Scheer calls for more oversight of government's COVID-19 response

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is calling for the Liberals to be more transparent about their response to the COVID-19 crisis.

He wants the government to release all its data on the spread of the novel coronavirus and its implications, as well provide regular updates with facts and figures on the stockpile of supplies, the availability of hospital beds, and other response measures.

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"Mr. Trudeau says his government is being guided by the evidence," Scheer said during a news conference from his home town of Regina.

"So it's time to release that evidence."

Ontario released its current projections for the province Friday, saying with the public health restrictions in place Ontario can expect to see between 3,000 and 15,000 people die of COVID-19, a number that would be 100,000 with no such measures.

Quebec intends to release its information April 14. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told the Alberta Legislature Wednesday his province will be releasing its data soon as well.

The federal projections for how many people might die, when the infection rate might peak and how long people will be asked to stay home, are based on the data coming in from the provinces and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday the national analyses and projections are coming but aren't ready yet.

"We are working with the provinces to be able to build a robust model to give the projections that people want to see," he said.

"People are wondering how much longer is this going to last, how many Canadians are going to be severely affected. These are things that we will be sharing with Canadians but we need to make sure we have a better grasp on the accuracy of the data before we put projections out there."

Scheer also called for the daily briefings from the prime minister and government ministers to start looking more like statements in the House of Commons.

He said the Opposition ought to be able to directly question the government, and wants video sessions that would give that opportunity.

Scheer said his party is ready to be part of a "Team Canada" approach to pandemic response.

"Taking a Team Canada approach does not mean no tough questions or oversight. In fact the opposite is true," he said.

"Rigorous scrutiny and accountability ensures that the right decisions are made on behalf of Canadians."

Simon Ross, a spokesman for government House leader Pablo Rodriguez, said in a written statement that the government wants to work with the opposition parties.

"Canadians need help paying their groceries and their bills," Ross said. "They are looking to us to work together to get them the help they need. We will continue doing exactly that. We thank the opposition for their collaboration and will continue working with them so that Canadians can get the support they need as fast as possible."

Parliament is expected to reconvene to handle the government's wage subsidy program. The original legislation passed by the House of Commons did not allow for the government's plan to provide a 75 per cent subsidy to a wide range of employers. It allowed a much smaller subsidy targeted at small businesses.

Scheer said Friday he is hopeful there will not be a repeat of how the government handled the original bill — surprising the opposition parties with provisions in that gave the Liberals broad spending and taxation powers for upwards of a year.

The opposition got the provisions axed, and got included a requirement for the House of Commons finance and health committee to provide oversight.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2020.

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