Conservatives demand national plan to end COVID-19 restrictions


The federal Conservatives are calling for a national plan to reopen the economy, even as fears rise that some provinces are on the cusp of a third wave of the pandemic.

In a motion before the House of Commons today, the Conservatives demand that the federal government develop and present to Parliament “a clear data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole cited calls from national business organizations for a strategy to get Canadians back to work, and another from one of the country’s largest unions for a plan to reopen borders. He said he agrees with those organizations that it is “unsustainable” to rely on lockdowns while waiting for COVID-19 vaccines to be widely administered.

“The president of the United States and the prime minister of the United Kingdom have both released public plans for economic reopening,” O’Toole told a news conference. “But [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau refuses to give Canadians clarity on whether and when regular and social life will be able to resume, and under what circumstances and conditions.”

In a speech ealier this month, President Joe Biden said he hopes that Americans will be able to gather in small groups to celebrate Independence Day on July 4th if the country’s vaccine rollout continues on pace. In the U.K., the national government has released a phased plan for lifting lockdown restrictions every several weeks as long as certain targets are met.

It’s not clear what impact a national plan would have in Canada, given that most COVID-19 restrictions that govern daily life — particularly business openings and gathering limits — fall under provincial jurisdiction. Federal guidance on public health measures can influence policy decisions made by lower levels of government, however.

O’Toole said the government’s plan should include a vision of what a reopened economy would look like and lay out specific benchmarks to determine when it should happen.

He faulted the government for failing to implement rapid testing as an alternative to COVID-19 restrictions, particularly in areas of federal jurisdiction like air travel and the border.

Third wave rising

The non-binding Conservative motion comes as national indicators point to the possibility of a third wave of new COVID-19 cases in the coming days and weeks.

In a statement issued Monday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said COVID-19 case counts stabilized at a high level in mid-February and have since started to rise again, driven by more transmissible variants of the coronavirus. Though some lagging indicators such as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths had been declining, Tam said those indicators had levelled off or increased slightly.

Canada recorded 4,935 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, while the seven-day average of new daily cases was 3,297 between from March 12 to 18.

WATCH: Public health officials give a COVID-19 update

Top public health officials in Ontario said Monday that province is already in a third wave, although it’s not clear how severe it will be.

Tam said that although the vaccine rollout is ramping up significantly starting this week, that won’t be enough on its own to bring case counts down.

“While vaccine programs accelerate, it will be important to maintain a high degree of caution. Any easing of public health measures must be done slowly with enhanced testing, screening and genomic analysis to detect variants of concern,” Tam said.

O’Toole said he is particularly worried about the economic and mental health impact of COVID-19 restrictions on Canadians.

“There isn’t a Canadian whose family hasn’t been impacted by the mental health challenge during this pandemic, my own included,” O’Toole said. “We can’t begin to solve the quiet crisis of mental health without first having a plan to end the isolation of lockdowns.”

The Conservative motion calls for a plan to be presented within 20 days of its passage.

MPs debate motion

During debate on the motion in the House of Commons today, Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner said Canadians want to see federal leadership on the issue.

“We’re a year into COVID-19 and enough is enough,” Rempel Garner said.

She said federal public health officials haven’t provided clear guidance on when “widespread mass lockdowns” can end, despite the existence of therapeutics, rapid tests and vaccines.

“The federal government has to at least tell people what the plan is to develop benchmarks on how these tools are going to bring freedom, bring prosperity and bring normalcy back to Canadians’ lives,” she said.

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner says Canadians want to see federal leadership on the question of when COVID-19 restrictions can end. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Rempel Garner added the Public Health Agency of Canada hasn’t yet issued guidance on what Canadians who are fully vaccinated can and can’t do. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued such guidance two weeks ago; it stated that fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with others who are fully vaccinated without wearing masks.

Kevin Lamoureux, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, responded by saying the provinces are responsible for putting in place COVID-19 restrictions.

“Is it the Conservative Party’s policy that Ottawa should start overriding provincial jurisdiction?” Lamoureux asked.

Rempel Garner responded by saying that the federal government has jurisdiction over what she called the “quarantine hotel debacle.” She was referring to a federal requirement that all incoming international travellers quarantine at a federally-mandated facility for up to three days while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test taken upon arrival.

Conservative MPs demanded a suspension of the mandatory hotel quarantine policy after a women alleged she was sexually assaulted by another traveller at a quarantine hotel in Dorval, Que., and that security guards were slow to respond. 2021-03-23 15:35:28


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