OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be under pressure today to flesh out his promise to do more to protect seniors in long-term care homes, which have been hardest hit by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Trudeau promised earlier this week that the federal government would provide funding to top up the wages earned by essential workers in nursing homes who earn less than $2,500 a month.
That promise was discussed during a conference call among first ministers late Thursday.
No details of the call were immediately forthcoming, other than a brief summary of the discussion issued by the Prime Minister’s Office which said first ministers “agreed on the urgent need to ensure long-term care facilities have the resources they need to protect the health and well-being of their residents and workers.”
Since the salaries paid to workers in long-term care homes fall under provincial jurisdiction, Trudeau has been clear that whatever the federal government does must be in collaboration with the provinces.
Seniors Minister Deb Schulte told CBC News late Thursday that the federal government will boost transfer payments to the provinces and territories to allow them to top up wages. She did not say how much money Ottawa is prepared to ante up.
Personal support workers in nursing homes often work poorly paid part-time jobs in multiple facilities, which has contributed to the spread of COVID-19.
Topping up their wages is intended to compensate them for orders in some provinces that ban them from working in more than one facility. It’s also intended to encourage them to stay on a job that has become increasingly risky as COVID-19 sweeps like wildfire through long-term care homes across Canada.
About half of Canada’s more than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 have involved residents of long-term care facilities.
Quebec has already announced it will top up the wages of essential workers in nursing homes; Ontario Premier Doug Ford indicated Thursday that his province will follow suit but first he wanted to see what financial assistance Ottawa would offer.
Trudeau’s government will also be under pressure today from the Conservatives to have in-person sittings of the House of Commons throughout the crisis.
Parliament has been adjourned since mid-March, except for two single-day sittings to pass emergency aid legislation. It is to resume business as usual on Monday, unless all four recognized parties in the Commons agree to a further suspension of business.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is insisting that a small group of MPs must sit up to four days each week in the Commons in order to hold the government to account for what he contends is a sloppy response to the health crisis.
Until the logistics for a virtual Parliament can be worked out, Trudeau’s Liberals have offered to sit one day a week, with two or three hours devoted to what’s called committee of the whole, which would allow for longer questions and more thorough answers than are allowed during the normal 45-minute daily question period.
In a letter late Thursday to Commons Speaker Anthony Rota, Conservative whip Mark Strahl argued that regular sittings could be done safely without putting at risk the health of MPs or Commons staff at a time when all Canadians are being advised to keep two-metres physical distance from one another and stay home as much as possible.
Strahl said only essential staff necessary for the operation of the Commons should be required to work, they should be issued with masks and gloves where necessary and hand sanitizing stations should be set up at entrances and exits of the Commons and other strategic locations throughout the parliamentary precinct.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2020.