The Morning Brief – 11.25.20

By Bruce Carson


Prime Minister Trudeau’s ‘To Do’ List (Part 2)

Domestic Affairs—Urgent, Health Care, COVID-19, Opioid Crisis, Long Term Care Homes

It’s time for Clarity on COVID-19, vaccine availability and related healthcare matters

Will Canadians be at the back of the Vaccine Distribution Line?

New COVID-19 case numbers from federal modelling revealed last week present a dire situation between now and the end of December if behavioural changes do not take place. Canada would see as many as 20,000 cases per day identified by the end of the year if behaviour doesn’t change and 60,000 per day if contact levels increase among Canadians.

With regard to long term care facilities Dr. Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer has said that there will be “more and longer outbreaks.” Those involved at all levels and in all parts of Canada’s health care system are tired and overworked from dealing with cases since early in the year and are now looking at mounting numbers as the second wave of COVID attacks.

So while on the domestic front there are a number of issues that need to be addressed, none is bigger and more urgent than the health care crisis, posed by COVID-19’s growing number of cases with the rebuilding and growth of our economy coming when the pandemic begins to ebb.

This second wave is ravaging most of the country, with even two of the provinces within the Atlantic bubble, vacating. Options for the federal, provincial and territorial governments are becoming more and more limited. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci has expressed concern about the state of spread of the virus in Canada.

The federal government from this point on should focus its attention on getting rapid test kits, home test kits out to the provinces and territories where they are needed. Second, instead of vague generalities about vaccine distribution, Canadians are entitled to know how quickly quantities of vaccine will be dealt with by Health Canada as the regulator and approving agency and how they will be distributed. More on this comes later in this Brief.

It would seem there are three options facing provincial and territorial governments. Prime Minister Trudeau said just over a week ago to provincial and territorial premiers that federal revenues were not infinite; we will hopefully have a better sense of this statement when we have an economic update on Monday and it might help if some or all of the prime minister’s Build Back Better plans, that looked so promising in August, were put on hold.

It would seem that one of the options that provinces and territories might have faced, the imposition of the federal Emergencies Act which has yet to be used, will not occur, even though one of its headings deals with “public welfare emergencies.”

Using this Act has been resisted by the federal government from the beginning of the pandemic.

The reason for this resistance could be two-fold. First the federal government does not control the levers necessary to fight this virus as both health and education are within provincial jurisdiction and second once the Emergencies Act is put in place, Prime Minister Trudeau owns the COVID-19 pandemic and measures to deal with it. This is not a position that Trudeau would want to be in given all of the uncertainty around COVID even with the promise of vaccines on the horizon.

This reluctance by the prime minister is only heightened as he contemplates an election after the spring budget, either forced by the opposition or by Trudeau pulling the plug on his government.

The options for the provinces and territories are to basically proceed as they have been doing with piecemeal approaches to COVID-19, impose a circuit breaker lockdown or as has been recently suggested by Dr. Andrew Morris of the Mount Sinai Health Network, a COVIDzero complete lockdown.

The theory here is that the two or three week circuit breaker lockdown is not long enough and COVIDzero is “needed to drive the number of cases demonstrable down” and that is going to take weeks and weeks.

The issues with both types of lockdowns, as Lorne Gunter pointed out in a recent article, is that there is a human toll to a lockdown in depression, addiction, suicide, family violence and other health matters not being dealt with by the health care system. Therefore the question is, while a full lockdown may work, is the collateral damage worth it?

It seems at this point that provinces and territories have opted for something in varying degrees close to the circuit breaker lockdown, lasting until just before Christmas or in the case of Quebec taking a break around Christmas with people isolating on both sides of that break.

It is not clear that this will provide anything other than interim relief. As National Post columnist Chris Selley wrote last Saturday “there is no reason to expect anything to get conspicuously better. They lock us down, we breathe a sigh of relief, they let us out and we cheer and wait for the next lockdown. The vaccines can’t come soon enough.”

The period during these new lockdowns cannot be wasted and circling back to the role of the federal government it has three main responsibilities; the first deals with testing and contact tracing. We can’t fight COVID without knowing who is being infected and why.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner wrote in an op-ed piece last Friday “we can’t judge if measures taken to stop the spread are effective” if we don’t have data on why the preventative measures aren’t working. In other words ‘we don’t know what we don’t know.’

Second, the federal government must let Canadians know the state of play with prospective vaccines. It would seem from the discussions on Evan Solomon’s Question Period last Sunday that for the federal government this is very much a work in progress. The Ontario Government has hired retired General Rick Hillier to chair Ontario’s new Task Force on Vaccines. The federal government cannot deal with vaccines in the same fashion as it did with rapid testing.

It is up to the prime minister to ensure that vaccines are dealt with by Health Canada in a timely fashion with all due attention.

However, Canadians learned yesterday from the prime minister at his renewed Rideau Cottage briefings that while the government may be number one in the world in the number of vaccines it has contracted for; Canadians will not be receiving them until those living in the country where the vaccine is manufactured are vaccinated.

As Canada does not have its own vaccine manufacturing ability, Trudeau told Canadians it relies on supplies from out of country manufacturers. This Trudeau said will result in Canadians seeing delays in vaccines arriving in Canada.

One would think that when the purchase agreements were negotiated between Canada and the vaccine manufacturers, this matter would have been dealt with by Canada securing priority doses of vaccine or a carve out for Canada. If the belief was that trade treaties would stand in the way, Canada has free trade agreements in place with countries within which vaccine manufacturing is taking place.

Hopefully, now that this problem has surfaced, the Trudeau government can go back to the manufacturers seeking priority vaccine doses.

Canadians need to know from the federal government what the vaccine distribution plan is, as soon as it is locked down by the federal government, preferably before the Christmas House of Commons break.

Finally, the federal government must get on with working with the provinces on long term care homes and the safety and delivery of services to the elderly.

To Come

November 30
  • Fall economic update to be presented by Finance Minister Freeland
December 1
  • GDP numbers for September to be released
December 4
  • International trade numbers for October to be released
  • Job numbers for November to be released
December 9
  • Bank of Canada deals with interest rates

Tomorrow, The Morning Brief will take a look at what may be expected, or not, in the fiscal update,

– BC