COVID-19 Pandemic: Consideration of Government Response in Committee of the Whole – Sen. Dalphond

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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East and West block of Parliament, Ottawa

Senator Dalphond: Thank you to the ministers for being here. My question is for the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

[English]

Minister, more and more Canadians are concerned about the situation in the U.S. where there seems to be a hesitation between the types of policies to be put in place versus the policies we are strongly putting in place. In Quebec especially, where I am from, we have a large border with the state of New York where the situation, the pandemic, is alarming. We are concerned about two issues and I would like you to address these two issues. First, we need the supply chain to be unbroken. What kind of confidence do we have in the supply chain especially if the pandemic goes on without control on the U.S. side of the supply chain?

The second question I have for you is what measures are we taking to make sure that the supply chain doesn’t become a link to infect more Canadians and spread the illness in Canada? We like the drivers to go as fast as possible through the border, but I guess we would like them to be healthy when they go across the border.

Mr. Blair: Thank you, senator. I agree that the questions you ask are very important and were front of mind in our planning and implementation of the measures we have taken to restrict the movement across our border of nonessential travel.

That’s an important distinction that we’ve put in place. It is having a significant impact. In comparing year-over-year data, we’ve seen an 80% decrease in U.S. air travellers coming to Canada. On our land travel, we have seen about a 71% decline in highway volume which is quite significant.

At the same time, I can assure you we’re monitoring daily. Although there has been some reduction in the number of tractor trailers crossing back and forth across our border, that reduction is almost entirely the result of plants that are shutting down because their workers aren’t able to get to their nonessential work.

We are monitoring carefully all aspects of critical infrastructure to make sure that it can be maintained. That includes our supply chains, our transportation, utilities across the country, health services and safety services. All aspects of critical infrastructure are being monitored very carefully. I am confident at this point that we have been able to maintain those supply chains.

I can also tell you, senator, that for those individuals who are driving those trucks or operating those trains and bringing those goods back and forth across the border, we have exempted them from the requirement of the 14-day mandatory period of quarantine, but we are taking steps to ensure that they remain healthy in their essential work of delivering those goods back and forth to our border. We have given them information and are working closely with their association to ensure that they are rigorously self-monitoring, practising appropriate hygiene techniques and have the opportunity to engage in the important activity of social distancing to keep them safe. Should they become symptomatic, they will be immediately removed from that activity. It will be closely monitored.

It remains a challenge to maintain those supply lines, but we are monitoring on a daily basis, senator. I can tell you that truck traffic is moving very freely and readily across our border. Those chains are being maintained.

Senator Dalphond: Is it a self-declaratory system? Does the truck driver stop at the border and say that he doesn’t feel bad? Is there some testing or follow-up?

Mr. Blair: There are inquiries made of them. First, they must have the appropriate documents to cross the border and be identified as an essential worker. We are providing them with health information with respect to identifying symptoms and other measures that they can take to be safe. They are subject to rigorous screening by our border officials, but they are allowed to come across to do the essential work that they still need to do.

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