Federal Government Rolls Out “Safe Restart Agreement” with Provinces and Territories

On Thursday, July 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a $19 billion deal with the provinces and territories. The “Safe Restart Agreement” aims to support provincial and municipal governments in reopening their economies while protecting Canadians from a potential second wave of COVID-19.

The funding provides support in several priority areas including:

  • Testing and contact tracing;
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Enhanced support for vulnerable communities including seniors;
  • Paid sick leave for all Canadians;
  • Public transit;
  • Ensuring adequate child care capacity; and
  • Helping municipalities adapt.

Conversations between the federal government, provinces and territories have been underway for weeks as governments and public health officials grapple with safety amid efforts to reopen. Today’s funding announcement is designed to both support governments on a short-term basis (6-8 months) while they lift restrictions, and to help insulate these sectors from further spread of COVID-19.

Interim support for health care

In addition to helping provinces and territories restart their economy, health care is a key component of this announcement. This announcement includes funding to enhance testing capacity and contact tracing by provincial and local public health units, while also enhancing supports for seniors. The agreement also includes funding for long-term care, home care and palliative care. However, it appears this is mostly designed to allow provinces and territories to purchase additional supplies, such as PPE and testing equipment, in order to mitigate the risk faced by those sectors from the impact of a second wave.

This funding does not seem to be intended for large-scale structural change, but instead is designed to ensure that the sectors which were hit the hardest during the first wave are better protected. The funding includes very few conditions; however, it must be spent on the specific areas outlined. The funds cannot be shared between sectors. This is to be expected as provinces and territories have historically been reticent to sign agreements that include additional restrictions.

Moving forward

Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) collaboration has been a continued theme throughout the pandemic. Today’s announcement builds on previous support that has been provided to sub-national governments throughout COVID-19. While little details have emerged so far about the implementation of this funding, the agreement signals a few key factors to keep in mind over the coming months:

  • This is not long-term structural support for health care, but does signal some health system funding priorities: While much of this $19 billion is devoted to health care, it does not address systemic issues in the health system, some of which have been exacerbated by COVID-19 (i.e. long-term care, home care, etc.). This is only interim-spending which is focused on equipment and supplies and not structural issues that require sustainable, long-term investment. The focus on the seniors’ care sector, however, does signal potential areas of future investment that will require continued FPT collaboration. It is likely that more support for the long-term care and home care sectors is coming, as provinces look to boost capacity and quality in seniors’ care.
  • The government is eager to change the channel: Distractions over the last few weeks, such as the WE funding scandal, have taken focus off COVID-19 and back onto previous patterns of errors in judgement that continue to dog the Prime Minister and his senior Ministers. In many ways, today’s announcement is a well-timed media distraction from the finance committee hearings and ongoing opposition-led probes into decision-making on the $900 million student grant program.
  • This was a rushed announcement: At the time this memo was sent, a formal government press release and backgrounder had yet to be posted. This demonstrates both the volatility of FPT negotiations, as well as the opportunism of FPT collaboration during a pandemic. We can expect that most of the details around this announcement will emerge over the coming days and weeks, and possibly even change as time goes on and as the country moves closer to a second wave.

Santis Health will continue to monitor details surrounding today’s announcement. If you have any questions, please contact your Santis lead.