Don Martin: Trudeau feels our pandemic pain -- and deflects the blame
On time and without any sign of the teleprompter to script his thinking, both a new look for Justin Trudeau, the prime minister took to the stage Wednesday to declare that 2022 was, to understate the obvious, off to a lousy start.
And for that, you can blame the premiers.
He didn’t point the finger quite so blatantly, of course, but Trudeau hammered on the theme repeatedly during his first media encounter of 2022.
Simply put, he declared, the feds are doing their pandemic duty in securing vaccines, distributing rapid tests and providing worker support for those locked down or out of a job.
As for that steaming pile of Omicron chaos out there -- be it hospital staffing decimations, ICU capacity concerns, classroom closures or the rapid-test-seeking frenzy -- well, those failures are deeply embedded within provincial jurisdiction.
As if to underline the how-wonderful-we-are federal attitude in delivering within areas of their responsibility, Trudeau announced there are now enough vaccines for all Canadians and that a jaw-dropping 140-million rapid tests will be given to provinces to distribute this month.
For those of us who recently bought rapid tests for $50 per box of five, that should stop the retail gouge and hopefully end those super-spreader lineups outside locations whenever there’s a rumour of tests being given away. Assuming the provinces do their job, that is.
But the dazzle of having more tests distributed in a month than bottles of wine sold in Ontario all year is tempered by the math showing it will only give every Canadian one test a week, this to detect a virus which can turn you from negative to positive in the time it takes you to buy a hamburger.
There’s even some medical doubt the current generation of rapid tests will accurately pick up the Omicron variant.
Still, in a world of rapid-test shortages, it’s an impressive procurement for Canada that comes, ironically, just as widespread testing suddenly falls out of fashion in public health calculations.
Officials appear to have given up on positive case counts to better focus on COVID where it hurts -- specifically the number of bodies in intensive care beds, mostly unvaccinated patients who will require a ventilator experience to see the error of their anti-vax position.
That’s why today’s announcement of rapid tests by the millions shouldn’t let the feds deflect all the blame in coping with COVID. They remain the shortchanging partner in funding a health care system with a comparatively low number of intensive care beds compared to other G7 countries.
Way back in the beginning of Medicare, the notion was to have the federal and provincial governments equally share the cost of delivering health care.
That percentage now is below 25 federal cents per public health-care dollar.
When megabillions of pandemic-fighting dollars started gushing in every direction 13 months ago, Trudeau promised premiers “the feds have to do more” to help them confront increasingly onerous and occasionally extraordinary pressures.
So far, nothing has changed in the funding formula to rebuild and fortify a system of prevention, mental health and acute care already facing the strain of slowly deteriorating baby boomers.
Against the infuriating delivery and distribution performance of some premiers, Trudeau looks pretty good right about now.
That’s why what he had to do Wednesday was declare he feels our pain, has our back and sees a better spring ahead.
But there’s blame for both the provinces and the federal government ahead.
As Canadians surrender to the inevitability that most of us will catch Omicron or its viral descendants, the all-important priority is ensuring there's an adequately-staffed, well-equipped, bed-ready health-care system to save us if prevention measures fail and symptoms hit hard enough to ventilate or kill.
For that to become a reality, distributing hundreds of millions of rapid tests can’t mask the fact the federal government must cough up more money to save our broken health care in a hurry.
That’s the bottom line...