OPINION: “Better than Trump” is no excuse for Freeland’s inaction on COVID-19

Freeland's Fall Economic Statement had "Fighting COVID-19" in it's name, but no measures to fight COVID-19. While coastal provinces succeed, Kenney's ideological experiment is failing -- and there's no hint the Trudeau government thinks that's a national concern.

Tom Parkin, CNC Opinion

This week’s Fall Economic Statement increased business subsidies and did provide new support to some families. But Liberal claim to be fighting the pandemic and implementing post-COVID recovery plan were almost completely untrue.

The document, Supporting Canadians and Fighting COVID-19, commits to $100 billion in stimulus spending to pump up the economy for three years after the pandemic is over. Department of Finance analysis estimates the $100 billion won’t get Canada back to pre-pandemic employment levels until sometime between early 2022 and early 2024.

The recovery plan is just a notion with a number. There’s no explanation why $100 billion is optimal. And while Liberals say the $100 billion will be “targeted,” there’s no clue what it will be targeted on.

But surely the bigger omission by Freeland is having no plan to attack the virus crippling our economy.

Standing back as Canadians get sick, die and lose jobs may be acceptable to the pedants who think smart governing is about staying inside the colouring lines of constitutional jurisdiction. It might be adequate for the minimizers who call Canada’s pandemic response a success because it’s “better than Trump.” Those dismal pedants and minimizers may be the biggest obstacle to getting this virus under control – and getting working people and small businesses back on their feet.

We have Canadian success stories. Two weeks ago it seemed Nova Scotia might have lost control of COVID, turning up 20 or more cases a day among its nearly one million people. But after a mass testing campaign, on Sunday only four new cases were reported. And among five million British Columbians, daily new cases seemed to have now crested, falling from almost 1,000 two weeks ago to under 700 now.

But in several Canadian provinces, the response to COVID-19 is disgraceful and indefensible. Without doubt, Premier Jason Kenney is the lead example. His do-nothing libertarianism has completely failed. Perhaps Kenney was out of ideas as soon as he realized a tax cut for foreign oil and gas corporations wasn’t going to stop COVID-19.

Albertans are Canadians. And it is immoral for the leaders of Canada, protected by their chorus of pedants and minimizers, to stand back while Kenney’s ideological experiment inflicts sickness, death and economic destruction on Canadians.

And it’s not just Kenney. While the five provinces on our coasts attack the disease and set their goal at zero cases, the five in the middle have rising cases and the ensuing economic impacts. On Friday Statistics Canada data showed employment has almost fully recovered in the five coastal provinces. Manitoba and Alberta are farthest back. For their failure, the fee is $100 billion.

Yet it does not seem any of the five failures has any plan – other than more waves and more lockdowns – even as they sit on billions in unspent federal COVID aid. Under-resourced test-trace-isolate efforts were overrun months ago. There’s no replacement.

A vaccine will protect no more than eight per cent of the popular by April 1. Every day the pandemic continues, workers are hurt. Every day it continues, the federal debt rises to subsidize failing businesses. Every day it continues, more businesses close down.

Allowing Premiers to fail in their first obligation to people – safety – is a national concern. But nothing in Freeland’s Fall Economic Statement showed much hint of concern.

The Prime Minister needs express our national concern. Using the sticks and carrots of federalism, Trudeau needs premiers to put strong restrictions in place now – and develop plans for keeping COVID under control once restrictions have broken the back of this second wave.

A $100 billion stimulus fund for the post-pandemic future is fine. But perhaps $10 billion injected into a public health partnership today could bring that future a lot closer – and might have a far bigger economic payback. We don’t know. Likely no one even had the imagination to consider it.

 

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