The Current

Freeland plays down calls to invoke Emergencies Act, urges cooperation to quell third wave of COVID-19

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says that "partnership and working together is the way to go" to beat the third wave of COVID-19 in Canada.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for act to be invoked to help hard-hit Ontario

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland delivered Canada's first federal budget in two years on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

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Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has played down NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's call for the federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act and take control of provincial responses to a third wave of COVID-19.

"What we have done since the beginning of COVID is — for sure — had a strong federal role in the COVID response, but focused on partnership with the provinces, the territories, the municipalities," said Freeland. 

"I really believe that in our confederation, partnership and working together is the way to go," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

The Emergencies Act gives the prime minister sweeping powers to respond to an urgent or critical situation, overriding the provinces and territories in areas that normally fall under their jurisdiction. At the beginning of the pandemic last year, Freeland described it as a "measure of last resort."

In a letter, Singh urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to invoke the legislation Sunday, in a bid to help Ontario tackle the third wave. The number of daily new cases has been steadily rising in Ontario for over a month, with the seven-day average reaching 4,348 Monday. ICUs are filling up, raising the prospect that health-care providers may have to triage patients and decide who gets life-saving care, and who doesn't.

The NDP leader warned that "if public confidence in the government's response to COVID-19 is further eroded, this will make it almost impossible to stop the spread of the virus."

Freeland, who in her role as finance minister yesterday delivered Canada's first budget in two years, told Galloway that the federal government is "prepared to do whatever we can, whatever is needed to help."

"I'm very aware of really how hard the situation is, how hard all the choices are," she said.

But she said that "when our house is on fire," the focus should be on co-operation, not deciding where blame lies.

"Our focus is just on rolling up our sleeves, getting some pails of water and doing everything we can to keep as many people in Ontario and Alberta and across the country healthy and safe as we can."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has faced criticism for his government's response to the third wave, though he argues the problem is driven by low vaccine supply coming from the federal government.

On Sunday, Trudeau pledged to send health-care workers to Ontario from provinces with lower case numbers, and boosting rapid testing in the province. He said Ottawa will cover all costs associated with the aid.

O'Toole says Liberals delivered 'election-style budget' during pandemic

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Erin O'Toole responds to the fiscal plan announced by the Liberal government on April 19. 1:20

In Monday's budget, Freeland extended the COVID-19 wage subsidy, rent subsidy and lockdown supports to Sept. 25, with plans to start gradually reducing support payments beginning in July. Those subsidies could be further extended to Nov. 20 if pandemic conditions demand it.

But Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said the budget "does nothing to answer the calls from Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta and other provinces asking for more vaccines." 

"Justin Trudeau has moved too slow for this virus. It's racing ahead of us now, and now he is slow in providing real help for Canadians in this budget," he said.

The budget also pledged $30 billion over five years to create and sustain a national child-care program; $17.6 billion for a green recovery; and $3 billion over five years to help provinces and territories improve long-term care.

Freeland told Galloway that a lot of questions around all these issues — from budget implementation to vaccine procurement — come back to "the fact that Canada has a federal-political structure."

"Some of the issues which are really urgent for Canadians can't be fixed with the waving of a magic wand from Ottawa, but they require careful collaboration between Ottawa and provinces and territories," she said.

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Amanda Grant and Kate Cornick.

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