The American and Canadian Responses to COVID-19

By: Abigail Plouff, 2L

(Source: AFP/Getty Images)

In December, 2019, reports emerged that a highly contagious coronavirus called COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China.  The virus spread worldwide, as the World Health Organization classified it as a pandemic on March 11, 2020.  On April 1, 2020, there were approximately 884,075 recorded cases of COVID-19 globally.

Canada and the United States took state action to stop the spread of COVID-19 and derived their powers from their constitutions and other sources of law.  Trump declared the outbreak of COVID-19 as a national emergency on March 1, 2020, citing the United States Constitution and other federal laws, the National Emergencies Act, and the Social Security Act. This permitted the federal government to spend additional funds, temporarily lower some legal barriers, provide aid to state and local governments, and take measures to ensure the public health.

In Canada, the federal government’s main source of legal authority used to combat the spread of COVID-19 is the Quarantine Act.  This Act allows the prime minister of health to declare any building in Canada a quarantine zone, including private homes. It enables public health officials to question and examine anyone that enters the country and can force people to accept medical treatment.

Canada and the United States both face crashed economies and the need to support individuals and businesses as a way of mitigating the harm.  On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed Congress’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.  As a $2 trillion stimulus package, it gives $1,200 to qualifying single Americans or $2,400 to qualifying couples, with parents receiving an additional $500 for each child.  The Department of Education suspended student loan payments until September 30, 2020.  The bill provides unemployment benefits of $600 per week—which can supplement state benefits—for those unable to work or those whose hours have been reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Treasury Department is providing $500 billion in its lending program to various businesses, states, and municipalities.

Canada also passed a stimulus package to provide relief for individuals and to help the economy.  The stimulus package equates to $145 billion in US dollars and includes wage subsidies, government-backed credit lines, and additional tax deferrals to put cash into about 1.2 million of the country’s small and medium-sized businesses.  Additionally, the Bank of Canada lowered its policy to 0.25% and announced it would start purchasing large-scale assets.

The Canadian and American response in these bills and amongst government officials differ in their messages about what each country is willing to do to help individuals and keep the economy afloat.  The United States’ approach is more numbers-based and planned out in definite terms.  Canada left some details open-ended, such as what relief will be offered to the oil and gas and airline sectors, or whether the federal government will provide individuals direct payments that are uniform across all provinces.  Canadian policy makers and authorities pledged limitless aid to individuals and the economy.

Canada will likely add to its stimulus package.  Finance Minister Bill Morneau said, “there’s not a cap” when it comes to stimulus measures. As Finance Minister Bill Morneau said, Canada is “going to do whatever it takes to support people.”

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