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April 24, 2020 – Any framework for a gradual reopening of the economy should be transparent, pan-Canadian, and balance the risks of further transmission with the economic costs of leaving key sectors shut down, says the C.D. Howe Institute Crisis Working Group on Business Continuity and Trade.

In its meeting on April 21, the group of economists and industry experts, co-chaired by Dwight Duncan, Senior Strategic Advisor at McMillan LLP and former Ontario Minister of Finance, and Jeanette Patell, Vice-President of Government Affairs and Policy for GE Canada, discussed what the playbook for a gradual return to work should look like.

Recommended principles for this playbook are:

  1. Transparent pre-conditions for each stage of easing economy-wide restrictions
  2. Pan-Canadian consistency in principles, decision-making criteria and data
  3. Sector-level staging for restart based on workplace transmission risks and economic impacts
  4. Safeguarding access to essential goods and services
  5. Synchronized re-opening of enabling public services and infrastructure
  6. Clear off-ramp for government-provided temporary income supports

Pre-conditions for economy-wide re-opening of the economy should be based on the judgement of public health experts and informed by further monitoring. Based on epidemiological modelling, a playbook should identify the acceptable thresholds for virus spread and health system capacity at which governments will plan to ease restrictions. The sequence for easing sector-level restrictions should be based on the:

  • potential extent of population exposure from the activity;
  • probability of transmission in the sector/workplace;
  • workplace-level protocols for health and safety practices to mitigate transmission; and
  • balance between risk tolerance and economic costs from restrictions on the activity.

While provincial governments should continue to make decisions about local emergency measures, the federal government should ensure a coordinated approach across the provinces. In particular, Ottawa should identify appropriate pre-conditions, monitor and report key public health indicators, and standardize health and safety guidance and risk-rating for specific sectors.

The group noted that while governments should now plan for restart, Canada is not yet out of the woods. Many sectors and companies will continue to face financial distress. Although federal and provincial governments have established various credit supports for businesses, companies continue to face fixed costs and other financial obligations. With the likelihood of a protracted downturn in demand for exports and continuing restrictions on workplace activities, governments will need to make and communicate difficult decisions about which sectors and companies receive direct financial support.

For more information, please contact: Grant Bishop, Associate Director, Research, C.D. Howe Institute; David Blackwood, Communications Officer, C.D. Howe Institute: Phone: 416-873-6168; email: dblackwood@cdhowe.org

Full Communiqué: CWGR_2020_0424.pdf