Alberta Politics
As a social nicety, masks like these may help you avoid spreading a cold — they’re not going to prevent you from being infected by COVID-19 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

With coronavirus chaos south of the line, brace yourself for some of it to come to our way in Canada

Posted on March 04, 2020, 1:34 am
9 mins

U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s incompetent and ideologically driven response to the international coronavirus crisis poses a serious national security threat to Canada.

Can we do anything about it? Say, closing the border to non-Canadian travellers from the United States, as Russia sealed its border with China in the first days after it became apparent the initial outbreak of what’s now known as the COVID-19 virus had the potential to become a global pandemic?

Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (Photo: Gopmtl1, Creative Commons).

Almost certainly not. Our economy is too closely interlinked with the crumbling neoliberal monolith next door, and its mentally unbalanced wall-builder of a president would likely treat the idea of anyone else building even a metaphorical wall as an act of war. Anyway, it’s almost certainly too late already for that to halt the spread of the disease across our porous continental boundary.

But Canadians had better recognize that the inability of U.S. authorities after three years of Mr. Trump’s depredations to even test for the new respiratory illness, let alone contain its spread, means we are in for a far more serious public health crisis than we would have been if our country occupied an island in the ocean, like Australia.

In our private moments, I predict, we are soon going to wish that we could build a wall along the world’s longest undefended border with the rapidly failing state next door. We might even be willing to pay for it ourselves.

I am not just speaking of COVID-19-infected American business travellers and tourists crossing the border and unintentionally spreading the disease in Canada. This is a problem we can probably deal with through the more effective public health measures already in place in Canada, thanks to our national public health care system.

Canada’s response is also helped by the creation by Jean Chrétien’s Liberal federal government of the Public Health Agency of Canada after the Toronto SARS outbreak in 2003, an initiative intended specifically to respond to the potential for future border-crossing pandemics. That’s the agency Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer apparently didn’t know already exists when he sat down the other day to start tweeting at his euphemistically named “smart” phone — further evidence we should all be thankful Conservatives are not in power in Ottawa today!

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at prayer, not terribly reassuring under the circumstances (Image: Screenshot of news clip).

Rather, I’m talking about the potential for significant numbers of refugees from the profit-driven U.S. health care system attempting to get into Canada and present themselves at hospitals in border regions to get their condition treated, which may not be possible at all in some parts of the United States, and which anywhere in the U.S. carries the risk of financial ruination.

Just going to a hospital to determine whether you have coronavirus or a garden-variety cold can be expensive enough to drive some of the millions of Americans still without health-care insurance into bankruptcy. Here’s a report on how it cost one (insured) American $1,400 in co-pays out of the more than $3,200 the hospital he went to charged just for simple tests.

Naturally, this is a powerful incentive to Americans not to report the disease or risk trying to have it treated. Combine that with the anti-worker labour laws that exist in many U.S. states, in which if you stay home sick, you don’t get paid, and you may not get to keep your employment, and you have a dangerous cocktail that could make the spread of coronavirus far harder to contain in the United States than in China.

On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, announced state health insurers must waive cost sharing associated for COVID-19. Coronavirus costs for emergency room, urgent care, and office visits will also be waived. How likely do you think it is that his Republican counterparts will adopt the same policy? Not very.

So there will be an obvious incentive for sick citizens in many border-states to try to slip across the Canadian boundary and throw themselves at the mercy of our public health care system. And who could blame them? For that matter, as a practical or moral question, how could we say no?

Health care in the United States is a chaotic mess that can’t even produce a test kit for COVID-19 that works, let alone use it to determine how far the disease has spread in that country. And the man President Trump put in charge of the effort to combat this health care emergency? Vice-President Mike Pence, who doubtless recommends prayer.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo (Photo: Pat Arrow, Creative Commons).

What an irony that ideological Conservatives in Canada work daily to create the conditions in this country that are turning the United States into a nuclear-armed failed state.

