Last Thursday, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister announced that Canada’s Premiers had agreed to an FPT Safe Restart Agreement. The deal, which would see the feds send over $19B to provincial and territorial governments would be strictly allocated to a range of critical, COVID-impacted and provincially-managed areas including healthcare, childcare and municipal services. The intent of the Safe Restart Agreement is to help provinces and territories restart their economies over the coming six to eight months while preparing for a possible second wave. But this agreement was more than a response to COVID-19 – it was also about politics.
Support for the agreement was cross-partisan. Progressive and centrist leaders including B.C. Premier John Horgan and Toronto Mayor John Tory praised the agreement. Horgan gave the feds kudos for delivering on their commitment to a paid sick-leave program and funding for Canadians facing mental health challenges, including problematic substance abuse. Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford, with an eye already on his next election run, continued his woo-ing of soft Liberals by dishing out more praise for Deputy Prime Minister’s Chrystia Freeland’s role in brokering the deal. Even Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, the current chair of the Council of the Federation but no friend of the federal government, called it ‘a step in the right direction.’ He approved of the ‘flexibility that was created within the envelopes’ so that P/T’s could use their discretion in how to deploy the funds to best suit their needs. For the first time in a long-time, it seemed like we were all one happy family once again.
Polls show Canadians approve of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, which has been marked as collaborative, amicable, and respectful of their provincial and territorial partners. Indeed, that collaborative spirit was on clear display early on in this crisis, but it slowly began to fade as the weeks turned into months. There are still potential hiccups that could occur with the agreement as provinces and territories get into the weeds on priority-specific funding and work out details on new sick leave policies. More details on each province’s restart plan are anticipated in the next few weeks.
Whether this renewed team approach is a result of the polls or the number of zeros on the cheque, time will tell. What is clear is that, for the moment, the spirit of federal-provincial cooperation is alive and well.