CALGARY—Imagine a Black woman who writes about, and advocates against, inequities, who rails against injustice, with an emphasis on the Black experience siding with the anti-vaxxers she cussed only a few months prior. But here we are. Politics makes for strange bedfellows.
On Jan. 11, Quebec Premier François Legault announced a tax on the unvaccinated as the province’s health-care system buckles under the effects of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Dubbed as a “health contribution” of an unknown amount, Legault left it to semantics to thwart the criticism this offensive new step would invoke. And rightly so. The legality surrounding this new measure remains to be debated, but Legault has used public frustration over the ongoing pandemic to draw a line in the sand. As usual, this initiative will affect those most vulnerable much like Bill 21.
Happy New Year.
Since I’m writing this column on Dr. Martin Luther King Day, allow me to throw in a quote that you won’t see on your organization’s intranet commemoration: “We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.”
By that metric, all government leadership in Canada has failed. And instead of taking individual responsibility for these failures, the cowardice endemic in authority points the finger at the unvaccinated.
The reason we are still in this pandemic is not solely because there are those who don’t want to get the vaccine, it is due to systemic and succeeding government policies that have cumulated in a porous and fragile health-care system. Doug Ford, who hasn’t answered many questions as to his strategy for dealing with Omicron, cut health care as soon as he got into office in 2018. According to The Star’s Bob Hepburn, those cuts have meant “fewer health-care workers, more overcrowding, more rationing of services—and more money that patients and their families likely will have to pay in the coming years for medical care.”
The Toronto Star continues to point out that Ford’s cuts overwhelmed Ontario’s health care by sabotaging “public health units by cutting their budgets by $200-million a year, then reversing the cuts without clarity on funding levels beyond the first year” and cancelling inspections of long-term care facilities, which were ravaged by COVID-19 in its first wave.
Not to be outdone by Ontario, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney cut 11,000 jobs in an effort to realize $600-million in savings. In response, frontline workers in the province, as reported by Press Progress, “have been left with no other option than to stage wildcat strikes across Alberta.” And so they did. In October 2020, frontline workers across the province walked off the job in an effort to fight the removal of staff. This action by the Kenney government is austerity in the middle of a public health crisis. One may begin to believe that Kenney wanted to hobble public health care to bring in a private system. But blaming Kenney alone for defunding the system would be disingenuous. Ralph Klein started that ball rolling in the ’90s, with successive Albertan governments following suit.
Seems like the effort to find “efficiencies” means austerity measures that hollow out the health-care system, making it too fragile to withstand shocks like a global pandemic.
But who needs provincial screw-ups when we have the federal government?
In February 2021, the Canadian government announced that it would be procuring 1.9 million vaccines through COVAX, while privately purchasing “enough supply to vaccinate each of its citizens five times,” as reported by Business Insider. As if hogging vaccine supplies wasn’t enough, according to UNAIDS, G7 countries have denied support to lower-income countries of the Global South by reneging on 1.8 billion COVID vaccine donations (they delivered only 261 million doses) they promised, and “have refused to support the proposal of over 100 nations to waive patents on vaccines and COVID related technologies.”
And those supposed donations to these lower-income countries? Canada has barely delivered on its vaccine donation pledge, delivering only eight per cent of its promised doses (as of fall 2021), as discussed in a report by The People’s Vaccine. And when it has delivered these doses, it delivered them late and almost expired. CBC noted that “Canada allowed more than 10 million doses to sit in a federal stockpile for months, and almost as many in provincial freezers, instead of shipping them to places where they could be used immediately.” All of this after Trudeau extolled the virtues of vaccine equity by signing onto an opinion piece in the Washington Post.
It is this that is fuelling vaccine apartheid, which has more impact on the continuing threat posed by COVID-19 than vaccine hesitancy.
What is clear is that government authorities have no clue how to deal with the pandemic, which has gotten new life (pun intended) with Omicron. For months we have been told that the vaccine would bring us back to normal. And then Omicron happened. With decision-makers like these, it’s a wonder we have a health-care system at all.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.
The Hill Times