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The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues to upend daily life and how business is conducted around the world. There are over 3.6 million confirmed cases and approximately 253,000 deaths worldwide.[1] A majority of nations continue to assess current and future public policy measures in an effort to slow the infection rate (“flattening the curve”) to prevent the outbreak from overwhelming the healthcare systems in place. The issuance of shelter-in-place orders and travel restrictions enacted by most governments illustrates how protective measures that deliberately increase physical space between individuals (“social distancing”) to avoid spreading illness or practice self-quarantine in the event of exposure to the virus are critical to minimizing the number of people getting sick at once and saving lives.

The sharp numbers of deaths reported in China, Italy, Spain, and the United States, world epicenters of the virus outbreak, illustrate that COVID-19 does not regard borders. In Canada, a federal-provincial-territorial approach defines a majority of the country’s actions to prevent the spread of the pathogen and minimize disruption to the economy. As the head of Canada’s coronavirus Cabinet committee, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland continues to lead a “whole of country” approach to threat by mobilizing business, labor, and civic organizations to slow the spread of the virus.[2] Health Canada, led by Stephen Lucas, continues to provide information and updates on the outbreak on a daily basis. Following a period of voluntary self-isolation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will return to his office on Parliament Hill for “strategic meeting or [for] particular issues.” Yet, the Prime Minister stated that he “will continue to work from home day in and day out.”

The Re-Opening Canada’s Provinces[3]

On May 4, a number of Canada’s provinces began easing their lockdown restrictions, while still following social distancing guidelines. Retail stores located outside of Montreal, Quebec are scheduled to open the week of May 18.[4] A selection of “seasonal businesses” in Ontario are also open. Recreation and restaurant industries in Manitoba are reopening at 50% capacity. Non-essential medical activities have resumed in the province, as well as in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Last week, the Maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia,and Prince Edward Island) began easing such restrictions. Newfoundland and Labrador is scheduled to ease a number of public health and recreation restrictions on May 11. Lastly, British Columbia’s reopening plan is scheduled to be available this week.

Statistics, Testing and Demographics of COVID-19 in Canada

As of May 4, the Government of Canada has conducted 919,368 tests and yielded 60,772 positive results. Ontario and Quebec are the provinces with the greatest number of cases. Below are the number of reported cases in Canada:

  • Total Cases: 60,772*
  • Deaths: 3,854*

*Government of Canada as of May 4 at 7:00pm (ET).

The Government of Canada’s Daily Epidemiology Update highlights the demographics and statistics associated with the virus: [5]

  • 32% of cases occur in individuals between the ages of 40-59;
  • 26% of cases occur in individuals between the ages of 20-39; and
  • 55% of cases were reported among females.

Long-term senior care facilities are at the epicenter of Canada’s outbreak as 79% of COVID-19 deaths in Canada are linked to such facilities.[6] According to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, “Almost all jurisdictions are essentially trying to deal with the outbreaks in long-term care facilities.” Dr. Tam said at an April 13 briefing in Ottawa.[7] Currently, Ontario and Quebec are facing the most severe outbreaks in senior care facilities. Ontario health officials indicate that the province hit its COVID-19 infection peak on April 20 but warn that the situation in long-term care homes may worsen. The Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, called for mandatory testing for all facility residents and staff. Ontario’s new long-term care guidelines have broadened the virus testing criteria, by allowing individuals with uncharacteristic symptoms related to COVID-19 to be tested.[8] The Premier of Quebec, François Legault, highlighted the province’s effort to inspect its 2,600 senior facilities “to make sure we have the situation under control” following the deaths of a total of 79 seniors in the Laflèche long-term care center in Shawinigan, the LaSalle center in Montreal, and the Sainte-Dorothée center in Laval.[9]

