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COVID-19 Canadian update: Massive job cuts at Westjet, Parliament session suspended

Coronavirus news from around Canada

Massive staff cuts hit Westjet, 600 Air Canada pilots furloughed

WestJet is reducing nearly 50 percent of its workforce, with 6,900 people losing their jobs.

Some 90 percent of those laid off left voluntarily, the company says.

“Today, 6,900 WestJetters are receiving notices confirming early retirements, early outs and both voluntary and involuntary leaves,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO, on WestJet’s website. “This is devastating news for all WestJetters. The fact that we avoided a potentially worse outcome is testament to the spirit and selfless attitude demonstrated by our people, who have enabled WestJet to continue operating with a collective remaining workforce of 7,100.”

WestJet asked its workforce last week to “to support the survival of the airline” by selecting unpaid leave of absence, early retirement, voluntary resignation (early out), reduced work week or reduced pay.

“It is through these WestJetters’ sacrifices that we can preserve a core of people who will remain employed to prepare for the moment when the situation stabilizes, and we can look to rise again,” Sims said.

Up to 600 Air Canada pilots will also go on unpaid leave in the coming months due to the fallout from the virus, their union said Tuesday.

The union representing Air Canada’s pilots says up to 600 of its members will go on unpaid leave in the coming months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capt. Michael McKay, head of the Air Canada Pilots Association, says the union has agreed to a plan for a maximum of 600 pilots on furlough.

The 4,400 pilots have also agreed to reduced pay across the board and “simplified contract language” to allow pilots to retire earlier.

McKay says a “precipitous drop in passenger demand and the challenging operating environment” have prompted the changes.

He is joining other unions in calling on Ottawa for financial relief for the aviation industry.

Emergency session of parliament suspended

The emergency sitting of the House of Commons has been suspended after only a few minutes.

A small group of 32 MPs were to begin debate on emergency legislation to provide billions in financial aid to help Canadians weather the COVID-19 crisis.

However, the sitting had no sooner begun than government House leader Pablo Rodriguez asked that it be suspended.

It appears that the government is continuing to negotiate details of the legislation with opposition parties after the Conservatives balked at a provision that would have given the government sweeping powers to unilaterally spend, borrow and change taxation levels without the approval of Parliament.

Conservative leader balks at new taxing and spending powers

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says his MPs will help pass emergency economic measures that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week to cushion the blow from COVID-19.

But Scheer says Conservatives won’t give the consent the Liberals would need to take massive new taxing and spending powers for the cabinet, without Parliament’s supervision.

Scheer says he wants to ensure Canadian families and workers receive financial help to pay their bills and put food on their tables.

That’s why Scheer says he doesn’t want conversations about new powers for the Liberal government to get in the way of that assistance getting to Canadians.

Prime minister ‘committed’ to democracy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians have his “unwavering commitment” to uphold the country’s democratic principles.

The comment follows Opposition anger over draft legislation that promised $82 billion in emergency aid for those struggling the COVID-19 pandemic, but also gave the federal cabinet extraordinary powers to control taxes and spending.

Trudeau says the pandemic is moving extremely quickly, which is why the government was looking at measures to respond just as fast.

However, he also says Canada has a “Parliament that works” and the government is working with opposition parties to draft the appropriate legislation to ensure Canadians are safe and supported.

Nova Scotia: 51 cases

Manitoba suspends rent increases

The Manitoba government is suspending any rent increases, starting April 1, in order to help tenants deal with reduced income due to the economic fallout from COVID-19.

The province is also halting all non-urgent hearings before the residential tenancies branch to put off any evictions resulting from non-payment of rent.

Premier Brian Pallister says the measures should reduce uncertainty and stress for tenants.

Pallister says he is not considering further measures such as direct payments to people.

He says employment insurance and recently announced help from the federal government should be enough to help people get by.

Six new cases in Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan government is announcing six new cases of COVID-19 bringing the province’s current total to 72.

The Ministry of Health didn’t say how the persons came to be infected or where they were tested.

The chief medical health officer has said most of Saskatchewan’s cases are linked to travel and there’s no evidence of community transmission.

Catholic churches shut down in Toronto

Catholic churches in Toronto will shut down immediately amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cardinal Thomas Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto has told its priests to close the doors of the churches in the city after Ontario deemed places of worship non-essential.

He says masses will continue, but with no one inside, including those for the upcoming ones on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

250 Canadians to return from Ukraine

Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Shevchenko says about 250 Canadians are scheduled to return to Canada on a flight from Kyiv to Toronto that is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Ukraine International Airlines flight was organized by the Canadian and Ukrainian governments.

Shevchenko says the plane will then load up with Ukrainians, some of whom are on their way to Toronto Pearson International Airport from as far as Vancouver, and return to Kyiv on Thursday.

He says future flights are possible depending on demand.

Saskatchewan estimates 9,000 deaths possible

An internal planning document from the Saskatchewan Health Authority estimates COVID-19 could lead to the deaths of between 9,000 and 15,000 people in the province.

It also estimates that while 300,000 people may become infected, most of them will be able to remain at home.

A spokesman for the authority says the presentation contains some early modelling and worst-case scenarios.

So far, the province has reported 66 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths.

Indigenous health managers to meet online

Hundreds of Indigenous health managers from across Canada will meet online tomorrow to discuss how the novel coronavirus pandemic is affecting their communities.

Marion Crowe of the First Nations Health Managers Association says the meeting will allow managers to compare notes on their specific challenges of fighting the virus.

