Canada and the United States have always been close partners and allies who share the world’s longest undefended border. As President John F. Kennedy once said about the Canada-U.S. relationship, “Geography has made us neighbours, history has made us friends.”
While we have be long-standing friends, we often have different approaches to challenges and opportunities. Nowhere has this been more clear than with respect to the Coronavirus public health emergency.
The Coronavirus pandemic has taught nations and governments many difficult but valuable lessons and with respect to the Canada-U.S. approach to health care and emergency health responses the difference could not be more stark.
Canada’s health-care system is recognized as one of the best in the world. Our national health care system is guided by the provisions of the Canada Health Act of 1984 and is universal and accessible to all Canadians.
Canada spends around 11.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) per year on health care. By comparison in the U.S., health care is provided by many distinct organizations, largely owned and operated by private sector businesses. The United States is now spending 17.1% on health care as percentage of its GDP.
Despite the fact that as a country, the U.S. spends more money on its health care system, there is actually much less coverage for its people. The pandemic has highlighted many of these shortcomings in the American system.
In Canada, the spread rate of the virus has slowed considerably and with several precautionary measures still in place in most parts of the country, there good reason to believe that the curve will continue to flatten for the duration of the global pandemic. In reality, we have managed well as a country.
In the U.S. as well as in Brazil, the pandemic is essentially continuing out of control. This is particularly true in certain areas of the U.S. where pandemic control measures were and continue to be woefully inadequate.
As of this week, the total global number of cases is over 13 million, with the U.S. having 3.4 million cases and over 138,000 deaths. While in Canada, the figures are 108,000 total cases of infection and 8,700 deaths. By having greater control over the hospital system and coordinated measures across the country to limit spread, Canadian health authorities slowed the initial spread of coronavirus. As a consequence, the death rate per capita is substantially lower in Canada, 182 deaths per 1 million population, then in the U.S. at 302 deaths per 1 million population.
The experience in fighting off the virus was also vastly different. For the most part Canadas response has been by public health officials and not elected officials. In addition, there was significant support by the provincial premiers in the form of cooperation with each other and with the federal government in a bipartisan fashion something that been lacking in the U.S.
In addition, our country’s public health-care system is doing much better battling Coronavirus given our centralized approach to combatting the virus. The U.S., on the other hand, working as a private system has by virtue of the mechanics of their health care system experienced a decentralized approach.
Several American political leaders and health care officials are speaking out on how the pandemic is exposing major issues within their health-care system.
This high infection and death rate in the U.S. has shocked all of us and has hampered efforts to open our borders. While the border was tentatively supposed to open on July 21st, 2020 this has now been extended to August 21st, 2020 and there is every expectation that this date will be extended again.
Several members of the U.S. Congress have implored the Canadian government to consider easing restrictions on family members and property owners impeded by the restrictions. The pandemic has disrupted some of the usual supply chains and manufacturing processes, but notwithstanding the disruption, the health of Canadians has been foremost in the decision making of most of our elected officials be it at the provincial or federal level. This is the profound difference between the experience and the results of the pandemic in Canada and the U.S.
Mario Silva, PhD (law), Distinguished Fellow, Ryerson University