Consider Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta, a man who promotes a fellow who gads about in a MAGA cap to an important cabinet post, and starts a war with physicians, nurses and other front-line health care workers, vowing to cut their pay. He is determined to impose U.S.-style privatization on our public health care system, the sooner the better, and introduce two-tier medicine for essential medical tests. (Sound familiar?)

He also has plans to open up labour laws to make it harder for working people to get sick time, let alone to take it, and to introduce a regime of wage reduction for all but the wealthiest in our society. If he could get away with imposing Republican “right to work” laws on Alberta, he probably would.

And he’s declared war on public health care right in the midst of an international pandemic, the full implications of which are not yet apparent! What could possibly go wrong?

Mr. Kenney’s response to the coronavirus crisis? He’s upset because it’s causing global oil prices to fall! “It’s very clear the coronavirus situation is affecting the global economy,” he said. “Mass reduction in air travel, in demand for energy products and commodities generally will affect us.”

Yes, it would be a serious problem for Alberta even if we didn’t have a government determined to subsidize the fossil fuel industry at the expense of literally almost everything else. But that’s hardly the message to be emphasizing in the face of a pandemic.

At least we know what excuse he’s going to be using until the next election for the failure of his United Conservative Party’s ideologically driven mismanagement of the economy.

Come to think of it, it’s too bad we can’t put a wall around Mr. Kenney, too!

14 Comments to: With coronavirus chaos south of the line, brace yourself for some of it to come to our way in Canada

  1. e.a.f.

    March 4th, 2020

    In border towns with major American cities, just to the south, yes we ought to expect Americans to come here for testing. One blogger, bmaz, at Empty Wheel, reported his daughter retuned from Europe, was told by her employer to go home for two weeks, arrived at her parents home to spend time with them. The writer is certainly not a person without means or resources, yet his daughter has not been able to obtain testing.
    My usual line about people who vote for idiots such as Ford, el gordo/Christy Clarke, Kenny, Trump, any number of Republican governors, etc.: learn to live with or die because of it. Americans may actually have to face it. They voted for an idiot who wanted to make money in the position, had a religious fanatic as his running mate, pence and a bunch of “grifters’ as Cabinet Secretaries. The first Picture of Pence and his committee meeting was a room full of middle aged white men, with one black man. The CDC experts, who are women, weren’t present. What could possibly go wrong?

    One blog had an article about the epidemic and trump’s wanting to close the southern border. Azar advised he didn’t think it was necessary.
    One commenter, if aliens landed in the U.S.A. trump would want to close the southern border
    next commenter, if aliens landed in Canada, trump would want to close the southern border.
    my comment, I’m in Canada and I want to close our southern border. I’d welcome people from Mexico, there isn’t much of the virus there, yet.
    Mexico may also decide it needs to close its border to the americans, Mexico will most likely have testing available before the U.S.A. does.
    Watching trump in a board room with pharmaceutical company execs was a “delight”. he seemed to think if he pressed these guys hard enough they would say a flu vaccine would work. they weren’t buying into it.

    The U.S.A. just another shit hole country with a dictator as leader.

    Reply
  2. tom in ontario

    March 4th, 2020

    From the people who elected Donald Trump and whose leaders consider universal public health care to be a Stalinist plot, the Denver Post reports,
    “Coronavirus, a recent flu-like disease spreading world wide, has absolutely nothing to do with Corona beer.
    Do we really need to say this out loud? Apparently we do, according to a new survey that claims a substantial number of Americans won’t buy the Mexican lager out of fear of the disease.
    The survey, conducted by the public relations firm 5WPR, polled 737 adults over 21 on their opinion of Corona beer and found 38% would not buy the beer ‘under any circumstances’ following the coronavirus outbreak.”

    Reply
  3. Abs

    March 4th, 2020

    It would have to be a paywall, or at least a wall that he pays for himself, without dipping into his vast, unlimited piggy bank of a War Room.

