National Post (Latest Edition)
FORD MAKES PM LOOK GOOD. GURNEY,
Political blame game is now in full swing
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Ontario’s government seems to have completely lost control of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last weekend was absolutely chaotic, with orders issued Friday being revoked on Saturday amid a significant public backlash. Even as Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government attempted to pick itself up off the mat on Monday, it has been fascinating to see the growing pressure on the federal government to step in and do … something.
Responding to that pressure, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a bevy of cabinet ministers have promised more money, more rapid-test kits and said they will use the military to bring in health-care reinforcements from other provinces. Which is all fine.
Every doctor and nurse that can be sent to the province will help. But there simply isn’t a big enough pool of reserve manpower in this country to meaningfully boost Ontario’s capacity in the short term. And given the typically languid pace of planning and execution in this country, by the time any meaningful help has arrived, we’ll be through the worst of it. And it may be bad.
Ontario is so deep into the third wave that nothing is going to prevent whatever is about to happen in its hospitals. Whatever Ottawa or Queen’s Park does or does not do probably doesn’t matter. We have left the moment of decision and arrived at the moment of consequences. At some point in the reasonably near future, enough Ontarians will be vaccinated to blunt the tail end of this wave and, God willing, head off a fourth. It’s the time between now and then that is going to be terrible to experience.
For the politicians, everything we’re seeing now is about blame apportionment. Ontario has spent months blaming the federal government for its failures — sometimes with cause, sometimes not. Now that the situation in Ontario has melted down, and with the premier’s office obviously in total chaos, the prime minister is swooping in, offering not much in the way of anything, but looking amazing by simple virtue of not being in the midst of a humiliating public faceplant.
We shouldn’t be so cynical as to assume that the prime minister’s offers of help are entirely about his own political self-interests, but we shouldn’t be naive, either. After weeks of taking the blame for Ontario’s woes, it would be only natural for the prime minister to take some enjoyment from playing the adult in the room. Trudeau has been handed a rare opportunity — he can be the hero just by showing up and not slipping on a banana peel.
But here’s the thing: in his criticisms of the federal response, Ford has often been right. There is more that Trudeau can and should have done. Not on vaccines, so much. Ford should not have expected to have been bailed out by vaccines.
But he has it right on the border: it is absolutely astonishing that, to this very day, the federal government has not been able to come up with a credible plan to control flights arriving in Canada, or considering that Ontario and British Columbia seem to be grappling with different variants, even domestic air travel.
Canada’s economy runs on trucks that must cross the United States border routinely. No real national quarantine was ever possible. But a stronger effort at the airports stood a decent chance of at least slowing down the arrival of the variants that are now loose in Toronto and causing so much alarm in Vancouver. A delay of even a month or two would have been incredibly helpful.
Ontario is vaccinating roughly 100,000 people a day. If we’d slowed the variants by a month, that’s another three million people with at least partial protection. But the feds never tried, and are actually removing some of the half-hearted restrictions they did put in place. It is a completely indefensible choice, and just the latest in a series of federal failures that aren’t getting nearly the attention they deserve.
But they won’t start getting that attention until the provinces, particularly Ontario, stop screwing up so spectacularly that almost anything else looks good by comparison. Ford has undoubtedly made a complete hash of Ontario’s response to the third wave, but he also has completely legitimate complaints regarding the federal response. And yet the feds will continue getting a pass until Ford digs deep and manages to go a full week without a catastrophic error in judgment.
This isn’t fair, but it’s the reality. Getting his own house in order and achieving even as lofty an ambition as “marginally coherent” wouldn’t just be good for Ford, and wouldn’t just be good for Ontarians. It would be good for all Canadians, because it would rightly put some of the scrutiny Trudeau deserves but has largely escaped back where it needs to be — on his own government. The botched federal response only looks good relative to Ontario because Ontario has screwed it up beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings.
So here we are, where a few federal announcements, delivered without any massive screwups, even if nothing meaningful is announced, is all Ottawa needs to do to look competent. The cruellest and most politically devastating thing Doug Ford could do to Justin Trudeau would simply be doing a passably decent job as premier of Ontario. Alas, that seems beyond him.
THERE IS MORE THAT TRUDEAU CAN AND SHOULD HAVE DONE.