The coronavirus disrupts Ottawa life

Politics Insider for March 13: COVID-19 cancels a first ministers’ meeting, forces Alberta to prohibit large gatherings and prompts Ontario to extend March Break

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Yesterday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was planning to convene a two-day first ministers’ meeting in Ottawa. Albertans were free to gather for concerts, sports, you name it. Schools in Ontario were set to return after March Break. And you might have been thinking about the Manning Networking Conference, slated to start two weeks from today.

By the end of the day, the FMM was cancelled and Trudeau was in self-isolation as his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, was tested for COVID-19. Last night, that test came back positive (Grégoire Trudeau’s symptoms are mild). Alberta’s top doctor, Deena Hinshaw, announced that groups of 250 or more could no longer meet—and she advised Albertans to avoid international travel. Ontario has extended the school March break an extra two weeks. And the Manning meetup was cancelled, suffering the same fate as so many conferences.

Trudeau was on the phone with Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, U.S. President Donald Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters yesterday that he’d had a call with Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Last night, he spoke with Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. treasury secretary.

Tory leader Andrew Scheer attacked the government in question period for not screening enough international arrivals at airports. Meanwhile, Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole cancelled all leadership campaign events for the foreseeable future. Jagmeet Singh stayed home from work on doctors’ orders, feeling unwell (though his symptoms were apparently inconsistent with COVID-19).

Phew. The pace of the COVID-19 news cycle quickens seemingly by the hour. But Maclean’s writers are watching every update. Everything you need to know is here:

We also have lots of analysis:

  • What do Canadians think of the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak? Public opinion may vary greatly as the COVID-19 crisis deepens across Canada, but an Angus Red poll that was in the field last week gave the federal government a relatively positive score: 49 per cent of respondents said the feds were handling things well, compared with 34 per cent who thought the opposite. A slight majority of Canadians gave provincial governments passing grades, though some (B.C. at 62 per cent approval) fared better than others (Alberta at 40 per cent).
  • The easiest event to cancel: Trudeau and the premiers: The coronavirus outbreak forced Trudeau to stick to phone calls with world leaders and premiers. Paul Wells writes that it’s just as well that the PM and the premiers didn’t convene a first ministers’ meeting with an impossible agenda and no concrete goals, where broad commitments replace the well-defined deals of confabs past. “These meetings have become an extension of the Prime Minister’s Twitter feed. He tells people what he’s doing; they are free to react; then they leave and he does some more of it.”
  • Cancel your March Break: “Be afraid. Be very afraid,” writes Stephen Maher, whose intent is not alarmism—he’s following the advice of David Fisman, head of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. Fisman fears the unknown scale of the outbreak in the U.S., and joins other public health experts in what’s become a mantra: wash your hands, work from home, avoid crowds. He also advises against travel and recommends conversations with older family members about what to do if they get sick.

There was, of course, other news yesterday in Ottawa. And it would have been bombshell news any other day. The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, the panel charged with reviewing the work of Canada’s intelligence agencies, published a redacted version of its annual report.

The report confirms that Russia and China are engaging in foreign interference in Canada at all levels of government—not exactly new information, but a significant disclosure in a public report. A separate report from the committee alleged the Department of National Defence might be violating the Privacy Act as it collects information about Canadians abroad.

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