Cricket matches in Brampton are being broken up, roller-bladers are getting hauled up, social gatherings of more than five people are banned and residents in Toronto need to ensure they keep at least a two meter distance from non-family members while out in public. These are just some of the measures enacted by the Ontario government in combatting the spread of Covid-19. Compared to the lackluster initiatives taken throughout the United States, Canada’s leaders, both federal and provincial, are taking the pandemic seriously. The infection rate in the US is more than twice that of Canada (0.23 vs 0.09 %).
The pandemic response by Canada can be categorized into two parts, one being the social-distancing measures and the second being the economic packages announced to the population. The approach has been defined by inter-provincial collaboration and a hands-off approach in contrast to the more centralized edicts and divergent policies of American leaders.
As of April 19th 2020, the total Covid-19 cases in Canada amounted to 33,922, with the hardest hit provinces being Quebec (17,521 cases) followed by Ontario (10,578 cases), Alberta (2,562 cases) and BC (1,618 cases). The remaining 1,643 cases are shared between the other 6 provinces of Canada which have been less affected due to the lower population densities in areas such as the Yukon, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. While provinces like Ontario have declared a state of emergency to help implement social distancing measures, the federal government has not yet announced a top-down nationwide state of emergency.
One reason could be that Trudeau’s federal government has instituted an effective strategy to work together with provincial governments as seen by the recent détente in relations between Liberal leaders in Ontario and Conservative Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Hence, there is no need for a directive from the top to enact social-distancing measures, and the current hands-off approach being taken by the federal government seems to have successfully stymied the rise of new infections. Compared to the situation in other countries such as the US and Pakistan, institutional and inter-provincial communication and collaboration has prevented the situation from devolving into a mere war of words ala Trump and Cuomo or Imran Khan and Murad Ali Shah.
This cohesive federal strategy to counter the pandemic can be broken down into 7 segments:
- Collaboration – All levels of government must work together to provide a unified response
- Evidence-informed decision-making – all actions must be taken based on empirical evidence.
- Proportionality – The response should be appropriate to the severity of the threat
- Flexibility – As the situation evolves, so should the response
- A precautionary approach – Preventive action should be undertaken early so as to slow down the spread of the virus
- Use of established practices and systems – Systems put in place and lessons learned in the past, for example to counter the SARS epidemic, are to be utilized to their fullest potential in the current Covid-19 outbreak.
- Ethical decision-making – Ethics and societal values must play a part in all decision-making.
Schools and colleges have been shut, universities are conducting online classes, most workplaces have instituted a work from home policy and only essential services outlets such as gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, vehicle auto repair shops, transportation services and financial services remain open. It goes without saying that all healthcare and social services have also remained open to deal with the rise in Covid-19 cases as well as the fallout from the current recession.
Due to these measures, the infection rates in all provinces have started to flatten:
While the infection rates may have been brought under control, the economic fallouts from the various lock downs have to be dealt with separately. To counter these, the federal government has announced a series of fiscal packages to attempt to lessen the blow to the economy:
The relative ease by which Trudeau was able to enact these measures without much pushback from the provinces indicates that the propensity to play politics over national issues has not seeped into the Canadian political sphere as deeply as is the case in the United States. While American federalism is a key component of the country’s ability to govern, the current trend of Trump governing through a top-down approach seems to have hampered the fight against Covid-19.
On the other hand, the Liberals in Ottawa, by embracing all stakeholders both governmental and those at the grassroots level, have been able to create a far more effective national narrative and response than their counterparts in Washington. Granted that America’s population density is far higher than in Canada, the communication and partisan gaps in the former seemed to have negatively affected the flattening of the Covid-19 curve.
While we cannot predict what the future may hold, Canadian government officials have indicated that the lockdown measures across the country may be retained till as late as September after which they will re-visit the situation on ground. While the current economic packages such as the monthly $2000 stipend being distributed to anyone laid off or financially affected to due Covid-19 have done a great deal in providing much needed relief, the economic fallout due to a prolonged nation-wide lockdown would be much harder to combat. One hopes that Canada’s inter-provincial cohesiveness shown so far during the pandemic will pave the way for all future challenges, health-wise and economy-wise, to be dealt with in the same vein.
Canada has successfully slowed the pandemic’s outbreak and while it cannot prevent its spread indefinitely, the measures the government has taken to provide the healthcare system some breathing space are paramount in ensuring the death toll remains low and the cases remain manageable.