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Canada prepared to act quickly to help firms hit by coronavirus outbreak: finance minister

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada is prepared to act quickly to help companies hurt financially by the outbreak of the new coronavirus and would not need to wait for the next budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said on Tuesday.

The Liberal government has not yet set a date for the annual budget, which is often unveiled in the second half of March.

Morneau had earlier discussed the virus with counterparts from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations. The ministers said they would use all appropriate policy tools to achieve strong, sustainable global growth and safeguard against downside risks.

Morneau said Ottawa was paying particular attention to the oil and gas and tourism sectors.

“The budget is not the necessary place for us to deal with this,” Morneau told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, adding that it was premature to say what the effects of the outbreak would be in Canada.

“Should there be some issue in the economy we see that happens quickly or even further out, we will deal with that as the facts emerge. It could be in advance of a budget, it could be in a budget, it could be after a budget,” he said.

Canada has so far only reported a handful of cases of the virus that began in China and has now spread to about 80 countries. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier said the government was open to the idea of helping firms that are suffering.

Morneau said the Canadian economy was in a strong position and better capable of dealing with the virus compared to other G7 nations such as Italy, which is grappling with a major outbreak.

“We’re going to be prepared to deal with this in a way that … can support businesses if they find themselves in a situation where they can’t keep their business going because of changes either in their supply opportunities or potentially in their demand,” he said.

Pressed as to what Ottawa could do, Morneau cited Italy’s move to provide credit support to businesses.

Trudeau, speaking to reporters in Halifax, did not respond directly to a question on whether Ottawa might offer more money to Canada’s 10 provinces, which are responsible for delivering healthcare.

Morneau said he would speak to his provincial counterparts on Wednesday.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)