Question Period: COVID-19 Community Resilience

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Hon. Patricia Bovey: This question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.

Senator Gold, millions of Canadians have been affected directly and indirectly by COVID, having lost loved ones, not being able to see loved ones, had the virus themselves and lost employment.

When I last spoke about COVID, I suggested four constructive actions our federal government can take: one, the development of national care standards; two, bricks-and-mortar development with assistance from federal infrastructure programming to build care homes with one-person rooms with ensuite bathrooms; three, immigration increases for health care personnel to assist with stressed and too few front-line workers; and four, supporting and leading the UN initiative for an international convention for the rights of elder persons.

I understand the government supports at least some of these suggestions. Can you tell us where the government is in enacting them?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, senator, for your question. Let me say at the outset that with regard to items three and four of your suggestions — all are welcome — I have no information, but I can comment on the other two.

Regarding infrastructure and bricks and mortar, as you called it, the government recognizes that significant and immediate investments in public infrastructure are needed to help address the current health crisis and create jobs, but equally to continue our work toward rebuilding our infrastructure for the benefit of our communities.

Under the COVID-19 resilience funding stream launched in August, which amounts to $3.3 billion, as you know, provinces can retrofit existing not-for-profit long-term care homes or build new facilities, as long as the total project cost does not exceed $10 million and can be completed by the end of 2021, underlining the importance of finding immediate solutions to this crisis. Under that new stream, colleagues, the federal government pays 80 cents on every dollar invested, and 100% for such projects in Indigenous and remote communities.

With regard to national standards, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance was clear yesterday in her various appearances in the media. This is an example of how federalism can work together, given the exclusive provincial responsibility for health, but with the federal role in providing support in funding and leadership. It’s an example not only of how it can work, but how it needs to work through consultation and negotiation. It’s impossible to give a timeline on when the national standards will emerge because it involves, by constitutional necessity, the buy-in from the provinces and territories. The finance minister underlined that if she could wave a magic wand — alas, there is no magic wand — we would have the national standards in place in short order. There is a lot of work to do, and it involves the consultation and collaboration of all jurisdictions in this country.

Senator Bovey: Senator Gold, a report by the OECD, which was issued after the first wave of COVID-19 and based on numbers as of May 25, demonstrated that in Canada, some 81% of the total COVID-19 deaths occurred in long-term care homes. This is the highest number of 18 countries surveyed and double that of the OECD average. The numbers varied across the provinces, but the overall percentage does not paint a pretty picture.

Don’t you think it’s time for work on these national standards to be fast-tracked and started quickly, and let’s try to wave that magic wand?

Senator Gold: Thank you for your question. Every province, jurisdiction and owner of the homes where our families live are working hard to provide a safe and secure environment. It is a tragedy that so many have fallen sick and so many have perished.

National standards are something this government would support, but it cannot be done any faster than the relevant jurisdictions, both federal and provincial, can manage it, and situations vary so dramatically from province to province and within the province. Even within my own community, it varies within neighbourhoods. Alas, it is not something that can be wished to go faster, important though it is, and thank you for your question.

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