While the coronavirus pandemic started spreading across the globe, many governments were caught off guard and had to act quickly. Those countries that elected to put their top scientists in charge and listen to their expertise were more successful in flattening the curve than those that didn’t.
We can easily compare Canada to the USA, whose government failed to listen to their top scientists and come up with a cohesive national strategy. The Trump administration and Republican governors routinely silenced and attacked scientific opinion. Canada, on the other hand, put Theresa Tam, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, front and center of the pandemic response. Most other provinces followed suit, following the guidance of their own top scientists and doctors.
It is true that our Canadian government made mistakes as well, albeit not to the same degree. For those of us further left than the Liberal party of Canada, there are valid criticisms of Justin Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic response. In the first round of CERB, for example, there were many people left out such as students, seniors, and those in the gig economy. Luckily Trudeau was pushed to make the program more inclusive by both everyday Canadians and the NDP.
Fair criticism aside, one question to consider: How would Canada have fared under a Conservative government?
Reopen the economy… in May?
As early as May, then leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, was already echoing “re-open the economy” rhetoric. This Trump-like rhetoric expressed a narrative common to far-right, pro-big business pundits and politicians. At this time Canada had flattened the curve, but had a long way to go in reducing daily case numbers. Would Scheer have reopened the economy too early?
Pierre Poilievre, opposition critic for finance, had a similar approach. Poilievre excessively whined about the cost of Trudeau’s response plan, and advocated for a ‘free market’ solution to create jobs and economic growth. Never mind that had programs like CERB and the Wage Subsidy never been introduced, much of that public debt would be our own personal debt. That is, many of us would have to take out loans or pay with credit in order to make it through the pandemic. Never mind that business supports and rent relief actually saved many businesses from going under in the first place, making recovery that much easier. Never mind that grocery store executives most likely colluded to cut workers pandemic pay raises. Classic free-market move there.
Conservative deficit hawks like to make a fuss about Canada’s public debt reaching 1 trillion dollars. This is most likely going to happen by the end of this fiscal year. It’s not as scary as it sounds though, as debt financing is simply how modern governments work. When determining the health of an economy, the debt to GDP ratio is a better indicator than absolute debt as a dollar amount. It is projected that Canada will reach a 50% debt to GDP ratio after having a consistent 30-35% for the last decade. Keep in mind too that it was almost as high as 70% in 1994. The World Bank estimates that countries with 77% or higher for long periods of time will experience slow economic growth due to the deficit. This rise in debt to GDP is only temporary and as we recover from the pandemic, we will go back to normal.
Ford, Kenny, and Moe
Even during a pandemic the conservative, pro big business agenda never rests. Doug Ford sought to strip healthcare workers of their collective bargaining and other rights with Bill 195. Dave Murphy, president of CUPE Local 7800 said, “This is the way the government of Ontario pays back the heroes and heroines of this province by then stripping them of their vacation rights, their leave of absence rights, their seniority rights, their health and safety rights.”
On the topic of free markets, Doug Ford defended price gouging of Covid-19 tests. Ontario has had lax rules on gathering sizes and little requirements on who may be tested. Compared to BC, Ontario had gathering sizes of up to 100 while BC is limited to 50. BC requires that one must either have symptoms or have an exposure to a confirmed case in order to get tested while Ontario rules are relaxed.
These two factors have resulted in unnecessarily long line-ups at testing facilities. One company, HCP Diagnostics, offered the chance to “skip the line” and take a test for $400. Doug Ford dismissed the concerns of price gouging saying, “It’s a free market society.” Contrast that to Justin Trudeau’s recent affirmation that vaccines will be free to all Canadians.
Since the start of being premier of Alberta, Jason Kenny has antagonized the most valuable community possible during a pandemic: doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. With 750 layoffs of nurses on the line, Kenny and his government have refused to meet with United Nurses of Alberta to renew contract negotiations. United Nurses of Alberta is the union that represents 30,000 nurses in the province.
Things have gotten so bad under Kenny’s leadership that the Alberta Federation of Labor, a group of unions, has asked Albertans to boycott businesses that support the United Conservative Party. Healthcare workers are leaving Alberta to such an extent that other provinces are looking to poach those leaving the province.
“My message today to Saskatchewan is that we will invest in healthcare,” said Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “My message today to Alberta doctors and nurses: come on over, Saskatchewan will welcome you with open arms under an NDP government.
It gets worse with Kenny too. Many Conservatives in Canada long for the day that we give up our prized healthcare system in favor of a “free market” based system, American style. The UCP is chipping away at socialized healthcare with Bill 30, which allows for public funds to be funneled to for-profit healthcare. The recently formed party has a history of cutting public sector jobs and voted to reject the commitment of upholding principals in the Canada Health Act.
Over in Saskatchewan, a candidate for Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party was caught promoting conspiracy theories about Covid-19. Daryl Cooper deleted Facebook posts on his official campaign page that included claims that 5G caused Covid-19 and other Qanon conspiracy theories.
Same old Conservatives
At the federal level, the Conservatives, having just gone through a leadership election, are going through an identity crisis. It seems that through electing Erin O’Toole, the social conservative base is still a powerful voice within the party. This is worrisome in and of itself, as social conservatives aren’t known for their embrace of science.
If we were to wonder about an alternate future in which the Conservative Party of Canada was in power during the current pandemic, we wouldn’t need to use our imaginations to understand how they would govern. The track record of Conservatives currently in power speaks for itself. This is a party hostile to healthcare workers, but not so hostile to big business. Their willingness to stand against healthcare workers during a global pandemic is truly horrifying.