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OPINIION: Priorities at a time of pandemic

Peter Ewart
Peter Ewart

BY PETER EWART

Special to the News

The COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the globe has illuminated the serious flaws, gaps and shortcomings of health care in Canada and other countries, as well as the economy as a whole, and underlined the need for new priorities.  Extraordinary measures must be taken to deal with the pandemic, but at the same time we need a great reckoning as to what kind of health care and food supply system is needed to confront the challenges of a 21st Century globalized world.

The current model of globalization, which has been in place for a number of decades in Canada, the US and other countries, has meant severe cutbacks in public health care and other social services, the chopping up of health services through massive privatization and contracting out to globalized private corporations, long delays and gaps in health care, the deterioration of working conditions for health care personnel, and other problems.

In addition, much of Canada’s scientific, pharmaceutical, and medical equipment industries have been hollowed out and sold off to globalized corporations, making Canada dependent on facilities and manufacturing in the US, China and other countries.  Indeed, Connaught Laboratories, the last truly independent, Canadian-based pharmaceutical company (which was connected to the University of Toronto), was privatized by the federal government in 1986.  In the decades prior to its privatization, Connaught Laboratories was famous in the world for the discovery of insulin, the production of cures for the childhood disease of diptheria, and other developments.  Nonetheless, this famed national asset was sold off to a globalized, private monopoly. 

Food supply is related to health care.  In that regard, our food supply system is highly skewed and vulnerable.  Much of our fruits and vegetables come from California.  But how reliable and secure is this food chain and other foreign-based chains?  US president Trump is apparently considering moving troops to the Canadian border which resembles a threat and does not inspire confidence in Canadians, especially if food shortages break out in the US.

It is a fact that we live in a globalized world.  That is the reality that we must accept.  However, that does not mean that we have to accept the current model of globalization in which the interests of large corporations predominate over those of people, where production and supply chains are farmed out all over the world to make maximum profit, and national and local economies are hollowed out.  Under this current model, smaller, resource-based communities, like Prince George, Mackenzie and other towns in the region are particularly vulnerable.

In this globalized world, strong, diversified and self-reliant local and national economies are absolutely necessary, as is trade for mutual benefit between peoples and countries.  Canada has the capabilities to develop its own pharmaceutical and medical equipment industries, as well as strengthen and enlarge our public health care system and scientific institutes.  As is so clear in the current pandemic, our health care workers and personnel are heroic.  Their full power and talents must be unleashed.

We also have all the ingredients to build local, regional and national food industries that make us more self-reliant and diversified.  Canada has abundant energy supplies which could be used to power and heat greenhouses to grow food across the provinces and even in the far north.  And there are many other examples.

In any case, in the wake of the pandemic, health care needs to be prioritized.  We need a first-class, fully public health system to meet any challenge in the future.  And we need a local and national, and more self-reliant food supply.  For the immediate period, we must speak out for emergency measures to meet the requirements of everyone in our society.  In the overall, we must break with the old globalized economic system and establish new priorities.

Peter Ewart is a writer based in Prince George, British Columbia.  He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca 

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