the closed-door meetings.

Yet the Bloc’s experience also focused attention on the pending return of Parliament next week, including the question of how many members of Parliament would be allowed to sit in the House of Commons and how voting on legislation will be conducted.

This was a source of contention between the Liberals and Conservatives, in particular, in the spring, with disagreements over whether electronic voting should be allowed given a number of technical challenges and questions about how certain parliamentary rules would be applied.

The disagreement was largely unresolved. While the Liberals and NDP used their superior numbers to adopt a hybrid model allowing MPs to attend a special COVID-19 committee in person or remotely, that approach was not extended to the full House of Commons.

Parties instead continued to send a minimum number of MPs to represent the rest of the party for a select number of House of Commons sittings.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez on Tuesday suggested the hybrid model was the only answer to ensure all MPs have their voices heard in the House while remaining safe.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault urged the Conservatives to agree to such a measure.

“We believe that the return of the House should continue on the basis of the hybrid model that we have so that there’s not 338 people packed into a very small room where we could really contaminate each other,” Guilbeault said.

“And I really hope the Conservative party will come around and understand that safety is a very important thing for Canadians.”

The throne speech is expected to include three main priorities: measures needed to protect Canadians’ health and avoid another national lockdown; economic supports needed to help keep Canadians financially afloat while the pandemic continues; and longer-term measures to eventually rebuild the economy.

In particular, it is expected to promise more funding for health care, including long-term care homes, which have borne the brunt of the more than 9,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Canada. It is also expected to promise money for child care so that parents — especially women, hardest hit by the shutdown — can go back to work.

Details on the longer-term recovery measures won’t be revealed until an economic statement later in the fall.

Emergency aid to help Canadians weather the pandemic has already pushed the federal deficit for this year up to an unheard-of $343 billion.

With the government operating on the assumption that the pandemic will continue to plague the globe for at least two more years, unprecedented amounts of red ink seem destined to continue flowing.

Guilbeault defended the spending to date, saying it was used to help Canadians through the pandemic. He said Canada isn’t alone in the world in terms of spending to counter the damage of COVID-19.

“And compared to many of our trading partners, Canada still has a very advantageous fiscal situation,” he said. “Now we do have to be careful, and we will be making decisions, important decisions, in the coming weeks as to what’s our path forward. But these decisions haven’t been made.”

Lee Berthiaume and Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronaviruselectionsfederal election

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Most Read