Over the course of the pandemic, Canadians have become so conditioned by repeated warnings from our health officials that, unless we look back, it can be difficult to recall what life was like before COVID-19 arrived on the scene.
Many Canadians have become convinced that, if they deviate from public health orders, they will be responsible for the total collapse of our healthcare system. We’ve heard the same dire warnings over and over and over. States of emergency have been extended repeatedly in order to prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
It’s true that the prolonged stress of the pandemic has created a heavy burden for those in the medical profession. They are, unquestionably, exhausted (as, incidentally, are most people in most vocations, from teaching to trucking). But to blame the collapse of the healthcare system solely on coronavirus is misleading at best. For one thing, the notion that obeying regulations will “protect the healthcare system” is premised on the assumption that following ever-changing government policy is an effective way to limit the spread or severity of disease – a claim that is undermined by continued waves of infection, even among the scrupulously compliant.
For another, Canadians seem to have forgotten that our healthcare system was stretched thin even before COVID-19. A CBC article dated March 11, 2020 admitted that “Most of the country’s hospitals are already operating at 100 per cent capacity, a largely normal situation in Canada’s health-care system” (emphasis added). The same piece quoted a Toronto physician who admitted, “We’re at capacity most of the time.” Yet Ontario’s Minister of Health promised in January 2020 that “current overcrowding in hospitals won’t be an issue.”
In other words, a pre-existing crisis has been used to push Canadians into seemingly perpetual panic over a disease that has proven to be far less lethal than we initially feared. (Early news reports cited an alarming 14% fatality rate; the reality is about 1%). Yet, our government has chosen to blame Canadians for “overwhelming” a system that was already at the breaking point.
This entire situation is a bit like a government announcing that, instead of using tax dollars to fix potholes or deal with congested thoroughfares, it is going to ban all vehicle traffic on the roads until they are safe to drive on – a goal that will never be achieved without the necessary repairs. It’s a solution that places all the blame on drivers while conveniently allowing the government to escape any responsibility.
It should be obvious that a proper response to our overstrained healthcare system should not involve punishing people for needing healthcare. Instead, it should involve taking initiative to build resilience and increase capacity (and by that I do not mean giving tens of millions of dollars to SNC Lavalin for “mobile health units” that have never been deployed).
Of course, I realize that’s much easier to say than to implement. It will require more than just money and materials, and it will certainly require more than two weeks to see any meaningful changes.
One strategy that comes to mind would be using our resources more efficiently. Recently, columnist Licia Corbella eloquently highlighted research from Susan D. Martinuk, who argues that Canada’s “bloated, bureaucratic” healthcare system is overburdened by an excessive number of administrators. As Corbella points out, “The problem with administrators is they never look inward. Administrators never recommend that administration be cut.” Indeed.
If the last two years are any indication, it’s unlikely that change will come unless Canadians begin to rethink the conversation. Things may be opening up now, but if we want to escape the current cycle of lockdowns for good, then it’s up to us to hold our public officials and politicians to account. A shift in attitude and approaches starts with a willingness to acknowledge and address the issues honestly and openly. It’s past time to stop scapegoating “fringe minorities” and start working together on productive and helpful solutions that will allow us to move forward as a free and healthy society.