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Quebec premier apologizes as province surpasses 5,000 COVID-19 deaths|BCI CANADA

MONTREAL — Quebec's premier apologized as the province surpassed 5,000 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, vowing to take lessons from the loss of life.

Authorities added 45 new deaths after days of declining numbers, pushing the provincial toll to 5,029, with nearly 90 per cent of those deaths in the province's long-term care homes.

"The message I have is that I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the decisions that have been taken or not taken in the last 10 to 20 years," Francois Legault told reporters in Quebec City.

"We're sad for the families that are close to these people. Five thousand deaths is a lot — 4,500 came from those (seniors) residences — so clearly there was a problem with those residences."

Legault said the province needs to draw lessons from what has unfolded. "As a government, this tells us we must do better in the future," he said.

Health Minister Danielle McCann said a deputy minister has been appointed to look at the COVID-19 situation in Montreal to improve the response ahead of a possible second wave.

"So, we want this work to be done this summer, and we want to implement quickly those recommendations," McCann said.

The underlying COVID-19 numbers suggested improvement, with the number of new confirmed cases continuing to drop. An additional 138 infections were reported Tuesday, bringing the total to 53,185.

Meanwhile, the number hospitalizations dropped to 961 and those in intensive care dropped to 117.

Legault urged vigilance as he said the province is facing a double challenge — boosting the economy without relaunching the pandemic.

The premier said he's ready to extend the current legislative session to pass Bill 61, designed to fast-track construction projects the province deems essential to kick-start the economy and put "Quebecers back to work."

Opposition parties have expressed concerns about the bill, which would extend the state of health emergency and accelerate 202 infrastructure projects such as hospitals, seniors homes, schools and public transit.

Legault said that while some have raised concerns that pushing projects will come at the expense of environmental impact assessments, the idea is to reduce the length of the reviews, which can take up to 11 months.

He was also confident that approving projects more quickly wouldn't end with a return to corruption that plagued Quebec's construction industry and was highlighted by a commission of inquiry in 2015.

Legault noted he has confidence in Justice Minister Sonia LeBel, who was lead counsel for the inquiry, and Treasury Board President Christian Dube to protect against collusion.

"It's clear that nobody wants that," Legault said. "We want to have competition and give contracts at the lowest cost possible."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2020.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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