The Expansion of Canada’s Stimulus Package

Prime Minister Trudeau unveiled the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan on March 18. The stimulus package originally valued at C$82 billion dollars grants direct and immediate assistance to Canadians and businesses in an effort to minimize COVID-19’s disruption to the economy. In the past month, the Government of Canada has significantly expanded the size and scope of the economic plan by announcing additional measures to protect individuals and sectors not previously protected. Currently, Canada’s economic plan is approximately valued at C$765 billion dollars. Canada’s new plan is more than double the total budgetary spending (C$304.6 billion) planned for the 2020 fiscal year.[10] The economic plan provides relief to individuals and businesses in the form of direct payments, wage subsidies, and loan accessibility. The plan also allows for both individuals and businesses to benefit from tax deferrals. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is one key component of the economic package as it provides C$2,000 dollars of temporary income for up to four months for people out of work due to the virus. As of April 17, 7.5 million Canadians have received a payment through the CERB.[11] The program’s eligibility rules continue to evolve to provide help for those in need but who do not meet current qualifications and essential personnel who earn less than the benefit they would receive.[12] Moreover, businesses who endure a drop in gross revenues are eligible to benefit from Canada’s Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). The wage subsidy allows employers to maintain workers on their payroll by covering 75% of an employee’s earnings for twelve weeks.  

Prime Minister Trudeau announced new funding to the following sectors on April 17: [13]

  • energy sector (C$1.7 billion);
  • small, rural businesses (C$962 million);
  • entrepreneurial and research program (C$270 million); and
  • arts, culture and sports (C$500 million).

The Canada's COVID-19 Economic Response Plan infographic details the economic measures announced by the Government of Canada.

The continual announcements of new measures to support Canadian individuals and businesses along with targeted relief for Canada’s energy, arts, and sports sectors illustrate the growing size and scope of Canada’s response to alleviate the financial hardships associated with the virus.

The U.S.-Canada Border & the Future of North America’s Supply Chain

Non-essential travel across the U.S.-Canada border continues to be temporarily restricted. The joint agreement reached by Prime Minister Trudeau and President Trump on March 18 has been extended for an additional 30 days. The agreement continues to exempt commerce and trade in an effort to avoid the disruption of food, fuel, and life-saving medical supply chains.[14]

North American supply chains are key to ensuring the three countries have supplies and are ready to face the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the invocation of the U.S. Defense Production Act (1950), which grants the U.S. President the authority to compel manufacturers to prioritize defense production, led to United States’ initial directive to compel 3M to halt exports of N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America. On April 21, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a rule that exempts Canada and Mexico from application of the Defense Production Act to block exports.[15]  Moreover, the United States depends on several medical device manufacturers in Mexico. A Washington Post article points to an increase in medical supply production in Mexican factories to meet the needs of the U.S. healthcare sector to fight the virus. During the COVID-19 and the Northern Border event, former U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official Alan Bersin reiterated that orders barring the export of medical supplies issued by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) grant “explicit exceptions for both Canada and Mexico.”

The renewal of the joint border agreement along the U.S.-Canada border and the limited disruption to North America’s supply chains illustrate the role of cooperation and governance to continue strengthening the continent’s response to the virus.

Parliament Approval of Relief Packages & the Future of Virtual Parliament

Parliament approved the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act (Bill C-13) on March 25, which grants the federal government the authority to spend “all money required to do anything” to address the hardships caused by the virus.[16] Parliament partially reconvened for an emergency sitting on April 11 to debate, and later enact the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2 (Bill C-14). Bill C-14 included a C$73 billion dollar wage subsidy program. On May 1, the Canada Emergency Student Benefit Act (Bill C-15) received approval from Parliament.[17]

The House of Commons convened for its first virtually sitting on April 28. The governing body continues to grapple with the question of how it should function during the crisis. They are studying how its members can fulfill their duties while Parliament is not sitting in Ottawa. Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez indicated to CTV News that the Procedure and House Affairs Committee has been tasked with “Studying the way forward on virtual sittings, or possible temporary alternate locations or other technological solutions to allow members to fulfill their parliamentary duties while the Commons is suspended on account of the pandemic.” [18] The committee has until May 15 to report its findings.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated that Dr. Theresa Tam leads Health Canada. Dr. Theresa Tam is the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. 


