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Canada’s Response to COVID-19

April 8, 2020


Frances Wolley
, Professor of Economics, Carleton University

Gregory Marchildon, Ontario Research Chair in Health Policy and System Design at University of Toronto

Moderated by Charles Doran, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of International Relations and Director of International Political Economy, Global Theory and History, and Canadian Studies
Experts in Canada's economics and public health institutions joined the Canadian Studies program for a discussion on the response to coronavirus in Canada.
Frances Wolley began the discussion by assessing Canada’s capacity to cope with COVID-19, and noted that flattening the curve would require letting the epidemic run its course. In the current supply-constrained system, where there is a shortage of critical medical equipment and healthcare workers, Wolley said that in order to effectively cope with the pandemic, resources need to be set aside outside the system, such as through the national emergency strategic stockpile and public health measures and planning. Regarding Canada’s response to the pandemic, she noted that there have been some early lessons regarding supply constraints as a problematic form of cost control and limitations of a federal system with provincial responsibility for health care.
Greg Marchildon explained that in Canada, health is primarily a provincial jurisdiction and as a result, during the pandemic, the federal government has been more focused on other social policy programs such as employment insurance and temporary financial relief. Marchildon explained that Canada's strengths in the response include its universal health coverages and a portability condition under the Canada Health Act that ensures treatment at cost within a home province. However, he noted that the issue of central authority in crises has clear limits. There are conflicts and contradictions in sub-national government responses, in one such case, the role of the Public Health Agency of Canada was limited compared to Centre of Disease Control and Prevention in the US. Marchildon expressed that national government is not able to assume greater responsibility for pandemic responses in the future unless the COVID-19 pandemic deteriorates and there is a major breakdown in provisional territorial capacity and actions.

The Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins SAIS hosted a virtual panel discussion on how Canadian public health authorities are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.