National Post (National Edition)
This country is simply terrible at buying things it wants — relatively simple, wellestablished things like helicopters, fighter jets, frigates. Why would vaccines be any different?
The pandemic is nothing if not an emotional roller-coaster, and the vaccine situation has been one all on its own: there was elation at the rapid development of multiple vaccines, and to see that Canada had lined up millions of doses; now there is fury as other countries storm ahead of us in actually receiving their doses, and embarrassment in some quarters at our dipping into the COVAX pot of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses meant primarily for developing nations. Always there is regret that we didn't ramp up our own vaccine production, and bewilderment that it's taking so long to do so.
None of that is unwarranted and I wouldn't try to talk anyone down from it (though Colby Cosh ably argued last week that the COVAX grab is perfectly defensible in the circumstances). Every day we have to wait, more people will lose their lives.
But like so many parents have said over the years, I'm not angry, just disappointed — and not surprised-disappointed, either. This kid has let me down too many times before. Better is always possible, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likes to say, but in Canada, if you need something big done quickly, good isn't very likely. This country is simply terrible at buying things it wants — relatively simple, well-established things like helicopters, fighter jets, frigates. Why would vaccines be any different?
You can't just start being a serious country the day calamity strikes, and when calamity began pounding on the door we weren't even talking seriously, never mind acting. The risk is low, federal officials said; masks don't work; closing borders is worse than useless. Canadian officialdom followed its various preferences — partisan, ideological, inexplicable — straight into hell, because how bad could it be? This is Canada. When was the last time anything world-class terrible ever happened in Canada?
To my mind, the Time of Judgment really begins next month. Trudeau and his ministers are sticking to their original promises of six million Pfizer and Moderna doses by the end of March, and everyone vaccinated by the end of September. Relatively speaking, these are not parade-worthy figures: Six million more doses by the end of March would get us more or less to where the United Kingdom is today, per capita.
By Canadian standards, though, those would be absolute bloody miracles.
How likely it actually is is impossible to know, in part because since Canada, unlike peer countries, hasn't made any details of its vaccine contracts public. That would be disturbing, suspicious, if it were at all surprising. But it isn't. Those contracts would be secret even if we were beating Israel in the vaccination race. Opacity is the default position of this government, just as it was its predecessor governments, and unless Canadians make it an election issue, that will go for all future governments as well. It's another symptom of this country's usually blissful unseriousness, and it is not simply the domain of the Trudeau gang.
It is the opposition parties' job to hold the government to account, and there is no shortage of avenues for criticism — including on the vaccine file. But no one should assume a Conservative or NDP government in Ottawa would have done significantly better, even after five years in office. Fixing the systemic issues and attitudes that led to Canada's mediocre-to-disastrous results is a generational challenge, and the weakest link in the whole system — long-term care homes — isn't in federal jurisdiction anyway. There is much talk in progressive circles about ending for-profit long-term care, which many have always argued for. But plenty of not-for-profit homes turned into nightmares as well.
There are no simple solutions here, or at least none that don't involve spending much more money than we're used to. While we wait for the vaccines and hope for the best, some serious national soul-searching is in order.
THIS COUNTRY IS SIMPLY TERRIBLE AT BUYING THINGS IT WANTS. — SELLEY