Parliament Just Closed for Coronavirus. Most Canadians Still Have to Work

Canada's House of Commons will be suspended until at least April 5 to curb COVID-19 spread. But millions of people across the country can't work from home.
March 13, 2020, 6:11pm
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in media scrum
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been working from home since his wife tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday night. Sean Kilpatrick (CP)

Canada is one of the first countries to announce a shutdown of Parliament to curb coronavirus spread because—fair enough—who wants to get sick?

Starting Friday, the House of Commons will be suspended for at least five weeks, until April 5.

“We go back and shake thousands of hands,” House leader Pablo Rodriguez said. “And then, 338 people go back, shake thousands of hands, and come back together here.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, prompting the couple to self-isolate for the next two weeks. For now, the prime minister said he has no symptoms and will only get tested if they arise.

Trudeau took to social media to post a glamour shot of himself on the phone while working from home.

Too bad millions of regular Canadians can’t take impromptu work breaks because of the coronavirus pandemic. In Canada, more than 150 Canadians have tested positive for the virus, with cases expected to climb. Public health authorities are urging Canadians to take measures that prevent the spread of disease, including hand-washing, social distancing, and time off work if sick—which is exactly what the country’s top politicians are doing.

Privileged people who enjoy stable, salaried positions, paid sick days, and benefits will fare better during the COVID-19 pandemic than those who don’t. So imagine watching the government shut down when you, yourself, have to keep working.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to VICE when asked to respond to Canadians who are concerned they can’t take time off work or work from home the way politicians can.

The government will continue to discuss and implement measures to deal with the virus during the shutdown. On Friday, Ottawa said it is considering closing Canada-U.S. borders and restricting the number of airports accepting international flights.

One news report also said the motion to suspend Parliament will give Ottawa more money to devote to the pandemic, but the PMO did not say whether MPs will take a pay cut during the parliamentary shutdown.

The Commons did note that MPs could return to work sooner if an emergency requires a meeting.

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