An agreement has been reached between Canada and the United States to keep the border closed to all non-essential travel for another month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday, calling it the “right thing” to do. He is cautioning that it could be months still before non-essential travel is allowed.
The extension on the existing agreement means that the border restrictions will stay in place until June 21, even as parts of both countries begin gradually reopening. The agreement, as it stands, exempts the flow of trade and commerce, as well as vital health-care workers such as nurses who live and work on opposite sides of the border. Tourists and cross-border visits remain prohibited.
“This is an important decision that will keep people in both of our countries safe,” Trudeau said on Tuesday. Facing questions about the cross-border decision, Trudeau said there was a clear desire from premiers to keep up the border closure.
“The decisions that were taking are very much made week-to-week in this crisis. The situation is changing rapidly and we’re adjusting constantly to what are the right measures for Canadians to get that balance right between keeping people safe, and restoring a semblance of normality and economic activity that we all rely on,” said the prime minister.
Speaking about the agreement at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump said that “as things clean up,” in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, both sides will “want to get back to normal.”
“We’re very close to Canada,” he said.
To date there have been more than 79,000 COVID-19 cases in Canada, and nearly 6,000 people have died, while the United States currently has more than 1.5 million active COVID-19 cases and more than 90,000 people have died in that country.
Talks had been underway since last week, with Canada wanting to see the travel limitations left in place, despite a growing push from Canadians who want to be reunited with loved ones who live across the border.
The prime minister continues to emphasize that reopening Canada’s border to international travel would be risky as countries worldwide are still working to contain outbreaks and more robust contact tracing has yet to be established.
“We will continue to watch carefully what’s happening elsewhere in the world, and around us as we make decisions on next steps,” Trudeau said.
Ahead of the extension being announced, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the government needs to put in place a clear plan for when a more broad reopening of travel could be possible, how that reopening would be managed and how further risks mitigated.
“We’ve also heard from individual cases of hardship, for individuals who are separated because of the closure. We certainly have a lot of compassion for those spouses who have been separated, or children who don’t have access to one parent or another,” Scheer said earlier on Tuesday.
This is the second time the agreement has been extended, after first being imposed in March, with the current extension on border restrictions set to expire May 21.
14-DAY ISOLATION KEY: TAM
The prime minister said this extension gives Canada another month to figure out how to answer questions such as what further measures will be required when the border does reopen to ensure that people crossing the border don’t become vectors for further spread of the deadly respiratory virus in Canada.
He said while planning is already happening on what “strong measures” will be imposed, it will become crucial once the time comes for non-essential travel to pick back up, which he estimates will be “in the coming months.”
Asked about what the public health argument is for continuing to keep the Canada-U.S. border closed and what the benchmarks will be for signs it’s an appropriate time to loosen those restrictions, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the first step would be carefully reopening travel restrictions within Canada.
She said drastically limiting who has been able to enter the country over the last two months—nearly all international visitors—has been key to Canada controlling the outbreak.
Canadian health officials will continue to watch the United States’ epidemic and trajectory to see whether it will be appropriate come June 21 to lift restrictions or continue to maintain them.
Further, she said that even when international travel can resume, the 14-day mandatory quarantine and follow up enforcement of that order will remain “a cornerstone” of the disease control measures.
“Fundamentally, it’s about ensuring that whatever we do, the system is still able to detect and still able to cope with any introduction,” Tam said.
COVID-19 has Canada’s banks worried about sickly loans
If Canada’s big banks are the canary in the coal mine for the economy as a whole, then there was some good news this week, and some less good news.
While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on Canadian society, Canada’s five biggest lenders — Royal Bank, Bank of Montreal, Scotiabank, CIBC and TD — remained profitable even as they set aside billions of dollars to offset possible losses from loans that might go bad in the coming months.
It was expected that measures to contain the pandemic, such as school and business closures, border shutdowns and travel restrictions, would grind economic activity to a halt, but the banks’ quarterly financial results for the three-month period up to April 30 were hotly anticipated because they are a deep dive into just how bad the economy was really doing.
If businesses like manufacturers, oil and gas companies, retailers and tech startups are having trouble paying their bills, that tends to show up at the big banks, which lend them money.
Analysts say one of the best ways of gauging how companies are doing is by paying attention to a banking metric known as loan loss provisions. That’s a complicated-sounding term for a fundamentally simple concept: how much banks set aside to pay for loans on their books they think might not get paid back.
Not all those loans will turn into losses. But paying attention to how much the banks are setting aside just in case is an excellent proxy for how worried they are.
