By Ian Pattison
‘This is not the time for austerity,” said Prime Minister Trudeau on Wednesday. No kidding. Never shy about spending money, the Trudeau government’s throne speech seeks to tackle the whole of the coronavirus pandemic and its deleterious effects on the entire economy at the same time.
But what else could he do? Half-way measures at this point would merely prolong an inevitable, uncontrolled health crisis and an economic downturn verging on collapse. The measures announced this week just might save us from a double disaster. If they are carefully enacted without undue delay.
The PM’s boasting about the government’s pandemic policies to date is hardly cause for optimism. This is an historic crisis with a lacklustre response.
The speech promises that Liberals will help provinces and territories ramp up their COVID-19 testing capacity so that Canadians are not stuck waiting in line for hours, or waiting days on end for test results.
Ottawa has given the provinces $13 billion (with a b) in pandemic-related funding to augment billions in provincial spending. Both levels of government have been warning and worrying about the possibility of a second wave of infection. Well, it’s here. Where did all that money go? Why is Canada not prepared with quick testing and reliable tracing eight months after this whole thing started?
What is the hold-up with rapid, at-home testing kits? Health Minister Patty Hajdu scolds anyone who’d seek their approval over the clunky nostril-swab lab-analysed method by saying her department won’t approve anything that can’t be used safely. As The National Post’s Chris Selley put it, “This isn’t DIY thoracic surgery. It’s spitting in a damn vial.”
If the throne speech sounded familiar it’s because many of its other details were included in previous Liberal throne speeches, and budgets. Pause, play, repeat is not sound policy.
Just as climate change is baring its teeth as never before, the government has re-committed to its “ambitious green agenda” because, as Prime Minister Trudeau has said, “This is the way the world is going.” True, but Canada has struggled to keep up.
The government reiterated most of its 2019 re-election climate platform Wednesday, but added a shiny nugget. Aiming to make Canada a world leader in clean technology, the Liberals promise a new fund to attract investments by companies making zero-emissions products. It will sweeten the pot by cutting the corporate tax rate in half for these companies.
The threat of climate change has tended to be overshadowed by the pandemic. That is dangerous and the throne speech recognizes it. The government promises to bring forward a plan to speed up reduction of greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The climate is changing faster than science had predicted. Where is the urgency from this government?
The speech repeats promises to create thousands of jobs by retrofitting homes and buildings and to make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable. A report this week said prices of electric cars and trucks are settling down near those of gas-powered ones. Shoppers should keep that in mind as governments expand the network of charging stations. Thunder Bay has 21 such stations, more than half of them free to use.
The government also dusted off its promise for investments in rural broadband services, particularly for Indigenous and northern communities. What about cellphone rates that are among the world’s highest?
The throne speech promised the government will work to ensure that every Canadian, including those in rural and remote areas, has access to a family physician or primary care team. As if to signal that this might not happen for a while, there needs to be “more flexibility to reach people at home by extending capacity to deliver virtual health care.” Which takes us back to spotty internet service in rural and remote areas.
Pharmacare is back on the table. How many times have we heard that one? It has been recommended in every major study of Canada’s health care system in the past half-century. Canadians spend more than $30 billion on prescription medicines annually. Yet there are huge gaps in coverage. The speech said Ottawa must work with provinces and territories “willing to move forward without delay.” Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Alberta are not, and there goes universality.
The government “will give municipalities the ability to further restrict or ban handguns and strengthen measures to control flow of illegal guns into Canada.” On top of recent further restrictions on assault-style weapons the government is moving in a direction most Canadians support. Gun violence that has Thunder Bay police openly worried, let alone cops in the major cities, shows how far there is to go on this file.
Similar widespread support will be found for a pledge to “limit the stock option deduction for wealthy individuals at large, established corporations,” and take on “corporate tax avoidance by digital giants” like Facebook and Netflix. But not corporate tycoons with offshore accounts?
Finally, as the Liberals move ahead with their plans, can they please stop with their latest buzz-phrase to “build back better”? It sounds corny and it doesn’t fit the nature of the challenges ahead of us.
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U.S. Election Watch
When will it be enough? When will President Donald Trump’s base of support begin to crumble?
You’d think it can’t be far off, given the example set by hundreds of prominent American conservatives who’ve had enough of the lies and repugnant actions of a cruel and selfish man whose only goal is personal power.
This week, more than 200 retired generals and admirals along with nearly 300 other former national security officials and diplomats, including some who served under Trump, released a letter endorsing Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
They and millions of average American citizens are sick and tired of statements like the one Trump made at a rally in Minneapolis earlier this month describing MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi (who’s Canadian, by the way) hit by a rubber bullet while covering protests after the death of George Floyd as “a beautiful sight.”
Trump’s team is right now working with national and state party officials to circumvent close election results in battleground states. He will try to use the Supreme Court by further stacking it in his favour to contest a Biden win. In combination with widespread racial strife, a national state of civil unrest is building. Things could not be more foreboding.
As for Biden, I’d like to amend an observation made here Aug. 9 when I wrote that the Democratic nominee “appears to be suffering from some sort of cognitive decline. His courageous success in overcoming his stuttering is not the issue. Rather, his repeated errors in fact without correction suggest he has a recall problem.”
Biden’s convention speech, his subsequent CNN town hall performance and public appearances since then appear to show that the former vice president is not in a deep state of mental decline.
Biden will have to display a firm grasp on history and policy when he debates Trump on Tuesday. Trump will try to bamboozle his way through the debate with lies and interruptions but moderator Chris Wallace, one of the few sensible voices at Fox News, has shown that he won’t stand for Trump’s guff. Will enough Americans feel the same way come Nov. 3?
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.