OTTAWA — The House of Commons decided to shut down Friday for five weeks to help ensure MPs do not contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

All parties agreed to the measure, which means MPs will miss two sitting weeks, as they had previously planned to be away next week and two weeks in April.

The agreement among MPs hastened passage of the new trade deal among Canada, the United States and Mexico. The House unanimously passed a bill on the trade deal and a handful of others on spending measures. The Senate then quickly gave its approval to the legislation.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called passage of the trade bill a great example of all-party co-operation. “We work together as Team Canada, and that is also what we are doing in rising to meet the challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic.”

However, the federal budget, slated for March 30, won’t be delivered that day. It’s postponed to a time yet to be chosen.

The House is scheduled to meet again April 20.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez said the Commons could come back sooner if an emergency requires a meeting.

“We will face this together, and we will get through this together,” he said.

Conservative House leader Mark Strahl said the official Opposition would still work to hold the government to account during the unfolding health crisis.

The outbreak has directly touched Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, as she has tested positive for COVID-19. The Prime Minister’s Office said late Thursday she was feeling well, with only mild symptoms.

The prime minister is in good health with no symptoms, but will stay in isolation for 14 days and hold meetings by telephone or videoconferencing.

“I want to be clear. I have no symptoms and I’m feeling good,” he said Friday from his Rideau Cottage residence.

Trudeau said while the situation is frustrating, it is important to follow the advice of health professionals.

Concerns about COVID-19 have prompted cancellation of many large gatherings and sporting events, closure of schools and introduction of travel restrictions.

Canada’s chief public health officer says Canadians should not travel outside the country unless it is essential. The cruise season has been suspended until July.

Trudeau said he would speak with premiers and Indigenous leaders by phone later Friday on COVID-19.

“All levels of government are working together. We are talking regularly, we are co-ordinating our efforts.”

The prime minister acknowledged that Canadians are concerned.

“I know that you’re worried. You’re worried about your health, about your families, about your job, your savings, about paying rent, about the kids not being in school,” Trudeau said.

The pandemic has sent stock markets plunging, rattling economies around the globe.

Trudeau said a significant fiscal stimulus package will be announced in the days ahead. “We will help Canadians financially.”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau was expected to provide an update Friday afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2020.


Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press