From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with few exceptions, the Canadian government has been in reactive mode — perpetually on defence rather than offence against the virus. Its slow and confused action on personal protective equipment, borders, vaccines and economic recovery has impaired the Canadian COVID-19 response.
Now, more than ever, Canadians need strong leadership from their government. The vaccine rollout has finally picked up the pace and we are seeing the results. If we trust the science that tells us vaccines work — and we should — then reason would suggest that it is prudent to put forward a plan for the responsible resumption of normality.
Most Canadian provinces and territories and many other countries have released robust reopening strategies, and yet our federal government is absent. In fact, the federal government has not even accepted its own COVID-19 advisory council’s evidence-based recommendation that the quarantine hotels policy should end.
People want to know when they can start making travel arrangements. Communities along the Canada-U.S. border are looking for clarity around restrictions and how the border will be reopened. Businesses want to be able to make decisions with more certainty.
A letter released on May 18, 2021, signed by business associations representing two-thirds of the Canadian economy, called for a safe and gradual reopening plan. When I asked the government representative in the Senate days later for the government’s response to the letter and its plans for reopening and recovery, I was disappointed — but not surprised — at the lack of a real answer.
I am encouraged that pressure is building on the government to offer hope instead of fear, proactivity rather than reactivity, and consistency over incoherence.
The federal government should be showcasing leadership, in close consultation with the provinces and territories and other stakeholders, on plans for international travel, return-to-work, the Canada-U.S. border and cross-country transportation, among other things.
Calling for a plan does not mean reopening everything with a snap of the fingers. It means a pan-Canadian, gradual and safe reopening strategy based on science and targets. There are plenty of international models, including the U.K.’s "Roadmap out of Lockdown," upon which Canada can draw in crafting our own roadmap.
We should be taking the best of these models, ensuring alignment with the provinces and territories and international partners, and advancing a Canadian path forward. If the federal government abdicates a leadership role, we risk seeing a provincial patchwork and international travel standards imposed upon us.
While reopening is and should be the most immediate preoccupation of government, we must not lose sight of our long-term economic objectives.
It was on April 2, 2020, that I and others first began calling for a Canadian Economic Recovery Council. The government, to its credit, did eventually assemble a similar council that produced an excellent report in December. Unfortunately, most of the report, including its call for specific measures to increase predictability, appears mostly ignored. Another great report on this government’s dusty shelf of great reports, it seems.
The government should dust off the report and get to work. A single federal budget without a long-term growth strategy is not — despite what some government officials would have you believe — a recovery plan.
If our federal government could become a partner to — rather than a hindrance to — our private sector, we would be more competitive and productive. At the very least, the federal government could project more certainty of the future, relying — as it says it does — on science and data.
If we play our cards right, Canada can set itself up for an unprecedented era of Canadian ingenuity and economic growth — something that is required if we are to pay down our debt and increase prosperity.
There are opportunities at our doorstep and we need to seize them. I’ve written about many of them in the past. There are also risks on the horizon that could derail our recovery. Canada must be positioned to minimize challenges and maximize opportunities in a post-pandemic world. This will not happen from our back foot or the seat of our pants. It will only happen if serious people come together and drive an agenda.
We know that vaccines work. It’s beyond time for the federal government to trust the science and shift from defence to offence by putting forward a clear, consistent and evidence-based strategy for reopening and recovery.
Senator Doug Black represents Alberta in the Senate.
A similar version of this article appeared in the June 17 edition of the Calgary Herald.