In the shark-infested seas of the world’s new normal, Canada and the United States are in the same leaky economic boat — but one is bailing water while the other swims for shore.
Both countries confronted historic and harrowing employment statistics Friday, with two million people out of work in Canada last month for a jobless rate of 13 per cent. There were 20.5 million Americans who reported the same fate, bringing U.S. unemployment to a breathtaking 14.7 per cent.
But as U.S. President Donald Trump leads a U.S. charge towards reopening shuttered businesses and easing stay-at-home orders, to the chagrin of nervous public health officials, Canada is taking a dramatically different go-slow approach, extending a federal wage subsidy program through June and counselling against unsafe work.
“It is a well-established principle in Canada, a hallmark of our values as a country, that no one should be asked to work in unsafe conditions,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during his daily news conference.
“We’re going to have to be very careful to ensure that we’re doing what we need to do, right across the country — businesses, orders of government and all Canadians — to ensure the safety of the people who are working to provide for the rest of us.”
Trump, on the other hand, is champing at the bit to restart a presidential re-election campaign that hinges on his ability to resurrect an economy that was stopped in its tracks by COVID-19. And he’s seizing on the images of Americans protesting outside state capitols, many of them forgoing masks and physical distancing measures, to make his case.
“The people are going to force it,” the president said Friday in an morning telephone interview with Fox News. Not all states will reopen at the same pace, while those that do will continue to insist on keep-safe practices, he said. In some cases, COVID-19 may flare back up, but that will simply be the cost of doing business, Trump suggested.
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Some people — including Democrat governors in states that are moving more slowly — don’t want it to come back “for political reasons,” he added.
“We may have fires and we’re going to put the fires out,” he said. “It’s happening already. You can see it. And there’s spirit now — there’s a lot of spirit. Because we have over 30 states that are back or very strongly coming back and that’s going to be a lot higher soon.”
The White House has taken to referring to Americans as “warriors” in recent days, a move seen by some as bracing for the possible impact of a fresh resurgence in COVID-19 as states continue to lift their restrictions. Indeed, even Trump is more exposed than usual: one of his personal valets and now the vice-president’s press secretary both tested positive this week.