Don Martin: Canada rolls out the right prescription for fighting COVID-19
OTTAWA -- Maybe it’s because the Trump administration’s reaction is such a disturbing spew of crisis-denial, scientific ignorance and pre-election posturing that ANYTHING would look rational by comparison.
But listening to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outline Canada’s billion-dollar coronavirus response Wednesday was to hear a welcome mix of economic cushioning and health care intervention delivered in measured non-partisan tones.
The threatening potential of a pandemic wasn’t dismissed or downplayed. Nor was the response delivered to the soundtrack of five-alarm sirens that would re-ignite a run on toilet paper.
Sure, Trudeau dodged questions about what horrible Canadian infection scenarios might be on the horizon. He should.
Nobody yet has a clear handle on the longevity and toxicity of this coronavirus outbreak and mindless all-over-by-April speculation is best left to that self-proclaimed political genius south of the border.
What Trudeau pledged to do is heed health-care professionals on medical matters and banks or business leaders on economic rescue missions.
There’ll be no border closings, parliamentary shutdowns or cruise ships barge-poled away from Canadian docks until the experts say it’s a prevention protocol worth enacting to keep us safe.
And there won’t be direct government support in the hard-hit airline or tourism sectors until the established need is critical and short-term.
Of course, the Conservatives can and will remind the country that this is what a rainy day looks like and how Trudeau should’ve saved up for it without squandering five years of deficits during sunny times.
Fair enough. And they’re absolutely correct.
But suddenly issues that mattered in the last fiscal update, specifically whether a declining debt-to-GDP ratio is a suitable indicator of fiscal prudence, are irrelevant now.
Canadians want this virus prevented and contained. Money is no object at this leading-edge stage of the outbreak.
That means a key role for government in encouraging infected employees to stay home lest they’re unable to cope with the hit on their household budget. Thus, in comes fast-tracked employment insurance and work-sharing support.
It underlines a critical need for homegrown research and testing, so the government is unleashing $275 million to the effort while extending a $50-million helping hand overseas to infected areas.
The shortage of masks and shields will hopefully be eased as the feds give provinces a $500-million funding boost to bulk buy equipment and divert supplies to areas of greatest need.
Of course, this doesn’t confront the imperative of helping Alberta and Newfoundland withstand a Saudi Arabia assault on their economic lifeblood, but boosting world oil prices is beyond the ability of this government. A major salvage effort will still be needed down the road.
But on the coronavirus front, Trudeau has delivered a reassuring mix of immediate action and standby vigilance to be deployed when more needs to be done.
It doesn’t make Canada immune to this viral attack on the human species, but it sets us on a course for containment that looks reassuring, particularly when stacked against a White House in pandemic pandemonium.