Canada responded to COVID-19 with money, with regulations, but without much in the way of creativity, and that worries me.
A year into a pandemic that’s likely to stretch out, in some form or another, for years, it’s time to consider not just how well our governments did what they did, but how much they were willing to try.
For example – in March of last year, virtually every student in Canada headed home, and parents were suddenly wrestling with working and making sure some knowledge got crammed into their kids’ heads.
And to give credit to the federal government, one big change they made was to make curio.ca, an educational subscription service of the CBC, free to families.
But the federal government has English and French language TV stations across the country, not to mention its own streaming site and a huge web presence. If the provinces had pressed for help, they could have been much more ambitious – creating something like Australia’s School of the Air, which has been educating kids in remote Outback locations by radio, correspondence, telephone and internet since the 1950s.
When it comes to vaccines, the government similarly was ambitious as far as spending and contracts – no western country made deals with more vaccine makers – yet we are only slowly developing our own vaccine manufacturing capabilities. We needed a bullet train of vaccine production capacity. We got a creaky old locomotive.
This is not just a function of the pandemic.
Canada is not a big ideas place.
Just a few major crises to consider that are either ongoing, or upcoming:
• Alberta’s oil-based economy is going to be pretty shaky in a future where GM is getting out of internal combustion – what’s the big plan for rebuilding the entire economy of a province of four million people?
• How do we rebuild our major cities after 70 years of suburban sprawl so that they are A) denser B) transit-accessible, and C) actually nice to live in all at the same time, without displacing and angering millions?
• What’s the plan to shore up our coastal cities in the face of global warming and sea level rise over the next 50 years?
Our governments, Liberal or Conservative, minority or majority, do not have a good track record of making bold decisions. Bold decisions might alienate the undecided five per cent of the electorate, after all.
But the future is going to come at us very, very fast, much like COVID-19 did. Sea level rise will seem slow until it’s lapping at our doors, and Alberta’s economy will stagger along until it suddenly falls, and our cities and highways will grow more congested until they seize up.
As usual, I suspect it won’t be the politicians who act with boldness. It’ll be ordinary Canadians, collectively, who see that something needs to be done, and who force the change on Ottawa and the provincial capitals.
We’d better get started. COVID has taught us that big problems only get bigger if you don’t act fast.