The Morning Brief – 03.26.20

By Bruce Carson


Economy—COVID-19 Stimulus/Aid Bill becomes Law
Getting Cash into Canadians’ Empty Pockets

Anxiety in the time of COVID-19

Yesterday after Bill C-13, the COVID-19 emergency bill was passed by the Senate, it received Royal Assent and now the aspects of that legislation which will help put much needed cash into the pockets of Canadians move into the implementation lane. From all reports the government, anticipating passage of the bill has ramped up the implementation phase with technology and increased staffing.

The recall of parliament, which occurred this week, to deal with emergency issues, will no doubt occur a few times more before COVID-19 is behind us.

Without being preachy, there are lessons to be learned from the fast few days. First and foremost, do what you say you are going to do, and if necessity requires changes in that stream, for goodness sake, let everyone involved in trying to grapple with the emergency know immediately.

Placing wide ranging clauses, that have nothing specifically to do with addressing the immediate challenge in a bill without notice, does nothing to build trust among political parties. As noted here earlier this week, trust in partisan politics is a rare commodity and should not be frittered away.

So hopefully when another emergency situation requiring a legislative solution does arise, all parties, but particularly the Trudeau government, must deal with it in a straight up and straightforward manner. By acting in such a manner, time will not be spent in unnecessary negotiations and parties can focus on solutions.

As we move now to the implementation stage, there should be a general recognition among Canada’s political and other leaders that what Canadians are experiencing is extremely difficult for many. Prime Minister Trudeau does address usually in his preliminary comments during his daily media availability.

But this message needs to be shared and recognized by Canada’s other leaders in business, civil society, in faith communities and elsewhere. In the last few weeks Canadians have been bombarded with statistics, usually none of them uplifting, as they deal with new cases of COVID-19 and deaths either in Canada or elsewhere. Canada may be located just north of the new epicenter of this disease, hardly information one wants to hear and then have to cope with.

Of the many statistics encountered by Canadians, one that stood out last week came from Prime Minister Trudeau when he announced that the number of applications for Employment Insurance had grown from the usual number of around 27,000 weekly to almost half a million and this week to almost a million applicants. This is a number which will only grow as we move further along with this disease.

This, perhaps more than any number, separates the 2020 COVID-19 crisis from the 2008-09 financial recession/depression. Over ten years ago, in that crisis the energy sector was booming, carrying the Canadian economy along with it. The key at that time was for government to create a situation where money got out of Ottawa quickly to create jobs, not shutter them.

Then, as now, the government dealt with a financial crisis; now layered on top of that is a health crisis as well as a job killing price war in the oil patch as Saudi Arabia and Russia duke it out for market share with Canada’s oil patch quickly becoming collateral damage.

Again, unlike 2009, Canadians are now experiencing job losses as never before. Most of those now unemployed, sitting at home worrying, have never been unemployed before. This adds a whole new level of stress as they wait for final paycheques and government aid to start flowing. They are no longer in control of their own financial destiny, with rent or mortgage payments due in a matter of days and then again in May and the months after that.

Mr. Trudeau keeps saying that the government will be there for these Canadians, so they can stay home and not choose between their health and a job. And with COVID-19, it is not only their own health, but the health of those that may be encountered in the normal course of living.

But, we are no longer in “that normal course of living” as we are self-isolating or social distancing, with lack of direct and close human contact at a time when the future, both health and financial, seems so uncertain.

There is a compelling need for Canadians to take care of their mental health, in this period of great anxiety.

Anxiety spawned from not knowing how bad the present situation will get, from not knowing if COVID-19 will attack them, from not knowing what economic survival will look like, from not knowing if jobs will be there when we emerge from this crisis and not knowing if there will be employers who survive to once again establish a labour market. And this list does not include pensioners who have watched their life savings disappear.

All of this has a mental component bred from insecurity such that the Kid’s Help Phone has seen an uptick in calls with young people reaching out for help. Text conversations doubled overnight. Maintaining connections is crucial and technology is there to assist.

Dr. Adrianna Wilson, a psychiatrist with Inspired Living Medical in Halifax was quoted by Global News recommending that those suffering through this period of the unknown develop a schedule to help create predictability out of chaos and uncertainty, exercise, listen to music, connect electronically with others and spend time outside. She added do “whatever you need to do to feel calmer.”

CAMH, the Center for Addiction and Mental Health located in Toronto has a list on its website of things to do to maintain mental health, but it does make the point that “some anxiety and fear is normal” in the present crisis. It could be that the next weeks and perhaps months may be the first experience of many with nothing to do. This could be an opportunity, but that can only be explored when some degree of financial security is obtained.

This brings us back to yesterday’s passage of the COVID-19 emergency measures act and its new program, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Wisely, the government has combined two emergency aid programs which were announced last week into one all-encompassing financial support program.

The issue for the many Canadians who will qualify for such aid, is that they are now depending on the federal government to successfully implement this program so that applications are received by, or before April 6, and money flows to Canadians within 10 days. If this occurs seamlessly, it will help address feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, at least temporarily.

Yesterday, when announcing this program amalgamation, Trudeau said “we need to make sure we’re getting the money out quickly, but also reliably, to Canadians. We need to do it in a way that is going to be both reliable and that is quick.”

In the present situation “quick” trumps everything else. In 2009 at a Priorities and Planning cabinet committee meeting, John Baird who was in charge of getting stimulus money out the door said to Prime Minister Harper that he would diligently ensure that the money got to its proper destination and there would be no mistakes made. Harper turned to him and said that it was of utmost importance that the money gets out and if mistakes are made along the way that would be understandable, but should not stand in the way of getting support to Canadians.

The same reasoning applies to the programs contained in the emergency act passed yesterday. The Trudeau government should not let perfection become the enemy of the good. Get the cash into the hands of Canadians quickly with reliability as a secondary consideration; bring the stress level down.

To Come

  • G-20 leaders connect through a conference call
March 31
  • GDP numbers for January to be released
April 2
  • International trade numbers for February to be released
April 9
  • Job numbers for March to be released
April 15
  • Bank of Canada deals with interest rates and releases its Monetary Policy Update

As usual, The Morning Brief returns on Tuesday, March 31

– BC