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If there’s one thing that’s come to define the Trudeau Liberal government over the last five years, it’s a penchant for over-promising and under-delivering. Whether it was the promise of electoral reform, the commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous communities or its stated goal of winning a seat on the UN Security Council, this is a government whose grasp has often exceeded its reach.
And when it comes to Canada’s suddenly faltering vaccine rollout, it’s hard not to notice the distance between the huge number of doses it has told Canadians it procured on their behalf and the tiny fraction of them that have actually been delivered.
Canadians are certainly noticing that right now. As a recent poll from Abacus Research revealed, 42 per cent of Canadians now rate the federal government’s performance on “ordering the vaccines that Canadians need” as “poor or terrible,” with only 25 per cent saying it’s “excellent or good.” That’s a 34-point swing from just a month earlier, one that can be attributed in part to the official Opposition’s strategy of waterboarding Canadians with charts showing how poorly we’re doing compared to the United States and the U.K.
Ironically enough, the Liberal government is actually getting tripped up here by its own pessimism — or, perhaps, realism —when it comes to the pace of vaccine development. After all, the idea of there being four effective vaccines approved and delivered by the end of February would have seemed almost comically optimistic at this time last year, when the prospect of even one effective vaccine seemed dangerously hopeful.
But the government’s failure to prepare for a miracle has left it vulnerable to accusations that it’s effectively denying Canadians access to one. As former GlaxoSmithKline Canada CEO Paul Lucas told the Globe and Mail: “They assumed they wouldn’t get approval and wouldn’t need the vaccine until the second quarter. They went on the assumption that they wouldn’t need vaccines until April.”
They also found themselves in a situation where they had to rely on trading partners for their vaccine production capacity at the very moment when that capacity was about to be tested. No, Canada couldn’t control the decision by Pfizer to retool the factories that are producing the vaccine doses it has purchased. Nor could Canada force the United States to reroute those being manufactured there. We find ourselves at the mercy of other countries right at a moment where mercy isn’t a viable option for them.
The federal government’s investment in domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity is both welcome and long overdue, but it won’t arrive until the fall at the earliest. And while it will help us prepare for, and respond to, pandemics that happen in the future, whether it’s a new variant of COVID or something completely new, it won’t save the thousands of Canadians who will surely die in the interim.
It’s yet another reminder, as if the last four years weren’t enough of one, that Canada can’t depend on the goodwill of either the United States or Europe when it comes to matters of national self-interest.
So what can the government do to dig itself out of this hole? First, it should put any talk of a potential spring election to rest and focus all of its attention and energies on getting Canadians vaccinated. Both Pfizer and Moderna have promised deliveries postponed in February will be made up by the end of March, and the government should move heaven and earth to ensure that happens.
The approval of two new vaccines, one from AstraZeneca and the other from Johnson & Johnson, will help considerably — especially the latter, since it only requires one dose and can be stored at warmer temperatures than the others. But if Canada is still lagging behind countries like Germany and France on total vaccinations by Victoria Day, there’s going to be a high political price to pay.
#Trudeau's penchant for overpromising has landed him in hot water during the #COVID19 vaccine rollout, @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver. #cdnpoli
That said, there’s also risk here for Erin O’Toole and the Conservative Party of Canada if they overplay their hand. They’re already perilously close to the line that separates demanding success and cheering for failure, and Canadians won’t look favourably upon them if they get caught on the wrong side of it.
They also need to remember that the current charts they’re tweeting out about Canada’s relative position are a snapshot in time, not an ironclad prediction of the future. If the government does, in fact, turn things around by the spring, they may end up trapping themselves in Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf territory.
In the end, what most Canadians want isn’t an election over the COVID vaccination program but an effective and expeditious delivery rollout. When it’s over, we should all shift our attention to preparing for the next virus to come our way. After all, if this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we have to learn to rely on each other far more than we do right now.