Canada, the Commonwealth and the Covid-19 Pandemic

4 minute read

Living next door to the feral COVID-19 jungle that is the United States, Canadians would be well advised not to be too smug in our relative success at taming the growing labyrinth of infection. While reports of vaccine readiness are welcome, by many armchair estimates, we have a very difficult three to four months ahead of us.

An interesting comparison may be the four larger of our Commonwealth cousins: the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Examining on-line tools such as the Commonwealth COVID-19 Dashboard, Canadians can see how we compare on a daily basis.

While there may be some slight differences between unitary and federal systems of government, we are united in being a part of a value system inherent in the Commonwealth of Nations. We share a respect for both the rule of law and the role of the state.

So, how are we doing comparatively speaking?

We are remarkably Canadian, by firmly landing in the middle. The dragon whisperers within the family are clearly Australia and New Zealand. They have crushed the spread of the virus and seem to have been able to chain it to the ground. CBC put the spotlight on Australia last week.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the United Kingdom’s numbers continue to climb even after a month-long lockdown – albeit at slower rate.

Canada and South Africa rest in the middle. South Africa’s infection rate increases by 5% daily while Canada’s grows by 2.7% each day.

So what is happening in Canada? An analysis of the second wave trends provides some insights on relative effectiveness of regional measures loosely described as Atlantic Bubbles, Northern Snow Globes, semi-permeable Central Canada, the Wild West, and of course, the British Columbia Dreaming.

Following a relatively calm summer and early fall period, both Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island withdrew from the Atlantic Bubble last week in response to a surge in second wave case numbers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Similar to Australia and New Zealand, the natural geographical moats separating Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island were a competitive advantage in the fight against COVID-19. Similarly, in the North, where remote distances and limited, if not non-existent, transportation infrastructure served a similarly effective purpose when combined with travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine protocols. However, like Atlantic Canada, the virility of the second wave has penetrated the natural defenses of Northern populations.

The infection numbers in the Prairies and British Columbia are now-off-the-charts as BC deals with the compound challenge of deaths due to drug overdoses. Meanwhile Ontario and Quebec continue to cling to semi-permeable restrictions in the face of similarly dramatic increases.

The question for Canada and for Canadians is whether we are prepared to impose a collective, coordinated and unanimous lockdown, safe for schools, until infections rates dramatically drop and the vaccine arrives. Australia and New Zealand are vaccine ready and able to reduce and stamp out isolated outbreaks due to their aggressive strategies employed earlier in the pandemic. Canada’s federal model makes the imposition of a national lockdown through the Emergency Measures Act politically akin to touching the third rail, but it just might be what we need to shock the patient back from the brink. Alternatively, a consensus approach to a lockdown using Executive Federalism (First Ministers Conference) with a negotiated agreement among the Provinces and Territories is also available. Australia and Zealand have proven it is possible to achieve a national consensus to freeze the economy and hibernate until the vaccine arrives.


By Stephen M. Van Dine, Senior Vice-President, Public Governance

Born in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Stephen spent his formative teen-age years finishing High School at Sir John Franklin Territorial High school in the Northwest Territories. He also began his career as a community planner with the City of Yellowknife and later with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. In 1997, he began working at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, in the Yellowknife Regional Office and transferred to the National Capital Region in 2002. Since then, Stephen has led a number of program, policy and legislative sustainable development initiatives with respect to northern governance, the arctic, the Devolution of Land and Resource Management Responsibilities in the Northwest Territories, the implementation and modification to the Nutrition North Canada program, co-drafting the Inuit Nunangat Declaration, overseeing the construction of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, as well as supporting the legislation to establish of Polar Knowledge Canada. More recently, Stephen has been working on a long-term asset sustainability strategy for Parks Canada Agency along with overseeing critical corporate functions with respect to Information Technology, Cabinet and Regulatory Business, Asset Management and Security.

Stephen has a degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Ryerson University and a Masters in Public Administration from Queen’s University. Stephen recently completed an Executive Certificate in Energy and the Environment from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Stephen is married and has two children with his wife Marie.

About the author

Institute on Governance

Institute on Governance

Founded in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is an independent, Canada-based, not-for-profit public interest institution with its head office in Ottawa and an office in Toronto. Our mission is ‘advancing better governance in the public interest,’ which we accomplish by exploring, developing and promoting the principles, standards and practices which underlie good governance in the public sphere, both in Canada and abroad.

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