    No compassion from Kenney for the people of this province, no common sense, absolutely no indication of a pandemic plan, and zero intention by him or his minions to back down on foolhardy and reckless plans to take a hatchet to the medical system when it is needed most. Will doctors, nurses and other health care workers still be on the front lines when this virus strikes Alberta? Will they decide to quit, knowing the risk is too high, and their jobs are ending anyways? Will there even be PPE equipment for them?

    It’s about to hit the fan. Failure to plan. Failure, period. Taking us down on the H.M.S. Greed & Narcissism. History has proven that Kenney will high-tail it out of here at the first opportunity. When the first Covid-19 patient is announced, he’ll have a sudden business trip. Maybe this time he’ll get caught up in a travel ban, and we won’t see him until this is over. Now that is a plan.

    Reply
  4. Prairie Observer

    March 4th, 2020

    A straight jacket might work just as well a wall. It would also be more readily available and affordable.

    Reply
  5. Jim

    March 4th, 2020

    This has been turned into just another political issue, a great opportunity to attack Trump by personalizing it as if he caused the virus. If the virus can’t be controlled in authoritarian China then frankly it can’t be controlled. His travel ban, in the same way the previous ban from failed states, has been attacked as racist and xenophobic. No real evidence of this exists, with the previous ban of course no mention that these states were turned into failed states by previous administrations on both sides. I’m sure the senile Biden would have made much better decisions doubling down on the failed Obamacare. Maybe his son Hunter could be appointed to the position Pence has equally unqualified but at least it would keep him out of the strip clubs.

    Looking at the crop of candidates the Democrats are putting forward, aside from Bernie because well you know and Tulsi because well you know, nothing will change. It does highlight our overreliance on cheap Chinese labour and should wake people up to the danger of putting all your eggs in one basket. If the pipelines do get built how much liquified tar will China buy when their factories are shut down?

    Oh the joys of living next to a failing empire.

    Reply
  6. Kang

    March 4th, 2020

    We should not be quite so insouciant here in Alberta. Public Health in Edmonton has been asking for funding for a quick test for syphilis for almost a year because the outbreak now is worse than in 1948 when all those returning soldiers and refugees were creating the baby boom. So far nothing but crickets from the fundamentalist Christians running this government.

    Add in that the Christian Taliban has attacked our most talented medical people and we have a formula for misery and needless deaths, especially among children born prematurely. Those children tend to have life-long lung problems making a Corvid-19 infection potentially fatal as it could be in children with asthma induced by fossil fuel burning. They will need just the type of intensive medical care that the Kenney government is attacking.

    So it is especially stupid to attack the medical system right in the middle of a major pandemic. It was also Harper and Kenney who destroyed the giant Health Canada scientific library and archive in Montreal. And wasn’t it the UCP that destroyed the health lab in Edmonton when it was half way to completion? Anyone notice a religious hatred of public-interest science at work here?

    Reply
    • Farmer Dave

      March 4th, 2020

      You are right Kang, I know a person who worked in Public Health London England and now works in Public Health Canada who said the same thing, health issues are under reported by private health agencies and that is why Public Health London built a super lab which solved many issues for them. The worst Premier ever in Alberta can’t think that way because his personal God tells him not too.

      Reply
  7. Joan Millar

    March 4th, 2020

    We have much for which to be thankful to Jean Chretien.

    Reply
  8. Kang again

    March 4th, 2020

    Just checked the global stats. So far all of the deaths in North America have happened in the US. Seattle/Wash state has more deaths than all of Canada. In contrast Vancouver BC and Toronto with roughly the same number of infected patients have zero deaths so far. Even Africa has a lower death rate than the US from Covid-19, although on a very small infection rate so far.

    It is no surprise that most of the deaths have happened in Asia where the pandemic started. What is interesting is how effective China has been at containing this and treating the afflicted. Their infection rates are flattening out and death rates are dropping like a UCP’s pants at an oil industry convention.

