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Three things governments got wrong in handling COVID-19

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Photo by Jörgen Berglund on Unsplash

Reading Time: 4 minutes

History will record that multiple vaccine breakthroughs ended the COVID-19 pandemic. But it will also show that ill-considered responses by our federal and provincial governments left highly damaging long-term legacies.

Here’s a list of what I call the COVID follies:

Destruction of the Canadian aviation industry

Canada’s airlines have been burning through their dwindling cash since the first wave of lockdowns.

A major deterrent to attracting passengers has been the two-week quarantine requirement, which turns a two-week vacation into a month off the job.

The airline industry has long been calling for rapid arrival testing to limit quarantine periods. Many other counties have implemented this approach, including Finland, where arriving passengers get rapid testing, followed by a second test a few days later. If both are negative, they can snap out of quarantine.

A similar program is being offered at the Calgary airport on a pilot basis. Instead of extending that, the federal government announced a requirement that passengers get tested before they board their returning flight, with no relief from the two-week quarantine.

And if the flight originates at a location where certified pre-flight testing is unavailable, passengers must spend that two-week quarantine locked in some federal facility, rather than at home.

And it gets even worse. Airlines were hoping that the arrival of winter would bring rising bookings from passengers wanting respite from our Canadian winter. Then came the edict to avoid “non-essential” travel, setting off a media and political firestorm labelling sun-seeking travellers as careless rule-breaking pariahs.

The aviation industry faces a doomsday situation: pre-return flight testing, a 14-day quarantine, possibly at a government ‘hotel,’ all made even worse by an edict against “non-essential” travel.

As usual, it’s taxpayers who will be on the hook for these senseless government actions.

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was already planning a multibillion-dollar bailout of the airline industry. Now that those ill-conceived measures have further hindered airlines’ ability to generate passenger revenue, the bailout will need to be even larger, taking our country yet another step closer to financial oblivion.

Bankrupting small business owners while big-box stores boom

Here come those fearsome words “non-essential” again.

COVID-19 had already forced many small-business owners to shut down. Those still in business, depending on Christmas sales to help them survive, prepared carefully to keep shoppers safe from the virus. Then, just weeks before Christmas, big government teamed up with big-box stores to strike a fatal blow.

Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba banned “non-essential” shopping. Big-box stores, such as Walmart and Costco, which sell many fewer groceries than potential Christmas gifts, were allowed to remain open. With big-box stores as their remaining choice, anxious shoppers formed long lineups outside before rushing inside to find coveted items ahead of others – a COVID-spreading nightmare.

Meanwhile, many owners of small shops who have spent much of their lives building their businesses have lost everything. As the inestimable Rex Murphy wrote in a recent column, “a small shop selling knickknacks is too risky, but a big box is perfectly fine.”

Wasteful income support programs

Each morning from March 12 to June 30, Trudeau made COVID-19 support program announcements that totalled $170 billion, by far the biggest and fastest expenditure commitments in Canadian history.

This announce-it-now-fix-it-later approach was understandable when much of the economy was shut down virtually overnight.

But the flaws in the programs weren’t fixed later, even after they became clear.

One of the most serious flaws is that a lot of the money went to those who didn’t need it. A study by the Fraser Institute found that, of four programs totalling $82 billion, over $22 billion went to making recipients better off than before the pandemic.

An even more serious flaw is that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) actually paid people not to work, leaving businesses struggling to find workers needed to re-ignite the economy. This could have been prevented by providing a sliding-scale incentive to return to work.

Fighting back against the follies

Here’s what you can do to fight back:

Gwyn Morgan is a retired business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.

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Gwyn Morgan

Gwyn Morgan is a retired Canadian business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.

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