Combined, Canada’s big five lenders set aside almost $11 billion last quarter to cover loans that aren’t currently being paid off as planned. That’s almost five times as much as they had set aside for bad loans in the same three-month period last year.
That’s the bad news. The good news? “They were bad, but not as bad as feared,” said Jim Shanahan, an analyst with investment firm Edward Jones who covers Canada’s big banks.
Considering the massive number of layoffs, business closures and the glacial pace of trade flows across the Canada-U.S. border due to COVID-19, there were fears that loan losses could have been “at levels that we would never have contemplated,” Shanahan said.
But that didn’t happen.
It’s equally important to note that even in all this, the banks are still making money. Collectively, the banks raked in nearly $5 billion in profits over the three months. That’s well below their usual pace, but Shanahan said there was “almost a collective sigh of relief” that the banks were still profitable.
Art Johnson, the founder of Calgary-based SmartBe Wealth, is one of the few money managers in Canada who doesn’t think shares in Canadian bank stocks are always worth buying, but even he admits their week went a lot better than it could have gone.
“When I look at the numbers, they’re bad,” he said in an interview. “There’s no two ways around it, these numbers are bad, [but] markets don’t look at bad or good, they look at better or worse.”
That explains what the banks’ stock prices did this week. Typically lower profits would have sent bank shares tumbling, but shares in all five were sharply up as investors breathed that sigh of relief that Shanahan was talking about.
“People were expecting a lot worse, and they were better than worse in all facets,” Johnson said.
Not out of the woods yet
While he understands why the bank stocks rallied with relief, Johnson thinks that exhale may be premature as the real pain in the economy may not show up on the banks’ books for another few months, once mortgage payment deferrals run out, and massive government progams supplementing income to laid-off workers expire.
“We’ll start to see the real impact of this three [or] four months down the road, and that’ll be where … it’ll be interesting for markets,” he said.
One of the best ways of gauging how optimistic the banks are about their future is to look at their dividend payments.
Canada’s big banks are known as reliable dividend-paying machines, slowly and methodically nudging up their payments to shareholders every few quarters for more than a century. Those big bank dividends are so rock-solid that TD and Scotiabank somehow managed to hike theirs even in the middle of the financial crisis in 2009.
The banks love to hike their dividends because investors love that extra income. But banks won’t do it unless they are confident they’ll be able to sustain the higher level in perpetuity — a harsh lesson that Quebec-focused bank Laurentian learned this week when it cut its payout, the first dividend slash by a Canadian lender that big in almost 30 years.
If dividend payouts are the best barometer of the financial health of Canada’s big banks — and, by extension, the economy — then the fact that none of them saw the need to cut this time around is an encouraging sign.
Those quarterly payouts look as rock-solid as ever, but even the banks admit the future still looks uncertain.
The CEO of National Bank, a distant sixth in the five-horse race atop Canadian banking, phrased it in a, well, enterprising fashion.
“This is Star Trek finance,” Louis Vachon said on a conference call with analysts to discuss the bank’s quarter, in which it booked one-third less profit and set aside five times more money for bad loans.
“We would describe the current environment as going where no one has gone before.”
Canada’s economy has managed to live long and prosper for decades on the backs of its biggest lenders, but Vachon makes it clear that those same banks are still keeping their shields up for now.
“We’re still watching for the Klingons [because] we’re not out of this crisis yet.”
Edited BY Harry Miller
Planning a Canadian vacation? Some provinces may be off limits. Here's what you need to know – CBC.ca
This summer, many Canadians may choose to explore their own country due to closed borders and concerns about contracting COVID-19 while travelling abroad.
“People will be sticking closer to home, going out in the cars because they [have] control. It’s their bubble,” said Allison Wallace, spokesperson for travel agency Flight Centre.
But before hitting the road or booking a flight, it’s important to first check the rules of the province you want to visit.
Currently, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the territories are banning visitors from other provinces.
Provinces in the rest of Canada are advising against non-essential travel, but their borders are still open to Canadian travellers.
Visitors to Manitoba and Nova Scotia, however, will first have to self-isolate for 14-days — a rule that’s likely to keep many people away.
Staying close to home safest bet
Provinces may ease — or tighten — their travel rules this summer, depending on their COVID-19 numbers, so it’s also important to stay up-to-date on your desired destination.
“Everybody is navigating this differently based on the situation they have locally, so we may see some provinces move at a different pace than others,” said Elliott Silverstein with CAA Insurance. The CAA — the Canadian Automobile Association — provides both auto and travel services.