She says it’s hard to hand-wash when tapwater isn’t drinkable and impossible to self-isolate in overcrowded homes.

She adds many Indigenous people have bitter memories of the health-care system and don’t trust its officials.

Still, she says many lessons were learned during 2009’s H1N1 epidemic.

No new deaths in Quebec

Quebec now has 1,013 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but no additional deaths to report today, with the provincial tally steady at four.

Premier Francois Legault says 67 people are hospitalized, including 31 in intensive care.

Legault says about 2,500 people are awaiting test results while 12,200 have received negative tests.

The premier sought to reassure Quebecers that measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus are temporary and necessary to save lives.

AFN declares a state of emergency

The Assembly of First Nations has declared a state of emergency.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde says Indigenous communities need immediate increases in funding and full involvement in all discussions with governments on planning and preparedness.

He says while the announced federal funding is a good start, more will be required.

The assembly’s motion says that special consideration must be given to Canada’s 96 remote, fly-in Indigenous communities.

The motion also affirms support for all First Nations that have already declared states of emergency, travel bans and other measures.

Infections in Canada are now equally related to travel and community transmission

Canada’s chief medical health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says an equal number of Canadians who have tested positive for COVID-19 contracted the virus from travel and from community transmission.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said since last week, nearly 90 per cent of cases reported to the public health agency came from spread of the virus within the community.

Tam says this represents a fundamental shift in the spread of the virus in Canada.

If Canada is going to get a handle on community spread, she said social distancing and maintaining a two-metre barrier between people is essential.

Tam also said 220 passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship who have completed their 14-day quarantine at CFB Trenton and are symptom-free were repatriated earlier today.

Nearly 120,000 Canadians have been tested for the coronavirus, with an average of 10,000 people tested per day.

Prime minister says current border restrictions are sufficient for now

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is braced for the possibility of a worsening COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, but that the current travel restrictions at the border will suffice — for now.

With President Donald Trump opening musing about letting people go back to work, Trudeau says Canada will continue to base its decisions on science and keeping people safe and healthy.

Trump has been growing more impatient by the day with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and wants Americans back on the job sooner rather than later.

He insists it’s possible for them to take prudent, responsible steps such as social distancing at the same time.

No new cases in PEI

Prince Edward Island has no new cases of COVID-19 to report today, leaving the provincial total at three positive cases.

Dr. Heather Morrison, the province’s chief medical officer of health, says it’s important that people continue to self-isolate and social distance to help flatten the curve.

She says all playgrounds are closed, and anyone using convenience stores needs to get in, get what they need and get out.

Morrison says she still expects to see new cases on the Island and an increase in hospitalization.

Nova Scotia reports 5q cases

Nova Scotia is reporting a total 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 today, with 10 new ones identified yesterday.

The cases are travel-related or connected to earlier reported cases.

Several of the new cases are connected to groups or families who have returned to Nova Scotia following travel outside of Canada. None of these cases are from spread within the community.

The 51 individuals affected range in age from under 10 to mid-70s.

Restrictions for national parks and historic sites 

Parks Canada is restricting vehicles in the national parks and national historic sites after people flocked to the popular areas on the weekend.

The national agency says it is still noticing high visitation despite the suspension of visitor services and the closure of facilities.

Officials will now suspend all motor vehicle access by visitors starting at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.

Highways and roadways that go through the parks and historic sites will remain open.

Ontario: 85 new cases

Ontario is reporting 85 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the provincial total to 588.

The large increase includes one more death, meaning seven people have now died in the province.

Complete information is not listed for most of the new cases, but the latest death is a man in his 90s from Durham Region.

Bombardier temporarily shuts down production

Bombardier Inc. is temporarily halting production in Canada and suspending its 2020 financial forecast due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company says it is stopping all non-essential work in the country, including aircraft and rail production in Quebec and Ontario.

It says employees impacted by the shutdown will be placed on furlough, with workers as well as executives forgoing pay.

Board members have also agreed to forgo compensation for the remainder of the year.

Health coalitions urged Ottawa to maintain universal health care

Health coalitions in several provinces from the Maritimes to British Columbia are urging the federal government not to allow the COVID-19 crisis to be used to dismantle universal, public health care.

In a joint statement, groups including the Canadian Health Coalition and Friends of Medicare say all levels of government must work together to reclaim and increase the capacity of the public health-care system.

In addition to ensuring all services from testing to vaccination and hospital stays remain available free of charge, the coalitions support Spain’s decision to bring for-profit health care facilities under public control.

They say a robust public health-care system is the best defence against challenges like the novel coronavirus but they argue it has been eroded by decades of austerity and needs a renewed commitment.

G7 finance ministers vow to do ‘whatever is necessary’

A statement from G7 finance ministers and central bankers says the group will do “whatever is necessary” to restore economic confidence and protect jobs and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nations, representing seven of the world’s leading economies, are also asking other countries to do the same.

Among the nations is Canada, represented by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the Bank of Canada.

The statement says countries affected by COVID-19 should expand their budget spending and support to financial institutions to mitigate the negative shock from the pandemic — and do so for as long as possible.

Ontario to cut hydro rates

Ontario is expected to announce a temporary cut in hydro rates as many people work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A senior government source, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the announcement publicly, says the province will lower rates for the next 45 days.

The source says it will be done by moving all of the current time-of-use pricing to off-peak rates.

Premier Doug Ford is set to make an announcement at 1 p.m alongside the province’s minister of energy and other officials.