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From those to whom much is given, much is asked. Or so we thought.
Much has indeed been given to government authorities in two months. Think about this: outside of the conscription powers during the world wars, Canada’s governments have never had more control over our lives than they do now. Government spending has almost doubled overnight. Deficits are monstrous. Work is largely banned. The state decides who gets paid and how much. If they run out of money (they have), they print more. Most of all, politicians and bureaucrats dictate what we can do and how we can do it. Best of all, with Parliament largely shuttered and criticisms generally stigmatized as “petty” during crisis, the all-powerful state enjoys near-total freedom from accountability and scrutiny. So much has been given and so little has been asked of the government.
Many on the left say rescue aid for business and families—which everyone agrees is necessary—vindicates powerful state intervention. But the claim is ironic, given that the reason the aid is needed in the first place is because of a government failure, not a market failure. Protecting our borders is government’s core responsibility. Yet for two entire months after military intelligence warned of the outbreak, our government left the border wide open to visitors from COVID hotspots, allowing 58,000 people to enter Canada from China, including 2000 from Hubei province, where it all began. Only three people were required to have a medical exam.
Had we closed the borders to these hotspots at the time, Canada would not be in lockdown today and countless lives would have been spared. That is not speculation. We have a case study: Taiwan protected its borders the day it first learned of the outbreak. As of April 18, its per capita death rate from COVID-19 is 0.3 per million citizens versus roughly 40 per million in Canada. In other words, Canada has lost 131 times more people per capita than Taiwan—a jurisdiction far closer to the origin of the outbreak.
After government let the disease enter our borders, it needed to lockdown the population and the economy to stop the spread. Naturally, government needs to compensate people and businesses for the cost of banning them from working. But this money is not a gift. It is compensation for earlier government failures.
The government should be chastened. Instead it is emboldened. The Trudeau government tried to ram through a bill empowering him to raise any tax at any time over the next 21 months, without Parliament’s permission. He backed down to public outrage. But he has limited the House of Commons to one day a week, claiming it is unsafe for politicians to meet in the Parliamentary Precinct, even while his government makes construction workers continue renovations there in closer proximity to one another than MPs would be in the Commons. Are workers’ lives less precious than Trudeau’s?
Moreover, Trudeau’s ministers regularly enter Parliament buildings for press conferences (facilitated by onsite technicians and translators) only steps away from the House of Commons he claims is a dangerous place to work. Perhaps the danger in the House is tough questions.
Also dangerous is people disagreeing with government on public health. Top Trudeau minister, Dominic Leblanc, revealed the government is considering a law banning “misinformation” about COVID-19. But if Leblanc is worried about misinformation, he should investigate his own government for it. Here is the list of factual errors they have promoted:
First, the government’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said face masks did not reduce COVID-19 spreading. Weeks later she admitted the opposite, saying “mask wearing can stop [asymptomatic carriers] from spreading the virus to others.”
Second, the Health Minister, Patty Hajdu, claimed that closing Canada’s border to COVID-19 hotspots would somehow worsen the spread. “The long-term implications of shutting down borders is one, they’re not very effective in controlling disease, as in fact they’re not effective at all.” Days later the government admitted the opposite and promised to close the border.
Then there was airport screening. “Enhanced screening has been in place at all airports since the beginning of February…” claimed a statement tweeted out by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. A day later, an eye-witness tweeted out: “I’ve been in the Canada customs line at Pearson for over an hour along with hundreds of people. Six agents on duty, zero screening, no masks, no sanitizer in site.” Photographic evidence showed hundreds of people crammed together waiting in airport lineups without screening.
As we slowly move from a health crisis to an economic crisis, expect more appeals for expanded government power. Former Unifor economist, Jim Stanford, recently wrote that after COVID-19: “We will need equally massive fiscal injections. And we will need a similar willingness to use tools of direct economic management and regulation — including public service, public ownership and planning — to make it all happen.” Government ownership, central management and planning of the economy caused mass starvations in China, the USSR and everywhere else they have been tried. Western countries experimented with milder state interventionism, but after nearly going bankrupt they restored free enterprise in the 1980s to bring economies roaring back to life.
But we will be asked to unlearn that history. “Sure, the free market may have worked in the past and socialism starved people to death. But everything has changed. The coronavirus has somehow altered the laws of economics and human nature.”
You can expect that economic “experts” will be trotted out to tell us that state-controlled economics is the only way. And we cannot question the experts, lest we be partisan and distasteful during a crisis. Everyone must walk in lockstep and praise the Prime Minister. Anyone who doesn’t is not on “Team Canada”.
Now, more than ever, we need voices prepared to break from this groupthink. As Orwell wrote: “It is the liberals who fear liberty and the intellectuals who want to do dirt on the intellect…. If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”