Trudeau credits Atlantic bubble for low COVID-19 numbers on P.E.I.

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn’t keen to break through the Atlantic bubble put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Canada's four easternmost provinces.

Federal government facing pressure to open international border

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was phoning around to media in Atlantic Canada Thursday to answer questions about the federal government's COVID-19 measures. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn't keen to break through the bubble put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 on Prince Edward Island and in Canada's other three Atlantic provinces.

Trudeau was on a virtual tour of Atlantic Canada Thursday, speaking by phone on CBC Radio shows on P.E.I. and Nova Scotia and a private radio station in St. John's, N.L.

"The Atlantic bubble, as challenging as it has been for certain sectors of the economy, including especially tourism, has kept the numbers extremely low in Atlantic Canada," Trudeau told Mainstreet P.E.I. host Matt Rainnie.

That puts the prime minister on the side of many in this region, judging by a recent opinion poll that suggested most Atlantic Canadians are not comfortable with opening up travel to the rest of Canada without a two-week isolation period being observed.

'Preoccupied with the safety of Canadians'

The federal government is facing pressure to reopen the borders to widespread international travel — including to the United States, Trudeau said.

"We are having to say: 'I understand people want that. I understand it may be good for business.' But first and foremost we've got to be preoccupied with the safety of Canadians," he said.

Trudeau said he realizes how anxious business owners and people who may be struggling financially are at this point in the pandemic.

But he added: "We are focusing first and foremost on people's health."

Many stores on P.E.I. shutdown temporarily because of COVID-19 — some never reopened. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

The pandemic has caused problems for businesses on P.E.I. and across the country, Trudeau said. 

"We've been there to support Canadians from the very beginning with the CERB, with the wage subsidy for small businesses," he said.

"But we know, particularly in the tourism sector, it's been a really tough summer and they're looking at a difficult fall as well."

Trudeau said that is why his government did things like increase funding for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

"We're looking at other programs to try and make sure that these great small businesses that are drivers of the local economy, and provide so much pleasure to people who come visit from across the country and around the world are still there in the coming years," he said.

Trudeau didn't say when Canadians can expect any new programs.

Calls for basic income

The federal government's pandemic relief efforts have renewed interest and discussion across Canada for a basic income guarantee. 

"One of the things that the pandemic has shown us is that there are real vulnerabilities even when things were going more or less normally before the pandemic," Trudeau said. 

"The pandemic certainly brought that to light. We need to do a better job of supporting everyone."

Trudeau said there is a lot of interest in the idea — but there are also other programs providing support to Canadians like the Canada child benefit.

Trudeau said he is talking with experts and listening to those working on different models of basic income.

He said his government will have more to say in the coming weeks on "a range of things" to further help Canadians through the pandemic.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Mainstreet P.E.I.


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