Cohen: Why Canada’s response to COVID-19 is so different from that of the U.S.

Another piece on differences:

Comparing the character of nations is risky and imprecise. In the Age of Contagion, though, it offers a window into how the peoples of the world are coping.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have handled the crisis relatively well. We expect that of people we see as highly disciplined, motivated and organized. Italy is reeling from the contagion. Gregarious, unruly, passionate, creative, independent – this is how we see Italians. It suggests why they were slow to respond.

In Washington, Congress struggles to forge an economic response. The president is erratic and unempathetic. He is widely disbelieved, skeptical of expertise and reluctant to accept responsibility.The media send mixed messages. Fox News, with the highest audience, once denied the pandemic, calling it “a hoax.” One host – before she was fired – claimed the coronavirus was a plot by the Democrats to re-impeach Donald Trump.

The danger is that the medical system will be overwhelmed. On the tenth anniversary of Obamacare, universal health care remains contentious in the United States – undermined by the Republicans, who have tried repeatedly to abolish it, and repeatedly challenged in the courts.

In Canada, a country of 37 million, there were some 2,100 cases and 24 deaths as of early Tuesday. The system is holding, for now. Hospitals have enough masks and respirators, for now. The prime minister appears in public every day, alone, outside his residence. He speaks sensibly, with authority, without hyperbole. This has been his finest hour.Canadians trust him. They may not have voted for him – only about one-third did – but that doesn’t matter now. Nor do we question the competence of his ministers who are the other faces of the crisis – Chrystia Freeland, Marc Garneau, Patty Hajdu, Bill Blair. All are calm, competent and professional. This is what we want.

The provincial premiers, most of whom are not Liberals, have lost their congenital instinct to attack Ottawa. Doug Ford, no admirer of Justin Trudeau, now praises his leadership.All provinces have declared states of emergency, and will not object if the national government does, too. If it must, it will – and we won’t complain.

Opposition parties are not posturing. Andrew Scheer, who called Trudeau “a fraud” last autumn, says this is no time for politics. He is right. His fellow Conservatives, vying to succeed him, have put away their popguns. Some want the leadership vote scheduled for August delayed.

Unlike in America, there is consensus in Canada. No one is saying that the aid package is inadequate, that the government is slow, that money unduly favours corporations. Jason Kenney is not talking about western alienation and the Bloc Québécois is not talking sovereignty. Canadians want only freedom from fear.Mercifully, we have no Fox News. Whatever the CBC’s flaws as national broadcaster, its reporting has been thorough and honest, under trying circumstances. Same with CTV and Radio Canada, and the country’s newspapers and websites.

Why is our response different? It may be a case of identity. Americans celebrate independence, individualism, personal liberty. Many distrust government, resent politicians, court conspiracy and dismiss science. This wasn’t always so – the New Deal and the Great Society expanded the state – but it is now.

Canadians accept big government, which is how we built the social welfare state. Two-thirds of us voted for progressives last year. We defer to authority.Yes, we’ve made real mistakes in the crisis. We didn’t secure airports fast enough or test early and widely enough. Too many are treating physical distancing as a snow day. If we ultimately do better in all this – it’s too early to know or crow – it’s not because we are morally superior. It is because we are smaller, organized, well-led, more united, more measured, more of a community.

It’s a question of character.

Source: Cohen: Why Canada’s response to COVID-19 is so different from that of the U.S.

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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