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Federal Politics

A Suggestion to Help Canadians Get Clear on COVID-19

We’re getting whipsawed by different levels of government. Here’s one idea on how to move forward.

Ian Waddell 18 Nov 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Ian G. Waddell QC is president of the Association of Former Members of Parliament Foundation and president of the Former MLAs of British Columbia.

The headlines are alarming: “Daily cases may top 10,000 next month: Tam”; “Hospitals stretched to the limits”; “Health-care workers exhausted”; “Canada’s unity cracking.”

Pressure is mounting to declare a national emergency over COVID-19, with Ottawa taking control. Provincial premiers are getting whipsawed, forced to choose between lockdowns and opening up to keep the economy going. The previous unified federal-provincial approach appears to be cracking.

And Canadians are worried, very afraid. What’s the way forward?

Permit a senior with 50 years’ experience in the Canadian political system to make a suggestion.

First, even though Canadians often see provincial politicians taking shots at the feds and vice versa, Canada has one of the best-working federal systems in the world. Look at how provinces pioneered new programs — Saskatchewan, medicare; B.C., the carbon tax; Quebec, affordable child care. Remember how, in the 1940s, the federal government ran an amazing war effort. More recently (dare I say it), our Canada Revenue Agency quickly rolled out support programs for Canadians out of work because of COVID-19.

The reality under our Constitution is that health and education are provincial jurisdictions. At the same time, the federal government has vast emergency powers that are rarely used. It has one other important thing — money.

Former prime minister Lester B. Pearson talked of “co-operative federalism.” It works. Let’s apply it.

Here’s how. The Canadian public needs to actually see the politicians struggling with these issues. One forum would be an open, televised federal-provincial conference. The prime minister should immediately call one. The federal delegation should consist of the PM, his health minister and the leaders of the Conservatives, the Bloc, the NDP and the Greens, as well as the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

The premiers and territorial leaders would bring their health ministers and the chairs of their provincial or territorial associations of municipalities. All will pledge to work together. It’s a big ask, yes, but this would be real leadership, and reflects what was done in wartime. Then they should get to work.

The goal is to lay out all the issues involved in successfully tackling the virus. There will be differences — this is inherent in our vast country — but there is a need to show Canadians a united front and to reconnect to the public.

Canadians are not well served by a patchwork of policies which we have now. The conference would come up with plans to deal with lockdowns, aid small businesses, and for the timing and rollout of a vaccine, amongst others.

Canadians are a northern people, and to survive we have come to value community, compromise and working together. I’ve seen our politicians come together in a crisis. They need to do that in full view of the public.

The public too has a role. Avoid taking cheap internet shots at the politicians.

Then follow the plan.  [Tyee]

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