National Post (National Edition)
Trudeau infantilizing us
It's a scientific principle that when a vacuum is created, other forces rush to fill it. The same applies to politics, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is paying the price.
Trudeau's Liberals created a vacuum with regard to the COVID-19 virus with their consistent reluctance to level with Canadians. The prime minister seems congenitally incapable of sharing information, despite all the many pledges of openness he's offered through the years, and his handling of the COVID pandemic has been consistent with that reluctance. Official statements have consistently sought to assure Canadians that everything possible was being done, that the government was moving heaven and Earth to obtain a ready supply of vaccines, and that no stone would be left unturned to ensure arms would be getting jabs before the winter snows ebbed.
It hasn't happened. Instead, one bungle has followed another, culminating in the country proving incapable of getting the vaccines it paid for.
And, true to form, rather than level with an increasingly cranky population, federal Liberals are begging for patience, hoping to get through the next few weeks at minimum cost to their reputation, until supplies eventually turn up and the much-delayed big rollout can commence.
Unfortunately for them, information keeps filling the void, much of it demonstrating just how poorly Ottawa has responded to the crisis, and the extent to which other countries were quicker off the mark to tie up vaccine supplies. Strategic leaks from unnamed officials now contend that the government didn't expect a workable vaccine to be approved before April, and thus was caught off guard when supplies became available earlier. Having bet everything on a spring delivery, they had to recalibrate, allowing a few early jabs at the expense of more later.
Now provinces are caught in a bind, having administered the first doses without the certainty they'll have enough supplies for the second. Initial planning having gone awry, Trudeau has been on the phone trying to round up an interim supply, but is paying the price for earlier decisions that let other countries tie up deliveries while Canada lagged behind. Procurement Minister Anita Anand told a Commons committee she asked every leading vaccine manufacturer if they could produce a supply inside Canada but was turned down, because Canada lacks the capacity, the result of decisions that allowed domestic capabilities to decline.
Unlike the U.S., which poured billions of dollars into development of the Moderna vaccine, Ottawa initially trusted in a co-development deal with China that ran aground when Beijing suddenly ceased co-operation. Washington's strategy ensured the U.S. got first dibs on all domestically-produced supplies, just as Britain laid claim to priority access to supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine developed there.
In both cases Canada is left in the lurch. Trudeau has already spoken by phone to both President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, but, not surprisingly, the new president insists his first duty is to Americans. Despite the mountains of abuse heaped on the former Trump regime, the U.S. approach has put it miles ahead of Canada in the number of doses administered per capita.
So desperate has the federal search become that Canada is the only Group of Seven country to seek supplies via COVAX, an international organization set up largely to ensure developing countries have access to the vaccine rather than getting shut out by the wealthy.
“Our government will never apologize for doing everything in our power to get Canadians vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland declared defensively, but the fact remains Ottawa is now competing against the needy countries Trudeau once indicated would be on the receiving end of Canada's anticipated surpluses.
As is its habit, the Liberal government has sought to contain the news rather than share it with Canadians who have largely adhered to government pleas to remain home, wear masks, forgo group gatherings, skip Christmas, keep the kids out of school and abandon any hope of travel any time soon. They deserve better, but aren't getting it, as the Liberals have consistently reacted to information that finds its way into public rather than proactively offering details.
While the prime minister continues to make announcements from the front steps of his home at Rideau cottage, he shrugs off difficult questions while insisting he fully expects to get Canada's contracted supply of vaccines by the end of March and begs Canadians to remain patient. He dismisses complaints as mere “noise.” Government assertions appear to be contradicted by what's known of the contracts signed with manufacturers, but details haven't been made public, enabling ministers to insist they drove tough bargains even as supplies are withheld and people who received their first dose are left wondering when, and if, they'll be able to get the second. Even Canada's premiers, who are responsible for organizing and administering the vaccines, were refused when they asked Trudeau for contract details.
The Liberals' strategy is clear enough. They are desperately counting on Pfizer and Moderna to come through with big shipments by April, in hopes a countrywide rollout will finally enable large numbers of Canadians to get their shots, tempering the anger and frustration now taking hold. If additional suppliers can be added to the stream, the government may even hit its target of making the vaccine available to everyone who wants it by September.
After that, Liberals hope, Canadians will once again forgive them their failures, forget the disruption to their lives from a lost year, and obediently vote to retain the same government that caused them so much grief.