When the COVID-19 pandemic began, elected officials could perhaps be forgiven for top-down mandates. We all knew so little about this virus, except that it was spreading like wildfire.
One can no longer plead ignorance. There is no place in Canada or elsewhere for more haphazard, knee-jerk responses that give not a shred of concern for collateral damage. Not only do we know the victims are concentrated in an identifiable sliver of the population, we have role models of successful responses without heavy-handed lockdowns—one being Sweden, which may now be approaching herd immunity while having avoided decimating its economy.
Yet, on Oct. 1, in the wake of more reported infections, Montreal and Quebec City re-entered lockdowns that include all bars, restaurants, cinemas, museums, libraries, and even home gatherings. The Ontario provincial government implemented public-health restrictions one day later, with threats of more lockdowns pending, including at the federal level.
The Mounting Wreckage
A thoughtful, balanced response that mitigates virus-induced deaths must be targeted, transparent, and data driven. It cannot overlook the severe impacts of lockdowns: suicide, unemployment, depression, bankruptcies and business closures, violence and crime, and even divorce.
One can also no longer turn a blind eye to the glaring fiscal price tag. Even before COVID-19’s arrival, the federal government was on track for three decades of deficits, and from 1990 to 2018 per capita municipal spending rose 51 percent. Now the federal deficit, at $149 billion this fiscal year, is 100 times what it was at the same time in 2019.
Add to that the loss of free movement, privacy, and civil liberties, and we are witnessing the undermining of Canada’s precious liberal society and legal tradition. “The COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing recession [are] contributing to a dramatic expansion in the size of government in Canada in 2020,” conclude two Fraser Institute policy analysts.
To make matters worse, opportunistic politicos have a glint in their eyes regarding the panic and economic deprivation. They are using the self-imposed recession as an excuse to roll out their favourite social-engineering schemes. Even the pitch for a universal basic income is getting a new lease of life.
These economic monstrosities—such as the prime minister’s recently announced $10 billion for “clean technology projects”—spell permanent damage. They will do nothing to mitigate COVID-19, but they will compound Canada’s lagging economic freedom, fan the flames of Western separatism, and crowd out genuine investment from the private sector.
As Calgary-based columnist Gilly Davis has noted, Ottawa’s central planning and rejection of Alberta energy show “an open disregard for the plight of the West and the growing tinderbox of alienation. … Investors are back to questioning if they can do business in Canada with the regulatory uncertainty.”
Numerators Without Denominators
The reported COVID-19 cases, without context such as testing rates, tell us little about the virus’s severity and frequency. Suggesting otherwise is consistent with either a primitive understanding of statistics or dishonesty, especially when coupled with a lack of transparency.
Regarding pandemic fear-mongering, constitutional attorney Karen Selick explains in a Western Standard op-ed: “The only relevant statistic that would tell us whether or not the ‘pandemic’ is getting worse would be the number of positive tests on a particular day divided by the total number of people tested on that day.”
We could then compare this ratio with the equivalent ratio calculated on prior days. In fact, the daily average of administered tests over the previous seven days in Ontario was 20,957 on Sept. 3 and 34,119 on Sept. 24, according to Statistics Canada. The average administered tests per day in Quebec increased by 89.6 percent in the same period.
If Canadian cities are administering more tests per day, which is not a bad thing, they will likely find more positive and false-positive results. The reasonable conclusion of late is that the medical system has the capacity to diagnose more COVID-19 than before.
The touted second wave could be a wave of testing, so imprecision means we are unfortunately left grabbing at anecdotes. Paula Casey, a recreation therapist serving various long-term care facilities in Montreal, has witnessed a COVID-19 rise in the past two months. However, she affirms it is among the most vulnerable: those with compromised immune systems. She is also concerned about the mental-health harm done to the retirees isolated for months now.
No Need to Reinvent the Wheel
We are lucky to have the benefit of hindsight from other nations such as Japan and South Korea. Many offer simple ideas for how to responsibly address virus risks. These include applying clear, prudent rules such as prohibitions on large public events—as occurred in Sweden—and allowing more private-sector medical participation, as occurred in Germany. The Canada Health Act has proved even more problematic than normal in this regard.
Taiwan, for example, enacted careful internal and port-of-entry testing and avoided much of the spread from neighbouring China. Border checkpoints can provide information on infection clusters and risky origin countries.
Beyond national policies, though, physicians are now better prepared and better informed regarding how to treat the illness—with a vaccine likely to be ready by next year. Conversely, individual Canadians are aware and readily engage in preventive activities. Transparent, precise communication can empower both sides to work together to best manage the risks.
Industries such as the mining sector have been proactive and taken precautions that negate risks and fit their context. Companies across several industries have adopted a new normal, applying biosecurity measures and embracing remote working. Ensuring safe environments and working conditions was crucial for them to restart operations and resume their economic activities.
The good news is that Canadians—in partnership with their employers and physicians—are taking the initiative to address COVID-19 without the need for costly mandates. In the limited instances that justify policy intervention, we now know what has worked abroad. While COVID-19 remains, the case for lockdowns does not.
Fergus Hodgson is the director of Econ Americas, a financial consultancy, and a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.