The COVID-19 pandemic threatens the health and well-being of all the world’s peoples, the most vulnerable being working people, Indigenous Peoples, the unemployed, the poor and the elderly. It will take urgent action by the Canadian government, and cooperation by the international community to save tens of thousands of lives, and to prevent a deep recession or even a depression from ruining the lives of working people around the globe.
In Canada widespread privatization of public services and cuts to healthcare have increased the danger that the pandemic will spread. Over-loaded hospitals and health-care providers, combined with widespread poverty, inadequate housing, declining living standards, precarious work, have exacerbated the crisis and are the consequences of 30 years of neo-liberal policies enacted by Liberal and Tory federal and provincial governments.
In sharp contrast, the governments of China, Cuba, Vietnam, and DPRK have responded quickly and effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic in their countries, and contained the virus and treated those infected, saving hundreds of thousands of lives, through rapid deployment of healthcare resources and personnel, including the construction of sixteen emergency hospitals in the city of Wuhan and region in China, and the building of a 1,000 bed hospital in a period of one week.
Cuba and China have also sent doctors and medical teams to Italy which is now the epicentre of the virus’ outbreak in Europe, while the Cuban government is making available to all countries the 22 drugs it has developed to combat COVID-19, including Interferon alfa-2b which has proved effective in treating 1500 cases of the virus in China.
The socialist countries have been most effective in combatting the coronavirus because they can mobilize all of their publicly owned resources to address the pandemic, while the capitalist countries must deal with multi-national drug companies and private for-profit healthcare systems.
Research and technology leading to the development of vaccines against COVID-19 must not be monopolized by Big Pharma and the vaccines sold for fat profits. The vaccine patents must be publicly owned and used to secure the health and well-being of all humanity.
In Canada, hospitals and healthcare workers are confronted with a national healthcare system that is grossly under-funded after thirty years of cuts, and unable to deal with the anticipated 15 to 25 million people who will contract the virus as the pandemic spreads.
The Canadian government must take the same kind of urgent action to save lives today, and to save livelihoods as well. The announcement of an $82 billion public expenditure by the Canadian government, including $2 billion to provide immediate assistance to working people who qualify for EI, and $5 billion for those who don’t qualify and whose jobs and incomes have been negatively affected by the pandemic is a start, but it won’t be sufficient for very long. Considering the cost of housing in the cities where the majority of Canadians live, the maximum payment of $900 twice a month won’t even pay the rent.
Further, there are disturbing signs that the government may attempt to undermine civil, labour and democratic rights with the imposition of emergency measures which it claims may be needed to fight the pandemic. This must be defeated and exposed as a threat to democracy.
Immediate action needed to contain the pandemic in Canada includes:
- Eliminate the requirement to produce health insurance cards; provide healthcare and treatment to all who need it
- Immediate funding for hospitals to open closed wards and beds, including capital funding for new hospitals, staff and equipment where needed
- Immediate funding to expand hospital and healthcare staff across the country based on need, with attention to Northern and Indigenous communities, many of which have boil water advisories while almost none have hospitals or adequate healthcare facilities and staff to meet the crisis
- Immediate funding for home visits to the elderly and those quarantined or self-isolated, on the basis of need, to include provision of food, drugs, and other necessities
- Make prescription drugs free and accessible
- Require insurance companies to cover COVID-19 and all illnesses contracted abroad by Canadian residents
- Immediate funding and oversight of long-term care homes, where the elderly and infirm are in greatest danger, where staff-patient ratios are very high, and staff are contract workers often working in several homes simultaneously
- Immediate funding of public health services, including expanded testing for the COVID-19 virus, and restoration of public health units closed or cut by right-wing governments
Further, the US and Canada must immediately lift the sanctions it has imposed against Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, Russia, among others, which block access to medicines, medical equipment, food, and other necessities, and which contribute to the spread of the virus and the resulting illness and death of the most vulnerable. Instead of sanctions, militarism and regime change, Canada must adopt a foreign policy that advocates global peace and climate justice, global public healthcare and pharmacare, public education and development based on the right to national self-determination, free of external interference.
Canada must also call for an end to the illegal blockade of Cuba, which has caused widespread shortages and rationing following the Trump administration’s tightening of the blockade and activation of chapter 3 of the Helms Burton Act.
Closing the Canada-US border will not stop the virus from spreading across North America, and across the world. Only a well-funded public health system can make a difference – a system that is completely lacking in the US and in many other capitalist countries around the world. It is the absence of a strong public healthcare system in the US that poses the biggest threat to Canada today. It also poses the most serious threat to the working poor and the unemployed in the US who have no healthcare coverage, as well as those who have coverage but no protection from the virus’ uncontrolled spread and for-profit healthcare system.
