Cross-country COVID response too easily swayed by political winds of change

    Feb 10, 2021

    CALGARY—The Weeknd walking deliriously through a candescent, mirrored hallway in his Superbowl halftime performance is a metaphor for Canada’s COVID response. The incompetence delivered as a train wreck is breathtaking and frankly, globally embarrassing, yet easy to see coming.

    This week, Alberta, Quebec, and Ontario are lifting COVID-19 restrictions, which will only be reversed in a few weeks with a rise in cases. And round and round we go. The dizzying, disjointed approach to containing the virus producing a string of numerous failures has resulted in a death toll that has surpassed 20,000, of which 10,000 are in Quebec alone. There are no new approaches other than to tell people to stay home and blaming them when they don’t, without addressing the systemic and communication issues that allow this virus to spread. We now have at least two new variants—the South African and U.K. one—both of which are more easily transmissible and potentially more deadly. The South African variant, in particular, doesn’t respond to the AstraZeneca vaccine, prompting South Africa to halt its distribution.

    Though we are possibly entering the third wave, neither the federal nor provincial governments have lifted a finger for labour. CTV News noted that Ontario Premier Doug Ford “says that there is “no reason” for the province to “jump in” and introduce its own paid sick leave program, even amid mounting criticism from advocates who say the existing federal program doesn’t do enough to protect workers.

    Ford, whose miserliness could be construed as the Grinch that Screwed Labour, is estimated to be sitting on $8.7-billion of unspent COVID relief funds as essential workers go without paid sick leave and workplaces become COVID hot spots. “Driven largely by such industrial jobs, workplaces have surged to become the most common setting for outbreaks in Ontario and have even surpassed care settings—a category that includes long-term care homes.” Global News continues to report that workplaces make up “just under 30 per cent” of active outbreaks. This isn’t new. Long-term care and Amazon outbreaks have been making the news for months. Where is the response?

    It’s not only Ford. As iPolitics reports, “six out of 10 provinces—Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and P.E.I.—are holding onto billions of unallocated COVID contingency funds that are built into their budgets.” Hopefully these governments aren’t holding onto COVID relief funding to balance their budgets in order to get re-elected, thereby causing many more deaths than the 20,835 recorded as of Feb. 8, 2021.


    Federal relief packages for labour have been paltry in comparison: though CERB and EI extensions were there for the first part of the pandemic, the NDP had to fight the government for sick leave and providing an extension to COVID relief benefits. Bill C-2 introduced the Canada Recovery Benefit, and the Canada Recovery Sickness and Canada Recovery Caregiving benefits. Without the NDP pushing the Liberals in this direction, who knows which financial straits many Canadians would’ve experienced. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is wrong, we do need a progressive opposition because this is not a progressive government.

    Meanwhile the new Biden administration—buoyed by a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate—has proposed a $1.9-trillion COVID relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan, that includes: an expansion of the Child Tax Credit to $3,600 for children under six and $3,000 for children up to 17; $1,400 in stimulus payments to those who earn up to $75,000 in annual income; eviction and foreclosure protections until September; increased food aid and nutritional assistance for those facing food insecurity; money to administer the COVID vaccine and to increase vaccine production; money for school re-opening including increased assistance for cleaning and sanitizing, protective equipment and ventilation systems; money for increased testing and transportation for local communities; and paid sick and family and medical leave. Finally, the most contentious measure in this bill is the increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2025. Frankly, it’s astounding how the progressive Democrats have moved this issue from the fringes of legislative possibilities to the cusp of real change in policies that favour labour over business.

    The Biden administration will make Trudeau look like Margaret Thatcher.

    It’s obvious our governments don’t know what they’re doing and have constructed a strategy that equals licking their fingers and holding them up to determine which way the political winds are blowing. They refuse to build the capacity of our health-care system—including testing and contact tracing—despite hoarding billions of dollars of federal COVID relief funding; they refuse to provide supports for labour. They will continue to point fingers, bashing each other for not delivering vaccines that are facing excess demand and limited global supply. It is obvious that there would be delays in procurement, however the federal government has resorted to raiding disadvantaged countries’ potential stock, thereby contributing to global inequities over who can be vaccinated and who cannot. Oh, and the vaccine the government is procuring from this fund is the same one that will not vaccinate against the South African strain. This whole strategy of non-strategy is something to laugh at to stop yourself from crying.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.