OTTAWA (Reuters) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Wednesday for a “Team Canada effort” to beat the coronavirus outbreak, saying Parliament should be brought back so all legislators could approve a massive aid package.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the steps proposed so far totaled over C$105 billion ($74 billion) in direct spending, or about 5% of gross domestic product. Ottawa has also promised to defer C$85 billion in personal and business taxes.
Although the House of Commons was suspended last month after approving a deal to give Ottawa broad spending powers for six months, Trudeau said lawmakers needed to have their say.
“This is the largest economic program in Canada’s history, so I’ve asked (officials) … to reach out to the other parties about bringing back Parliament. This must be a Team Canada effort,” he told reporters.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government respected the role of the opposition and likened the fight against the coronavirus to Canada’s challenge during World War Two.
“The magnitude of the measures we know are necessary means that it would be a good idea to bring Parliament back to work on them,” she told a news conference.
“Now is not a time for partisanship.”
Andrew Scheer, leader of the official opposition Conservative Party, had earlier accused Trudeau of being too slow to react.
Opinion polls show the Liberals – who won only a minority of legislative seats in an election last October – well ahead of their rivals, with Trudeau getting generally favorable marks for his handling of the crisis.
“Canada is effectively on a war footing against the coronavirus,” said Nik Nanos, founder of Nanos Research. “Convening Parliament is likely intended to extend that narrative of a popular front to include all the federal political parties.”
The number of deaths in Canada jumped to 112 from 89 on Tuesday, with confirmed cases rising to 9,560 from 7,708, according to a tally of provincial announcements compiled by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Quebec, which accounts for almost half the cases, is trying to contain the outbreak in seniors’ homes, since almost a quarter of the 2,200 residences have at least one positive diagnosis. Premier Francois Legault also said the province’s stocks of medical supplies had increased slightly.
Trudeau, pressed about complaints from some medical professionals about a lack of protective equipment, said: “We are expecting to see some shipments coming in very shortly that will help.” He did not elaborate.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Denise Paglinawan in Toronto; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Peter Cooney)