OTTAWA, ON (April 1, 2020): Canada has entered into uncharted territory as we fight to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and stare down a looming economic recession. The federal and provincial governments have taken unprecedented steps and everyday Canadians are contending with near lockdown conditions.
While these aggressive actions are necessary and crucial to address the pandemic in the interim, the fact is that eventually Canadians will need to return to work and daily life. In a new MLI commentary titled “Facing the Human and Economic Costs of Fighting COVID-19,” Rob Wildeboer outlines the balance that governments must seek to strike in order to ensure both the containment of COVID-19 and the prevention of the worst possible economic outcomes for Canadians as a result of lockdown policies. In this commentary, he concentrates on the costs of these extraordinary measures.
As executive chairman and co-founder of Martinrea International, Wildeboer is well positioned to comment on the impact on business and workers. Martinrea operates in numerous countries hit hard by the virus, and has managed to continue its operations while keeping employees safe. The commentary is drawn from advice Wildeboer has given to governments and policy-makers.
According to Wildeboer, “we are at war with the virus to be sure. But we must eventually continue to function as a society in the face of peril.” He believes that if the lockdown drags on, there will soon be calls to ease up as individuals and businesses seek to re-open the economy and return to work and life. If society is unable to return to normalcy, he warns that the economic consequences of COVID-19 could be devastating for Canadians and may exacerbate already challenging social issues.
“If people cannot work and cannot get paid,” Wildeboer notes, “issues arise rapidly and snowball. Debts don’t get paid. People stop buying things. The economy grinds to a halt.”
While acknowledging that Canada is correctly focused on containing COVID-19 to reduce fatalities and keep the health care system from being overwhelmed, Wildeboer says we need to consider what these measures mean for Canada in the medium- and long-term. Beyond worrying economic consequences, Wildeboer argues that serious societal spinoff consequences are likely if strict lockdown measures are maintained for too long.
“The social issues grow rapidly. Of course, the worry, stress and often depression that comes with an inability to make ends meet, or the expectation of that, can be enormous,” Wildeboer explains. “There will/could be a great deal of social unrest.”
Despite the challenges facing society, there are opportunities to look to in the long-term. Put simply, Wildeboer explains that “this is like a 9/11 event, but for health not security.”
As a result of this crisis, he argues that greater investment in our health care system will be imperative as Canada needs to be ready for another outbreak like this. In the long-term, learning such a lesson could save a great many lives.
In the wake of the pandemic, it will also be important for Canada to develop our domestic supply chains to reduce our vulnerability should a COVID-19 level crisis strike again, he says.
Canada has been presented with an enormous challenge and one that will require unprecedented action. But, as Wildeboer writes, “Challenges make us better… I believe that is true.”
To learn more about balancing the fight against COVID-19 against the real pressures our response is putting on people and the economy, read the full commentary here.
Rob Wildeboer is the Executive Chairman and co-founder of Martinrea International Inc., a global auto parts supplier, specializing in automotive fluid systems and metal forming products. He is former chairman of the board of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
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