Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam appears via video conference as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a news conference in Ottawa on May 4, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Richard Fadden is a former national security adviser to the prime minister. He was director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service from 2009 to 2013 and served as deputy minister of national defence from 2013 to 2015.

As COVID-19 case counts continue to decline and Canada looks optimistically ahead to our future after pandemic restrictions are lifted, it may be time to also start looking back – specifically, at how this country handled the pandemic and how we should organize ourselves to deal with the next major disruptive event. The only way this can be done comprehensively and objectively is through the establishment of a public inquiry with national scope and freedom from political interference.

Two points can be made in favour of such an inquiry. The first is that it is indisputable that the pandemic could have been better handled. We were not properly prepared and many of the decisions taken from the very beginning were the wrong ones, or were at least not explained nearly as clearly as they might have been. The expiry of much of our national stockpile of personal protective equipment and the confusing initial advice on the wearing of masks are just two examples. A careful examination of the reasons for these types of mistakes could help us avoid repeating them in the future.

Story continues below advertisement

The second point underlying the need for an inquiry is the worldwide consensus that serious disruptive events will continue to occur and are likely to grow in intensity and variety. Other pandemics, flooding, fires or migration are the most obvious and likely. To fail to better prepare for such events will border on criminal, and proper planning requires a clear understanding of how the management of past events can be improved upon.

There are a number of ways to review our management of the current pandemic, but nothing short of a nationally oriented public inquiry established by – but not beholden to – the federal government will do. Internal reviews by the public service would be too narrow and they would be undertaken by the very institutions whose activities and advice need to be reviewed. Review by Parliament would fall prey to the excessive partisanship that seems to govern relations within our various legislatures. Auditors general will have a contribution to make to our understanding of what happened, but they are limited to their respective jurisdictions and have little if any ability to consider activity in the private sector and in civil society.

The COVID-19 crisis is unquestionably a national and international challenge that paid little attention to borders, and as such the inquiry must be structured to allow for a review of all aspects of how Canada fared. Three issues should be of particular focus.

The first is the need to consider to what extent Canada should ensure that certain essential goods be available, no matter what. This is not a matter for governments alone; it requires the participation of the business sector and the provinces.

The second issue is one of personal freedoms. We live in a country of rights and responsibilities, and that balance always needs to be carefully calibrated. The question of whether an individual’s right to refuse public health advice supersedes government efforts to ensure the greater good needs at least some measure of resolution.

The third issue involves the roles and responsibilities of the numerous levels of government within Canada, as well as the roles of other countries and of international institutions. The management of interprovincial and international borders is perhaps the most obvious example of something in this area that needs to be probed. The broad distribution of responsibility and action to deal with COVID-19 may or may not have been essentially correct. Either way, it needs an objective review to determine if any adjustments are necessary for the future.

A process like this could also help us recognize and fortify our strong points. The objective of an inquiry is not to assume bad faith or assign blame, but rather to look into what was done and how, with a view to proposing corrective action. Any inquiry must recognize what went well. In this respect, the relatively positive response of the public to instructions and the general level of co-operation between the federal and provincial governments (as evidenced by many First Minister virtual meetings) need mention.

Story continues below advertisement

Given the number of deaths Canada has seen throughout this pandemic, the enormous social and economic adjustments Canadians have made, and the unprecedented cost to taxpayers, this country needs a credible, practical and comprehensive look at how we can be better prepared for the next pandemic. A public inquiry established by the federal government, but independent of it, is the only practical vehicle to accomplish this. It needs to be set up before the next election to prevent its work from becoming a matter of partisan debate. Now is not too soon to get started.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies