National Security Post-COVID: Part 2 - Institute on Governance

National Security Post-COVID: Part 2

1 minute read

By Bill James, Senior Advisor

This is the Part 2 of a two-part commentary on the need for a broad review of Canada’s evolving security risks. Read Part 1 here.

Should, for example, Canada continue to be indifferent as to which countries control the supply of our most essential medications?

During COVID-19, millions of Canadians who depend on prescription medications learned that their renewals were restricted to a thirty-day duration, in order to prevent shortages and guard against the risk of supply interruptions from off-shore sourced ingredients. It has been estimated that as much as 70-90% of the active ingredients required to produce our medications are no longer manufactured in Western countries, and are now sourced from only two places: China and India. This means that many basic lifesaving medicines, such as the antibiotics needed to treat common infections, are no longer manufactured in countries like Canada, the U.S., and Australia.

In reflecting on our broader economic vulnerabilities Canada should consider whether a different set of policies might better protect Canadians’ future security:

Multilateral alliances such as NATO have served Canada and other aligned countries well in addressing traditional military threats. Should Canada consider manufacturing and supply alliances with like-minded, rule of law countries to ensure security of supply of our most important medicines?

Canada’s approach to regulating strategic and essential sectors like banking and rail have served Canadians admirably both during the great financial crisis in 2008 and during the economic challenges of COVID-19. Should we take a similar approach with pharmaceuticals? As Canada already regulates prescription drug approvals, funds research, and many medicines are paid for through taxpayer funds – should manufacturers be required to utilize domestic or at least trusted democratic supply chains to guarantee security of supply from source material through finished product? In launching a consultation on the transparency of Canada’s national security policy in 2019, the government stated: “Canadians must know what the Government does to protect national security, how the Government does it, and why it’s important. Applying these principles more broadly in a post-COVID review of strategic economic sectors could provide a path to more comprehensive national security for Canadians.

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