Clockwise from the top left are Amanda Blitz, Kathleen Monk, Amanda Alvaro and Chad Rogers.
Political pundits Amanda Alvaro, Chad Rogers and Kathleen Monk recently participated in an hour-long panel discussion on politics during COVID-19, examining how Canada’s leaders have fared since the start of the pandemic, what still needs to happen and how the coronavirus will shape the nation’s politics in the future. Hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), the May 14 webinar was emceed by its general counsel and director of communications, former news anchor Amanda Blitz.
The CBC Power & Politics regulars began, not with partisan jabs, but with kind words for the other sides of the political aisle. Alvaro, who frequently champions Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, paid a compliment to Premier Doug Ford of Ontario. “He’s really been able to connect well with Canadians. He’s delivered the news in a way people want to hear,” she acknowledged.
Rogers, a Conservative stalwart, praised Minister of Small Business Mary Ng as a person “who has done the hard work with a tremendous amount of humility and ability.”
And NDP proponent Monk lauded the work of the nation’s public servants, whose “yeoman’s efforts” have brought Canadians home from abroad and supplied them with stimulus cheques in a timely fashion.
Nonetheless, it took only a few seconds for Andrew Scheer’s name to appear on Alvaro’s list of those who have not performed well during the crisis. Rogers sprang to the Conservative leader’s defence, countering that it is exceedingly difficult for anyone on the right to watch a government spend as much as the Liberals currently are. “We’ve already allocated more money than we did in World War Two. For a Conservative, this is the worst horror movie ever written,” he asserted. “We are going to have things in this crisis that are going to be horrible missteps.”
Monk, meanwhile, criticized Quebec’s response to the pandemic but commended British Columbia’s. “It is amazing how good public policy can save lives. Never has it been more evident that we are a country of different governments, different territories,” she said.
Nobody on the panel could dispute the economic toll of the pandemic, including double-digit unemployment. Monk shone light on how women have been disproportionately affected, dubbing it a “she-cession,” as a higher ratio of women work in sectors brought down by COVID-19.
Both Alvaro and Rogers gave kudos to the federal government for providing emergency assistance to individuals quickly. However, Rogers claimed the Liberals were using “COVID-19 as a cover to put their boot heel to the throat of the oil and gas industry in Alberta. There is an extreme environmental agenda trying to pivot the Canadian economy into something it isn’t,” he said.
Of course, China was discussed.
“Despite the erosion of China’s image recently, we can’t avoid China,” Alvaro said. “There are many reasons why China can’t be written off, but many reasons why China is making it very difficult for countries to have a positive relationship with them.”
“The Chinese government is a totalitarian cult of death,” Rogers declared. “They could have aided the world by getting a week or a month ahead of the [COVID-19] curve. We should be very mindful every time we speak with them.”
“China has not done itself any favours with their management of the post-crisis phase,” Monk added.
In the midst of the pandemic, the Conservative party leadership race is taking place. All of the panelists steered clear of the Derek Sloan method of populism – which questioned the patriotism of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer – and saw it more as a contest between Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay.
All also agreed that it is remarkably challenging to campaign without being able to press the flesh and make stump speeches. However, Alvaro said, while people are at home, politicians do have a captive audience if they “can tap into the digital space that is less time-consuming than going door to door.”
On the topic of leadership, Rogers predicted that Trudeau will, as the crisis subsides, give consideration to his future as leader and ultimately decide it will be time to step down before the next federal election.
“It will give him an honourable exit, after establishing himself as essentially a wartime leader and not having to face a caucus that has lost faith in him,” Rogers said.
As the discussion wrapped up, Monk postulated that a potentially positive outcome from the crisis would be an increase in trade closer to home, i.e., within North America.
Alvaro said there will be many questions to follow: “Much of this will obviously be judged on how the recovery comes about, and how we fix the things we have fundamentally ignored, like long-term-care facilities.”
Rogers appealed to all in attendance to make a charitable donation, as nonprofits have been struggling for funds during the pandemic; a request that was backed by all the panelists.
For more information about CJPAC, visit cjpac.ca.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.