Rod Phillips is no longer Ontario’s minister of finance. Tracy Allard is out as Alberta’s minister of municipal affairs. Joe Hargrave has resigned from Saskatchewan’s cabinet. Federal New Democrat MP Niki Ashton was removed from her roles as a critic, Liberal MP Kamal Khera is no longer parliamentary secretary for international development and Conservative MP David Sweet is no longer chair of the Commons ethics committee.
And that’s just the short list of politicians who somehow were unable to grasp that travelling outside the country would upset – no, outrage – Canadians. It came across like the definition of privilege: We make the rules, but we don’t have to follow them.
It’s difficult to say what was more troubling: public officials who didn’t get that the no-foreign-travel advice applied to them, or those who were all too aware, yet still did it anyhow? What’s worse: ignorance or hypocrisy?
The latter was best exemplified by Mr. Phillips, until now widely thought of as the most qualified member of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative cabinet. He nevertheless appears to have believed he could use social media to give the impression that he was in Canada, rather than in St. Barts, in part by regularly posting predeparture photos.
So the holidays gave Canadians the gift of outrage. And while the outrage is justified, it doesn’t get at the most outrageous part of Canada’s COVID-19 failures.
The reason Canada is having such a bad pandemic – more than 16,000 deaths, including nearly 1,300 since Christmas – is not because a few elected officials sneaked off to the beach. The mounting toll of illness and economic hurt is not primarily the product of what MPs, MLAs and MPPs are doing in their off-hours. Canada’s main problem is what governments are doing, or failing to do, when they are on the job.
With the exception of the Atlantic provinces, Canada’s pandemic response, at both the provincial and federal level, has consistently been marked by a strange passivity, even indifference.
Take the border. Preventing the introduction of new cases from abroad has always been among the issues that Canada must tackle – as proved by the success of countries from Australia to South Korea to Taiwan. If Canada can ever get its infection rate down, the border will become the key line of defence. It already is, given the need to minimize the introduction of new variants of the virus.
But Canada has for the better part of a year run border pandemic security on the honour system. Until a sudden order in late December for travellers entering Canada to get a COVID-19 test before flying, the Trudeau government showed a consistent and bewildering lack of interest in the matter. There was no testing of travellers on arrival, and there still isn’t. There’s still no mandatory quarantine at a government hotel at the travellers’ expense, as in Australia. There’s just the signing of a promise to stay home for 14 days.
As for the thousands of truckers who cross the Canada-U.S. border daily, there is also no testing. How many of those essential border crossers are carrying COVID-19? We have no idea. The Trudeau government’s policy at the border has been don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t worry.
Meanwhile in the provinces, the vaccine rollout has so far been shockingly slow, notably in Ontario. Canada’s vaccination pace is even behind the hapless Americans. (Similarly, Canada’s daily testing rate is currently half that of the U.S.) As for the thick walls that were supposed to have been built around the country’s long-term care homes, they’ve turned out to be remarkably porous. In essential workplaces, from food processing to factories to logistics, steps to lower infection through proper screening remain insufficient.
Yet the National Hockey League’s seven Canadian teams are about to begin their regular season, and it looks like they’ve got the tools in place to do it safely. Public-health officials across the country have signed off on the NHL’s approach, which includes a kind of modified bubble and some elements from last year’s successful playoffs, including daily testing of players.
Similarly, the film and TV industry across the country has used extensive protocols, from distancing to personal protective equipment on set to regular testing, to keep Hollywood North turning.
How come Canada isn’t replicating these success stories? That’s the real outrage.
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