And if the current restrictions and advisories remain, your safest bet this summer may be to stay close to home.
“If these barriers — if they’re not removed — it will effectively lead people … to travel within your own province,” said Silverstein.
The current travel rules for each province are listed below. Note that Canadians entering any province from another country must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.
N.B., N.L. and P.E.I.
In New Brunswick and P.E.I., peace officers stationed at land border crossings are authorized to turn travellers away if they attempt to enter.
“It goes against Islanders’ nature to not welcome visitors to the province, but it is what is needed at this time,” said P.E.I. government spokesperson Vickie Tse in an email.
However, the island is set to make an exception for some out-of-towners: Canadians with seasonal properties on P.E.I. can request entry by submitting an application on June 1. Those who get approval will be allowed to drive through New Brunswick to get to P.E.I.
New Brunswick may also let in cottage owners from other provinces sometime this summer.
Provinces shutting their borders to fellow Canadians has raised concerns from both legal experts and some travellers.
Kim Taylor of Halifax was devastated when Newfoundland and Labrador refused her request earlier this month to attend her mother’s funeral in the province. She was allowed in 11 days later — after speaking publicly about her case.
Last week, Taylor and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association launched a court challenge against Newfoundland and Labrador, alleging its border ban is unconstitutional.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government told CBC News it couldn’t comment on a case before the courts.
WATCH | Travel bubbles considered for regions with low COVID-19 cases:
Residents in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and P.E.I. can visit other parts of Canada, but must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return — a high price to pay for an out-of-province vacation.
Residents may also pay a high price if they break the rules. A New Brunswick doctor recently travelled to Quebec for personal reasons, didn’t self-isolate when he returned and wound up infecting at least eight other New Brunswickers with COVID-19. He has since been suspended from practising in the province.
Man. and N.S.
Anyone visiting Manitoba or Nova Scotia — or returning from a trip to another province — must self-isolate for 14 days. Travellers driving through Manitoba are asked to stop only when necessary to access essential services.
Manitoba has also banned non-essential travel to its northern and remote regions to help prevent the COVID-19 spread in the province.
Alta., B.C., Ont., Que. and Sask.
Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan aren’t banning travellers from other provinces or mandating that they self-isolate for 14 days. However, they all advise against non-essential travel at this time.
Don’t cross the border. We love our Quebec neighbours, but just wait until this is all over.– Ontario Premier Doug Ford
“Don’t cross the border. We love our Quebec neighbours, but just wait until this is all over,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford stated earlier this month when asked about Quebecers visiting Ontario.
If you do decide to visit Alberta, B.C. or Saskatchewan, don’t plan on pitching a tent at a provincially run campground; until further notice, their campsites will only be available to residents in their province.
Quebec and Saskatchewan have also restricted non-essential travel to certain remote northern regions in their province as a precautionary measure during the pandemic.
Anyone entering Saskatchewan from another part of Canada is advised to self-monitor their health for 14 days and to self-isolate at the first sign of any COVID-19 symptoms.
What about the territories?
Canada surpasses 7,000 coronavirus deaths – CKNW News Talk 980
The coronavirus pandemic has now claimed more than 7,000 lives in Canada.
The number of fatalities reached 7,073 on Saturday, after Quebec released its latest figures.
The province announced 76 deaths, along with 419 new cases of the virus.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has infected more than 90,000 people in Canada, with a little more than half of the cases diagnosed in Quebec. Nearly 1.7 million Canadians have been tested for the virus.
Public health officials have said that most of Canada’s deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities.
The Canadian Forces deployed members to Ontario and Quebec in order to help care for residents last month. The soldiers recently sounded the alarm over poor conditions in some homes.
Despite increasing death tolls and case counts, the rate of infection appears to be slowing in most provinces, and many have taken gradual steps toward reopening in recent weeks.
The new coronavirus was formally identified in January after Wuhan, China, saw a cluster of pneumonia cases that were not associated with any known virus. The illness caused by the virus was later dubbed COVID-19.
COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11.
The disease has wrought havoc on economies around the world and prompted widespread shutdowns of non-essential businesses, schools and workplaces.
Coronavirus outbreak: United States officially passes 100,000 COVID-19 deaths
Earlier this week, the U.S. exceeded 100,000 deaths due to the pandemic. And overall, more than 5.9 million people around the world have been diagnosed, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The global death toll stands at more than 365,000.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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