“The first role of government is to help people in crisis or need. That’s why we have government.”– John McCain
Crisis separates the leaders from wannabes.
We will be watching our leaders and wannabes very carefully over the next few months to see how they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, we want to see whether they adopt what Chris Hadfield calls “boldface” procedures—“boldface” is a term used by pilots to describe the procedures that could save your life in a crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic is moving very quickly and we’ve learned some boldface procedures from other jurisdictions that will help “flatten the curve”, but these procedures require governments to have the wisdom and the courage to spend the money and take the steps necessary to meet the pandemic head on, rather than hanging back until it’s too late to catch up.
How are we doing so far?
Stepping up…or not
At the federal level, Prime Minister Trudeau is taking action.
He’s committed $1 billion to fight COVID-19: $500 million is allocated to provincial and territorial governments which are responsible for health care delivery, $5 million goes toward increased Employment Insurance sickness benefits for those who need to go into self-isolation, $50 million is earmarked for protective equipment for health care workers, over $275 million is for prevention and research, and millions more will go to regional public health services.
And that’s just the beginning, Mr Trudeau promises there’s more to come next week.
The prime minister is demonstrating strong leadership in a time of crisis.
On the provincial front, Premier Jason Kenney has been much slower to react.
Yesterday Mr Kenney made a faith and hope speech, brimming with patriotic platitudes and warning that things would get “much worse” before they got better. Mr Kenney called for “direct and timely interventions” by governments (plural) to support workers, employers, families and businesses, so we can take care of each other, especially the vulnerable, the old, the sick, and the unemployed.
He did not offer any “direct and timely interventions” until this afternoon when he announced $500 million in funding to ensure frontline health professionals have the staffing, resources and supplies they need for testing, surveillance and treatment.
Mr Kenney’s funding commitment is better late than never, but the fact he waited until after prime minister Trudeau made his announcement is a concern. “You first” is not a sign of good leadership, it’s a cop out.
The frontline and Budget 2020
Now here’s where it gets tricky.
When Mr Kenney announced the $500 million commitment he said, “Alberta’s public health workers are doing an outstanding job, and we are here to support them with whatever they need.” If he really meant it, he’d take another look at Budget 2020.
Budget 2020 reflects Mr Kenney’s contention that Alberta’s healthcare professionals are overpaid and inefficient. It purports to address this by (1) significantly cutting nursing jobs and (2) materially reducing physician’s compensation.
This left Alberta’s healthcare professionals feeling demoralized and burnt out…and then COVID-19 turned up on our doorstep.
Rachel Notley has been fighting to reverse the cuts to nurses, and has urged Mr Kenney to “pause” the implementation of changes to doctors’ compensation until the COVID-19 crisis is behind us. Mr Kenney refuses to budge.
Mr Kenney says the budget must pass because the government needs spending authority by Mar 31. This implies that the government will implode if the budget is not in place on April 1.
Guess what, we’re not the US government, we don’t have to shut down and furlough staff because the government fails to pass a spending bill by a certain date. The Alberta government has the power to pass interim supply bills (which it does on a regular basis) and special warrants to pay as needed.
If Mr Kenney were inclined to address the challenges posed by the coronavirus, he could delay passing Budget 2020. He simply chooses not to do so; likely because he’d have to revise the budget’s revenue forecasts which are wrongly based on rising oil prices. He simply doesn’t want to admit that economists like Trevor Tombe are predicting Alberta’s deficit will rise to $11-12 billion this year, $8-9 billion next year and $4 billion the year after that and our overall debt will balloon to over $100 billion.
Being afraid to admit you made a mistake is not effective leadership, it’s lunacy.
Instead of facing the music, Mr Kenney tried to fob off Alberta’s doctors and nurses with the promise that there will be no healthcare layoffs during the COVID-19 crisis. How nice, they can work until they drop and run a higher risk of being infected with COVID-19 than the general population…and get fired after the crisis has passed.
Mr Kenney has been quick to respond to a failing economy by implementing a $4.7 billion corporate tax cut (which failed to create jobs) and a $30 million/year war room (which failed to improve the energy sector’s reputation).
He’s been slow to respond to a pandemic that threatens to upend Alberta’s healthcare systems and he continues to exacerbate the chaos and uncertainty by refusing to “pause” his government unilateral imposition of pay cuts on Alberta’s physicians.
Thankfully our healthcare professionals will honour their commitment to care for us and our families.
They will lead us through this crisis while Mr Kenney huffs and puffs on the sidelines.