This space has long argued that fighting the pandemic has to be “Job No. 1” for all levels of government. Keeping the number of infections from exploding is surely the way to keep the economic recovery from going into reverse gear.
The Trudeau government’s Throne Speech adopts almost the same language. Adopts it, and then orphans it.
“The first foundation of the government’s approach is protecting Canadians from COVID-19,” said Wednesday’s agenda-setting text. “This is priority number one.”
"The best way to keep the economy strong is to keep Canadians healthy,” it continued, describing the need for a “Team Canada effort.”
“Protecting your health,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday night, “is the best thing we can do for the economy.”
Correct. The road to economic recovery goes through the virus.
Unfortunately, the government’s pandemic-fighting rhetoric doesn’t include any new promises of actual, pandemic-fighting action. If this is a Team Canada effort, it’s awfully light on effort.
The Throne Speech’s section on “Protecting Canadians from COVID-19” may have come right at the top, but it reads like an afterthought. If containing the virus really is the government’s top priority, and if the fastest route to economic recovery is virus suppression, then why did the government have so little to say about it?
As the second wave of the pandemic begins to surge across Canada, what should have been the Throne Speech’s big kahuna is instead its big lacuna.
Yes, the government congratulated itself on its moves earlier this year to ramp up the purchase and production of personal protective equipment. Yes, it reminded Canadians that it has already created a “Safe Restart Agreement,” offering the provinces and territories $19-billion for various anti-pandemic efforts, and that it recently extended them another $2-billion, to defray some of the costs of school reopening.
But all of that is in the past tense. The Trudeau government had little to offer in terms of what it plans to do next to help the provinces – who are largely responsible for health care and public health – defeat the second wave.
“The surge this fall,” said the Throne Speech, “further reinforces what we already know – that we must do even more.”
But the Throne Speech did not have more.
The Trudeau government, however, did have a lot to say about all the things it could do once the war is over, with a child-care program at the top of the agenda.
It also had a lot to say about all the things it intends to continue doing, to support people who have lost jobs and businesses that have lost sales. In the broad strokes, the government at least has that right. Ottawa has to borrow to assist those Canadians who have seen their livelihood dry up or their places of work shuttered as a result of the pandemic.
But as for tackling the pandemic itself – the root cause of all of this misery and, to quote the Throne Speech, “priority number one” – the Trudeau government mostly recapitulated what it has already done. Beyond that, it’s largely leaving this problem in the hands of the provinces.
The government stressed how much planning it is doing to acquire vaccines, when these are available in the future. Fair enough. But beyond one vague promise, there are no new programs to bolster testing or contact tracing, which are needed here and now. There are promises to approve better and faster tests, but that’s a hot mess that’s been chilling on Ottawa’s plate for months. Provincial governments and public-health experts have been begging Health Canada to greenlight these quick and easy tests, which are already available in the United States.
The Trudeau government is dealing with the economic and household fallout from this public-health crisis by, among other things, extending the wage subsidy program, and continuing to support the large numbers of Canadians made jobless by the pandemic. It will borrow, and borrow heavily, to mitigate the hardship, as it should. As for addressing the underlying pandemic cause of all that economic distress, and as for spending on measures to control it, so that more businesses can reopen and more people can go back to work, the Throne Speech had almost nothing new to say.
They prorogued Parliament for this?
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