[1] COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins, https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html Accessed: 05/05/2020

[2] Chrystia Freeland calls for ‘whole of country’ response to prevent spread of coronavirus, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-chrystia-freeland-calls-for-whole-of-country-response-to-prevent/ Accessed: 4/20/2020

[3] Easing restrictions and ; In The News for May 4, https://nationalpost.com/pmn/news-pmn/canada-news-pmn/easing-restrictions-and-in-the-news-for-may-4 Accessed: 05/04/2020

[4] Quebec leads the way as provinces begin to re-emerge from coronavirus lockdown https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-quebec-leads-the-way-as-provinces-begin-to-re-emerge-from-coronavirus/ Accessed 05/05/2020

[5] Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update, https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html, Accessed 3/18/2020

[6] Long-term care connected to 79 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-long-term-care-connected-to-79-per-cent-of-covid-19-deaths-in-canada/ Accessed 05/04/2020

[7] Outbreaks at seniors’ homes linked to almost half of COVID-19 deaths in Canada, Theresa Tam says, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-outbreaks-at-seniors-homes-linked-to-almost-half-of-covid-19-deaths/ Accessed: 4/15/2020

[8] Ontario Significantly Expanding COVID-19 Testing: Enhanced testing strategy will help stop the spread of the virus, https://news.ontario.ca/opo/en/2020/04/ontario-significantly-expanding-covid-19-testing.html Accessed: 4/15/2020

[9] Outbreaks at seniors’ homes linked to almost half of COVID-19 deaths in Canada, Theresa Tam says, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-outbreaks-at-seniors-homes-linked-to-almost-half-of-covid-19-deaths/ Accessed: 4/15/2020

[10] The Government’s Expenditure Plan and Main Estimates for 2020-21, https://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/en/blog/news/RP-1920-031-S--government-expenditure-plan-main-estimates-2020-21--plan-depenses-gouvernement-budget-principal-depenses-2020-2021 Accessed: 05/04/2020

[11] PM Trudeau Provides Update on Federal Response to COVID-19 – April 17, 2020, https://www.cpac.ca/en/programs/covid-19-canada-responds/episodes/66187112/ Accessed: 4/17/2020

[12] Prime Minister announces expanded access to Canada Emergency Response Benefit and support for essential workers, https://pm.gc.ca/en/news/news-releases/2020/04/15/prime-minister-announces-expanded-access-canada-emergency-response Accessed: 4/17/2020

[13] PM Trudeau Provides Update on Federal Response to COVID-19 – April 17, 2020, https://www.cpac.ca/en/programs/covid-19-canada-responds/episodes/66187112/ Accessed: 4/17/2020

[14] Canada-U.S. border to close except for essential supply chains, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-trump-confirms-canada-us-to-close-border-to-non-essential-travel/ Accessed: 3/18/2020

[15] Prioritization and Allocation of Certain Scarce or Threatened Health and Medical Resources for Domestic Use; Exemptions, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/04/21/2020-08542/prioritization-and-allocation-of-certain-scarce-or-threatened-health-and-medical-resources-for Accessed: 04/27/2020

[16] Bill with emergency COVID-19 aid becomes law; offers $2,000 benefit for workers, https://ipolitics.ca/2020/03/25/bill-with-emergency-covid-19-aid-awaits-royal-assent-merges-benefit-for-workers/ Accessed: 4/17/2020

[17]An Act respecting Canada emergency student benefits (coronavirus disease 2019), https://www.parl.ca/LegisInfo/BillDetails.aspx?Language=E&billId=10727637 Accessed: 05/04/2020

[18] Parliament passes $73B COVID-19 wage subsidy bill, https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/parliament-passes-73b-covid-19-wage-subsidy-bill-1.4892201 Accessed 4/17/2020.

About the Author

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Mariana Sánchez Ramírez

P.A., Research and Communications
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Canada Institute

Bound by common geopolitical interests and strong economic and cultural ties, Canada and the United States enjoy the world's most successful bilateral relationship. The Wilson Center's Canada Institute is the only public policy forum in the world dedicated to the full spectrum of Canada-U.S. issues. The Canada Institute is a global leader for policymakers, academics and business leaders to engage in non-partisan, informed dialogue about the current and future state of the relationship.     Read more