Trudeau pledges more health-care workers, rapid testing for pandemic-battered Ontario

·5 min read
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government has spoken to a number of provinces and territories to send health-care workers and other support to Ontario. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government has spoken to a number of provinces and territories to send health-care workers and other support to Ontario. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is working with provinces and territories to send more health-care workers to Ontario and boost rapid testing to shepherd Canada's most populous province through a gruelling third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"First, we are mobilizing federal health-care workers from across government departments to deploy to the front lines in Ontario, in specifically the [Greater Toronto Area] where the situation is the most critical," Trudeau said in a video posted to Twitter on Sunday afternoon.

"Second, Canadians across the country aren't just watching the situation closely, they're springing into action to help. There are provinces that have managed their health-care capacity for their own local situations and have the ability to lend a hand to others."

Trudeau said he had spoken to the premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia to establish how they could help.

"They're working hard to determine what human resources and equipment they could free up over the coming days," the prime minister said.

Trudeau said Ottawa will foot the bill for all costs associated with the additional aid and will co-ordinate bringing staff from provinces to Ontario's front lines, including paying for their air travel.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc has also contacted the premiers of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and New Brunswick about how they could further assist the embattled province.

During a Sunday news conference following Trudeau's announcement, LeBlanc explained why other premiers decided to pool their resources.

"I can tell you that the premiers right across the country are obviously concerned about what's happening in Ontario, and the conversations have been along the lines of, 'What can we do collectively to help?'" LeBlanc said.

"If you think of a small jurisdiction like the Northwest Territories, with limited health-care resources, Premier [Caroline] Cochrane herself had already begun to ask her health department and the health authorities in the territory, 'Is there anything we can find to supplement the efforts of health-care professionals in Ontario?'"

WATCH | LeBlanc on why provinces, territories will aid Ontario:

PM offers Red Cross assistance — again

The prime minister also committed to boosting rapid testing of the virus, pledging to work with municipalities to deploy tests in the province's hot spot areas — and specifically targeting essential workers and their workplaces.

Ottawa's offer comes two days after Trudeau said the Canadian Red Cross was "standing by" to aid Ontario's mobile vaccination efforts — an offer he reiterated Sunday.

But the Ford government initially rejected that help on Friday, saying in a statement that unless the offer was accompanied by an increase in vaccine supply, support from the Red Cross was not needed.

Ontario is currently buckling under a surge in COVID-19 cases. On Sunday, the province reported 4,250 new cases of the novel coronavirus and 18 more deaths. Ontario hit a record high of 4,812 new cases on Friday, marking the third straight day of new peaks.

That same day, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a series of sweeping restrictions — extending its stay-at-home order to a minimum of six weeks, boosting enforcement powers for police and cracking down on gatherings, among other measures.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford after speaking at a news conference in Toronto on Friday. Ontario is extending its stay-at-home order to six weeks, restricting interprovincial travel and limiting outdoor gatherings in an effort to stem COVID-19 cases.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford after speaking at a news conference in Toronto on Friday. Ontario is extending its stay-at-home order to six weeks, restricting interprovincial travel and limiting outdoor gatherings in an effort to stem COVID-19 cases.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The province backtracked on some of the additional policing powers on Saturday, announcing officers will no longer have the right to stop pedestrians or vehicles to ask why they are out or request their home address.

On Saturday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair approved a request from the province to extend the use of two mobile health units until the end of June.

"These fully equipped military-style field hospitals are deployed at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences and Hamilton Health Sciences sites to augment the Province of Ontario's hospital bed capacity," the minister's office wrote in an email.

Ontario says it's 'grateful' for support

A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott on Sunday said the provincial government was "grateful" for Ottawa's support.

"We continue to take the necessary actions to expand capacity in our health-care system and enhance public health measures to limit mobility and to ensure Ontarians can stay home. We will continue to work with all levels of government and health-care partners to protect the health and safety of Ontarians and combat this deadly virus," press secretary Alexandra Hilkene wrote in a statement.

Ontario previously appealed to other parts of the country to divert nurses and other health workers to the region's overwhelmed health-care system.

In a letter sent Friday to all provinces and territories, the Ford government noted it was short thousands of nurses.

Over the weekend, some provinces indicated they would like to help.

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said he has asked health officials to assess the province's situation to see if any resources are available. That means checking with the provincial Health Department, public health officials and health unions, he said.

P.E.I. has also contacted the presidents of the University of Prince Edward Island and Holland College to find out if there are students about to graduate who could help.

As for Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey, he told CBC's Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday that the province is looking to assist however it can.

Furey, a doctor, said his previous work, which included assisting in Haiti after its 2010 earthquake, showed him that helping in small ways can make a difference.

"Small units can make a big impact, and that is certainly something that I learned from my international work," Furey told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin also said Sunday he had been in contact with Ford to see what resources his province could spare.

WATCH | N.L. premier offers COVID-19 support to Ontario: