Two of the major issues arising from the current medical emergency and lockdown are how much it would cost to prepare for a similar crisis and how Canadians would pay for it (as well as pay for the one we’re enduring).
The N95 particulate mask is deemed necessary to ensure that neither the wearer nor those they encounter will become infected with the virus. Prior to the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they cost less than $1 each.
Reusable medical-standard face shields sell for about $40 each and less in bulk. A pack of 100 disposable medical latex gloves goes for around $10, or 20 cents a pair. Scanning the Internet, surgical gowns are about $1.
So outfitting a Canadian with personal protection equipment (PPE) – masks, a face shield and gloves for every month of a possible infection – would cost a couple of dollars a day, plus $40 for the face shield, so $100 a month in total. For 38 million Canadians who might need these things in the event of another pandemic, that would be $3.8 billion a month or over $10 billion for three months.
That’s a lot of money, especially for something that might not happen again – but probably will.
To equip an overestimated number of, perhaps, one million doctors, nurses, lab techs, EMS personnel, and assisted-living or nursing home workers, it could be nearly $1,000 each or $1 billion a month.
So it would take about $5 billion a month to equip all Canadians, including the extended health sector, or $15 billion for three months.
(Ventilators vary widely and wildly in price, but for this exercise we’re assuming they’re in adequate supply.)
This total expenditure is obviously far less than the hundreds of billions of dollars Canada’s federal, provincial and local governments are spending to try to contain and mitigate the current disaster.
Those governments obviously didn’t properly prepare for this crisis. Our leaders have ignored numerous studies, experts’ warnings and planning documents.
Where all this money could come from is another question. The prevailing health-care budgets were already greatly strained before the crisis; they’re completely blown out now.
Yet financial succor is readily at hand, for governments hold many assets, beyond the liabilities they’re merrily adding to right now.
Some federal, provincial and municipal government assets are more liquid than others. Besides all the land, buildings and equipment they own, they also have large holdings in operating firms, usually in the form of Crown corporations. These assets are worth trillions of dollars. Although, subtracting their considerable debts, they’re merely in the hundreds of billions of dollars in book value.
One of these companies, more than any other, loses huge amounts each year: the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Each year, the federal government, uses taxpayer funds to supply CBC with a subsidy of about $1 billion so it can keep its head above water. That also allows it to compete with private-sector media corporations that receive no such favours.
CTV, Global and others 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 channels, pay per view and Internet services available at affordable prices to Canadians. Similarly, there are a wide variety of radio alternatives to CBC Radio programming.
It’s difficult to understand why CBC needs to be sustained in its current form. Lower-cost alternatives are available, and in forms more customized to the needs and tastes of viewers and listeners.
Savings on five years of CBC subsidies would be enough to cover the roughly $5 billion it would take to provide PPE for a full month, not just to all health care and related service workers, but to all Canadians.
If our politicians and other public servants truly seek a ready source of funds to be prepared for the next pandemic, they could start with not funding CBC.
Then they could start looking at other Crown holdings. There are billions of dollars more where that came from.
Ian Madsen is a senior policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.