    The US influenced places in Asia have a very poor record by comparison. As with most medial and public health issues you are better off pretty much anywhere else in the world than the private enterprise barbarism of the USA.

    Reply
  9. Dave

    March 4th, 2020

    I tend to be an optimist, but with the corona virus I have come to the conclusion we are probably screwed. It’s not all the American’s fault, various countries have bungled aspects of controlling and containing this disease. The Chinese sort of made up for their initial slow response, by a more coordinated response/clampdown after, but the cat got out of the bag anyways and now it seems to be spreading in South Korea, Italy and Iran and who knows where else.

    However, I agree it will probably make the weaknesses of the US health care system (and ours too, which is not perfect) very evident to citizens who don’t have to deal with that system regularly so either are not aware of normally that affected by them. First, a number of people in US will be reluctant to get care because of the cost. Some people are not covered or only partly covered by insurance. The move by Governor Cuomo is smart to encourage people who are worried about cost to get care, but unlikely to be replicated Federally by Trump and the Republicans who philosophically are fine with user pay. Second, many people with mild symptoms in the US who are minimum or low wage earners may not be able to get paid sick days, so will go to work which will only spread it more. The only thing good thing in this situation about the US health system is because it is user pay, it has quite a bit of excess capacity. Some of those nice private hospitals are not too crowded, so in theory it will be better able to handle an influx of patients better than ours here, which is already running at or over capacity.

    In hindsight for Kenney, this was probably not a good time to tinker with and cut our health care system. The chaos brought about by all the recent UCP changes will probably make Alberta less effective in responding to the corona virus. The Kenney government and its Blue Ribbon panel seemed to like to compare health care spending to other provinces. Perhaps after the corona virus, they might not be so eager to compare health care outcomes.

    I suppose Kenney was right about his observation on the impact of the corona virus on the price of oil. It will not be helpful. Perhaps it gives him someone or something else new to blame for our languishing economy. I think we were getting tired of hearing the usual scapegoats – Trudeau and well, generally more Trudeau and occasionally the previous provincial government. However, over the next couple of months the economic impacts of the corona virus will probably be the lesser of our worries. Unfortunately for Kenney, it will be difficult for him to blame the handling or mishandling of it here on Trudeau or anyone else.

    Reply
  10. Just Me

    March 4th, 2020

    What else can anyone expect from the orangutang that’s called POTUS 45?

    Everyone will even an inkling of what-to-do has been run from the White House and replaces with an entourage of damaged yes-men, ready to do Trump’s bidding no matter how ridiculous.

    At the moment, the acting Sec. of Health & Human Services has been usurped by VP Pence. Pence is one of these bizarro guys who puts prayer before science. Yes. The nation is in trembling hands.

    Judging by the daily coverage, the professionals are still learning about this virus. Thus far, no one is clear on what vector of transmission is involved. Judging by the severe and unrelated to China outbreaks in Iran, Italy, and Washington State, it appears that COVID-19 is full of surprises.

    It’s not surprise, however, that Trump is begging for a miracle in April.

    Putin must be on vacation until then.

    Reply
  11. Jara-Lynn

    March 5th, 2020

    Aren’t we a nation that can think on its own without blaming everything on Trump ? Apparently not!
    First sentence in this article is TOTAL B.S.!

    It is more accurate to say our incompetent (I am leaving out a few choice adjectives to avoid censorship) Prime Minister and his minions without a brain cell that work, have made this country a mockery and a laughing stock world wide. The PM has not shown any leadership in his 4 years. Cry all you want as he takes away every last freedom you ever had. This nut case, self-absorbed psychopath is the one who has allowed open borders for all to enter Canada and he has not seen any urgency, but recommends self quarantine all the while permitting flights from infected countries to still land daily. Lord deliver us!

    Reply

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