Trudeau set to outline $19B COVID-19 relief program for provinces and municipalities

People wear face masks as they walk through a market in Montreal, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will provide details on Wednesday about the government’s key recovery plan for provinces and cities, which involves $19 billion for measures aimed at fighting COVID-19.

Trudeau will be speaking Wednesday afternoon about the Safe Restart Program, which was announced back in June as a way to funnel money to cash-strapped provinces and municipalities. People familiar with the announcement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Ottawa has now received agreements from all provinces and territories on the spending plan.

Funds under the Safe Restart Program will go towards public transit infrastructure, “immediate assistance” for seniors at risk of transmitting COVID-19, personal protective equipment for employees as they return to the workforce, and additional childcare services, among other things.

Ottawa had initially carved out $14 billion in spending for provinces and territories in June, which it expanded to $19 billion in July after provinces complained that the pool of funds was too small to fill their respective fiscal gaps. Others said the proposed funding included too many conditions that unnecessarily tied the hands of provincial leaders.

“The reality is, we have a $23-billion problem in Ontario,” Premier Doug Ford said shortly after the program was announced in June. “And $14 billion for all of Canada won’t solve the problem; $14 billion for all of Canada just won’t cut it.”

Ontario has since agreed to the new funding arrangement, and in August laid out its general spending plans under the SRA, which includes $660 million for public transit, and $695 million to cover public operating expenses. It will receive a total of up to $4 billion under the program.

Provinces have warned for months that they would be unable to meet basic spending requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and have called on Ottawa to help fill the gap, particularly for healthcare expenses.

Provincial budget shortfalls are partly responsible for the Bank of Canada’s unprecedented decision earlier this year to introduce quantitative easing measures, under which the central bank has already bought up billions of dollars worth of private and public debts.

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