Premier Scott Moe took stock of Saskatchewan’s reopening plan on Friday and championed the document and his government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moe said the time was right to start reopening the province, especially since updated employment data from Statistics Canada shows thousands of job losses across the country.
Still according to him, the situation in Saskatchewan is a success, as the unemployment rate in the province is the second lowest among the provinces and territories of Canada.
“There have been huge job losses everywhere,” Moe told reporters at the press conference on Friday.
“While the new unemployment figures are very disturbing … there are also reasons for some optimism. “
Moe said the number of people working in Saskatchewan has dropped 12.7% since February – less than any other province in Canada. At the same time, the unemployment rate at 11.3% is the second lowest in the country. The province has lost 71,000 jobs due to the pandemic, he said.
“We have to find a way for these people to return to work,” he said.
“At the same time, we must recognize that approximately half a million Saskatchewanians have remained employed throughout this pandemic. This is good news for all of us. “
According to Friday’s employment update, more than 3 million Canadians have lost their jobs since the start of the economic closure of COVID-19.
The 15.7% drop in employment “far exceeds declines seen in previous labor market downturns,” Statistics Canada wrote on Friday. The 1981-1982 recession, for example, led to a 5.4% reduction in employment over 17 months.
Quebec was the hardest hit, with employment falling 18.7%. They are also leading the nation in unemployment with a staggering 17 percent.
The unemployment rate of 11.3% in Saskatchewan is similar to that in Ontario. The only province to perform better in April is Prince Edward Island, where the unemployment rate is 10.8%.
The national unemployment rate is 13%.
“Saskatchewan is more resistant to the storm than many provinces,” said Moe.
He said the question was not in black and white. It is not a question of protection on the one hand or of economics on the other.
“People can go to work … and we can do it safely while controlling the spread of COVID-19,” said Moe.
“We know that we do everything differently. Do you want to reopen the economy or do you want to control the spread of COVID-19? The point is, I want to do both – we all want to do both. Everyone in this province wants to do both. I firmly believe that we are able to achieve both of these goals. “
The first phase of the province’s reopening plan went into effect on Monday. Phase two should start after another week. The province added two areas to its reopening plan on Friday, according to industry comments.
Drive-in theaters will open May 15. Farmers’ markets can start on May 19.
They will need to follow protocols and guidelines on social distance to keep people safe.
“There are still a number of businesses that will not be able to reopen,” said Moe. “So today we’re announcing additional support for these companies. “
The province has revealed that businesses that have already qualified for a first payment under the province’s small business emergency support program will automatically receive a second payment after May 19. The program allows applicants to receive 15% of their sales revenue from April. 2019 or February 2020, up to $ 5,000, to help businesses that have been forced to close with fixed costs such as rent. To date, more than 4,700 claims have been processed and more than $ 15 million in payments have been made. The program will be extended for the month of May for those who must remain closed after May 19.
“We want to support these companies so that everyone has a job to come back to when we reopen,” said Moe.
“I want to encourage each of you to continue your physical distancing practices so that we can protect you not only from your family and friends.”
Moe said further changes to Saskatchewan’s reopening plan may occur as industries come up with unique solutions to deliver their services.
“No one has ever had to reopen an economy before,” said Moe.
“We are working on this path, guided by public safety and good public health in our communities. The changes come from… the business community that contacts us through our business response phone line and provides us, in human cases, with suggestions on how they can work better and safer. “
These suggestions, said Moe, are then submitted to the medical officers of health, who determine whether they represent a route forward allowing access to services while protecting public health and safety.
“If (the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Saqib Shahab) and his team do not believe it can be done safely, we must delay them until a later date,” said Moe.
“We are listening to everyone involved, but ultimately the plan is guided by public health and public safety, making sure to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and keep as many people in this province. as safe as possible. “
Shahab reiterated the previous points – that in some cases it may be acceptable to have closer contact with one or two people in your extended household, as long as no one is sick and no one has conditions underlying. He also stressed that the reopening of businesses does not mean a return to the situation before the pandemic.
“COVID-19 can come back with a vengeance and in a few days, it can go from one case to several dozen,” said Shahab.
“We still have to maintain this discipline around physical distance as a whole. This will continue to apply as other areas reopen. Just like the grocery store is not the same as before.
“Now is not the time to try ten shirts and buy one. The best way is that if you want to get a shirt, you know your size, select your color, take that shirt and come back. We really need to change the way we get into retail. “
Moe said it was time to change the way the province would rebound.
“We have the challenge of doing it 71,000 times so that all those who have lost their jobs have the opportunity to find their jobs,” he said.
“As the world seeks to recover, we must see this as an opportunity. We create our wealth by supplying goods to the rest of the world and we have in this province what the world needs in a strong economic recovery. Among the potash, and among the uranium, and among the agricultural products that are entering the ground right now as we begin the great mega sowing project – we have one of the most important resources in people’s resilience in our communities across this great Province. I am convinced that not only will we be able to put our 71,000 people back to work… we will be able to do much better than that. ”