Two of the major issues surrounding the current medical emergency and lockdown are how much it would cost to prepare for a similar such emergency, and how would Canadians pay for it – as well as pay for the one we are enduring right now. Potential answers are already available, courtesy of the Web.
Prior to the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the N-95 particulate mask that is deemed necessary to ensure that neither the wearer nor others that they encounter will become infected with the virus, cost less than one Canadian dollar each. Reusable medical-standard face shields sell for about $40 Canadian; less in bulk. A pack of one hundred disposable medical latex gloves goes for around ten dollars, or twenty cents a pair. Scanning the Internet, surgical gowns are about one dollar.
Using simple arithmetic, outfitting all Canadians with Personal Protection Equipment, ‘PPE’; i.e., masks, a face shield, and gloves for every month of possible infection protection would cost a couple of dollars a day plus, say $40 for the face shield, or $100 for one month. For all thirty-eight million Canadians that might need these things in a few years, that would be $3.8 billion dollars – again, for one month; over ten billion dollars for three months. That is a lot of money, especially for something that might not happen again – but probably will.
To equip an over-estimated number of, perhaps, one million doctors, nurses, lab techs, EMS, and assisted living or nursing home workers for one month, who may require ten masks, one hundred gloves and ten gowns a day, plus a face shield, it could be nearly one thousand dollars, or one billion dollars per month. So, the total could be around five billion dollars per month for all Canadians including the extended health sector; fifteen billion for three months. Ventilators vary widely and wildly in price, but in this exercise, are assumed to be in adequate supply.
However, to put it in perspective, that is obviously far less than the hundreds of billions of dollars our federal, provincial, and local governments are spending to try to contain and mitigate the current disaster, which they apparently, did not properly prepare for, despite numerous studies, experts’ warnings, and planning documents our leaders ignored many times over.
Where all this money could come from is another question. The prevailing health care budgets were already greatly strained before the crisis; they are completely blown out now. Yet financial succour is readily at hand, for governments hold many assets, as well as the liabilities they are merrily adding to right now.
Federal, provincial, and municipal governments have many assets, some of them more liquid than others. Besides all the land, buildings, and equipment they own, they also have large holdings in their own operating firms, usually in the form of Crown corporations. These assets are in the trillions of dollars, in total, although, subtracting their considerable debts, they are merely in the hundreds of billions of dollars in book value.
One of these companies, more than any other, loses huge amounts of money each year. It is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, ‘CBC’. Each year, the federal government, using taxpayer funds, gives it a subsidy of about one billion dollars that allows it to keep its head above water – and also compete against other, private sector media corporations that receive no such favours. CTV, Global Television, CITY TV, and others in Quebec each have an abundance of news, public affairs, documentary entertainment, sports, and educational offerings catering to a wide spectrum of Canadians. There are also a multitude of specialty cable television, Pay per View and internet over television services that are available at affordable prices to typical or average income Canadian households.
It is difficult to understand how or why the CBC needs to be sustained in its current form, when lower-cost alternatives are available, and in forms more customized to the needs and tastes of individuals and families. Savings on five years of its subsidies would be enough to cover the roughly five billion dollars it would take to provide PPE for a full month not just to all health care and related service workers, but all Canadians.
If our not-terribly imaginative or forward-looking politicians and other public servants truly want to find a ready source of funds to be prepared for the next pandemic that they previously pretended to be impossible (despite several earlier scares, such as SARS, H1N1, West Nile, Zika, and Ebola), they could start with not funding the CBC – and then look at the plethora of other non-gems in the Crown ‘treasure’ chest. There are many more billions where that one came from.
Ian Madsen is a senior policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.