The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing the economy into what will be a deep and prolonged recession, or even depression; but it is not the cause of the coming economic meltdown. It is capitalist governments, acting on behalf of the biggest Canadian and transnational corporations that are the cause, and that have put their greed and their drive for more and more profits ahead of people’s needs for strong public services, for a well-funded and expanded public Medicare system, for an adequate supply of affordable social housing, for good jobs, pensions and incomes that provide working people the ability to live healthy lives, for environmental action to stop climate change.
It is neo-liberal policies and capitalism on a global scale that is threatening the lives, jobs, and security of working people in Canada and around the world. Racism and xenophobia such as Trump’s recent statement that COVID-19 is “the Chinese virus” aim to transfer responsibility for the pandemic onto China and Chinese-Americans in the US, and away from the private, for-profit healthcare system in the US. Racism and xenophobia must not be tolerated, and must be called out by governments and the public wherever it raises its ugly head.
The Canadian government must act quickly to secure workers’ jobs, wages and incomes, including the jobs and incomes of part-time and precarious workers, workers in the GIG economy, as well as the unemployed, those on fixed incomes, in the non-profit sector, and small business owners.
Protection of Jobs and Wages:
- Guarantee all workers paid sick days and eliminate doctors’ notes
- Make EI non-contributory, and universally and immediately accessible to all workers including part-time and precarious workers and first time job seekers, for the duration of unemployment at 90% of previous wages or 90% of an annual livable income
- Introduce a guaranteed annual livable income now
- Protect workers in healthcare, long-term care and other emergency services with the provision of emergency childcare services
- Introduce plant closure legislation to stop unjustified closures and layoffs
- Enforce the right of all workers – organized and unorganized – to refuse unsafe work
- Enforce COVID-19 health advisories in workplaces, with penalties for employers who violate the advisories; set-up hotlines to report employer violations
- Loans to businesses must not be the publicly-funded corporate bail-outs of the 2008-09 economic meltdown. Public funding must buy public equity (a public share of the business), or public ownership of the business where it is in the public interest to do so (e.g. energy, banking, transportation)
- Make the Bank of Canada the prime lending institution for public procurement and investment in public services and capital spending
- Convert military to civilian spending for public healthcare, hospitals, beds, staff and equipment, medical research, testing for COVID-19, and for protection of workers’ jobs, wages and incomes, the sick, the elderly, and the poor
- Ban evictions, renovictions and foreclosures
- House the homeless with emergency, interim, and permanent social housing
- Provide emergency housing on reserves, and in Northern and isolated communities
- Defer personal debt, including mortgages and loans
- Eliminate student debt
- Cancel credit card debt
A People’s Recovery
Economists warn that the recession Canada and the capitalist world is now entering will be protracted and will result in high unemployment as a result of bankruptcies, layoffs and workplace closures.
Employers and their governments will try to download the costs of the recession onto the backs of workers by cutting wages, privatizing public assets and services, cutting corporate taxes, and de-regulating the profiteering activities of the biggest banks, Canadian and trans-national corporations. This will mean doubled-down austerity, and it will cripple our youth, working people, and the economy, setting us up for another recession down the road. Their goal is a corporate recovery, just like the 2008-09 recovery, that led to the current recession and the loss of good jobs, value added manufacturing jobs, unionized jobs, public services, a real drop in wages and living standards, and the absolute and relative impoverishment of the working class and the poor.
A People’s Recovery is the only way out, and the only way forward to a better life for all.
A People’s Recovery means the government must adopt a full employment strategy to create good jobs and increased wages, pensions, and incomes for all. It means rising living standards, not falling living standards. It must include an environmentally sustainable industrial strategy to create value-added manufacturing jobs, build a public transportation system that’s focused on free public transit and rail, an energy policy that builds on renewable energy, guarantees jobs and wages to workers displaced in the shift from unsustainable to sustainable energy, and that recognizes the rights of Indigenous Peoples to free, prior and informed consent over development on their lands. We need a recovery that includes building a million units of social housing across the country, expansion of Medicare to include pharmacare, long-term care, dental, vision, and mental health care. We need free post-secondary education, the expansion of social programs including a universal system of quality, public childcare. And we need a recovery that includes real action to stop climate change, and to end Canada’s drive to militarism, regime change, and war. Instead the massive expenditures on war must be re-directed to fund a People’s Recovery and a people’s agenda for Canada.
To win this agenda will take a united struggle of the labour and people’s movements across the country. Just as Medicare was won in the 1960s, with mass, united, independent political action, we can win this today.
As the rapid and global deployment of the corona virus and COVID-19 show, there is no time to lose.
Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada