A crisis brings strengths into focus: government, health care, the online work world, and diversity in Canada

Nice commentary by Andrew Cardozo of the Pearson Centre:

Some things are becoming clear through the COVID-19 crisis. First, government can be a huge force for good—in fact, it’s the only central force for some time to come. Second, we are very fortunate to have a strong health-care system, and it’s a good thing we don’t have a confusing, two-tier system. Third, governments can effectively help with income. Fourth, we are being kicked and dragged into the online world really fast—virtually and through remote work. Fifth, we have become a lot more hygienic. Sixth, it is clear that a good part of the success of our health-care system is our diversity—the women and men of various origins who make the system run so well come from a range of origins. Lastly, a strong public broadcaster makes a difference.

Almost no one is criticizing government for taking action on several fronts. To the extent there is criticism, it is that the government is not doing enough or fast enough.

Whether it’s health care, income support, business support, immigration or national security and diplomacy; it’s government, government, government.

As the crisis started to unravel, we were seeing situations of Americans not going for tests as it could cost several hundred dollars for each person. Not so in Canada. Never. That’s why we have a universal system and not a two-tier system, which some people so desire.

And even if you really don’t care about your less fortunate fellow citizens, the prospect of potential carriers of the virus not being diagnosed meant that they would continue to carry it and spread it around—to selfish people included.

Isn’t it time we move to universal pharmacare so people who get the virus do not have to worry about paying for the drugs required? And the areas of public policy should include the economy, employment, and income support, and we should be trying to provide a “basic income” for Canadians. Isn’t it time we move our whole system to one of ensuring a basic income for all Canadians permanently?

Then there’s working from home. It’s the big new thing. It’s no more a nice thing to do, with all sorts of environmental and family benefits. It’s a necessity. It has to happen, now, right away, and as across the board as humanly possible. Who knew? A transition that started perhaps a decade ago and was slowly moving along, will literally become mainstream in a matter of days. Working remotely, and managing remote workers is suddenly the norm.

Oh and hand washing. My unscientific observations over the years is that one-third of men do not wash their hands after, you know. Yes, ladies, sorry to reveal the dirty truth. I hear on the female side of the ledger that figure is close to zero per cent. And those remaining two-thirds—only one-third uses soap. My male friends generally agree that these proportions are accurate.

Now we men are 100 per cent washing with soap, at least I hope. That is a huge and sudden progress.

But washing hands after washroom use is just one element of hygiene. We are likely to become a whole lot more hygienic—although I hope not overly so, or we will lose any built-up immunities.

The diversity of our top health officials is suddenly evident. It seems there is no other area of expertise where so many women and men of various origins have risen to the top.

Dr. Theresa Tam has to be the coolest, calmest, and most authoritative health official ever. Born in Hong Kong and educated in the U.K., she delivers the warnings in a way that is straightforward and non-threatening.

Her deputy is Dr. Howard Njoo, a veritable global citizen born in Europe and raised in Canada, of Chinese-Indonesian-Southeast Asian origin.

Dr. Horacio Arruda is director of public health of Quebec. Dr. Wajid Ahmed is the medical officer of health for Windor-Essex and Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang is Waterloo region’s medical officer of health are among the top health authorities across Canada.

Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, pictured on March 16, 2020, at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, is ‘a veritable global citizen born in Europe and raised in Canada, of Chinese-Indonesian-Southeast Asian origin,’ writes Andrew Cardozo. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

The faces on TV are numerous. Dr. Peter Lin, whose calming dulcet tones grace CBC TV and radio, is called the CBC House Doctor. Dr. Samir Sinha is director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and Dr. Susy Hota is a University of Toronto academic. Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti is an infectious diseases specialist in Mississauga and Dr. Samir Gupta is a clinician-scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital, oh yes, there’s that other billionaire immigrant, Li Ka Shing. Dr. Nisha Thampi is head of Infection Control at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, infectious disease specialist with Toronto’s University Health Network frequently appears on CTV.

We would be woefully understaffed if it were not for the thousands of immigrants throughout the system, all the Filipina and Caribbean nurses, for example. Something for Quebec to watch closely—they may want to extend a more immigrant-friendly welcome mat and suspend Bill 21 for a while.

Overall, we are also seeing a large number of women in top spots in public health across the country. In addition to Dr. Tam and Dr. Wang noted above, these include Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s high-profile provincial health officer; Dr. Patricia Daly, her counterpart for Vancouver; Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health for Alberta (who is leading from her home, in quarantine); and Dr. Jessica Hopkins, Peel’s medical officer of health.

And, of course, at the political level, we are seeing the COVID cabinet committee, led by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, and the competent and always informative Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

Lastly, the CBC. While the private networks are doing a great job, the CBC-Radio Canada is performing at its best. CBC News Network and ICI RDI are providing stellar services, which not only provide news about who is doing what, but provide a lot of information to viewers to help us understand what COVID-19 is all about and how we need to defend ourselves. The demonstrations on how to wash your hands could not have been more valuable.

In these troubled times, it helps to see the silver linings and the strong system we have in place.

Source: A crisis brings strengths into focus: government, health care, the online work world, and diversity in Canada

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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