Canada's Plan to Mobilize Industry to Fight COVID-19
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada's
Plan to Mobilize Industry to fight COVID-19. He said the plan will
"create pathways to deploy resources to domestic manufacturers and
businesses so they can help during this critical time. [...] The Plan
introduces new measures to directly support these businesses to rapidly
scale up production or re-tool their manufacturing lines to develop
products made in Canada that will help in the fight against COVID-19.
These products could include critical health and safety supplies and
equipment, including personal protective equipment, sanitization
products, diagnostic and testing products, and disease tracking
technology. [...] It focuses on domestic capacity building, innovative
solutions, and procurement of essential supplies."
The plan will "build the industrial capability
needed to manufacture critical supplies at scale in Canada." The
"resources" the government will "deploy" are mostly state public funds
available through Canada's existing industrial and innovation programs.
To qualify for funds, a company must agree to "prioritize the fight
The Strategic Innovation Fund will make funds
available to "Canadian companies" and the National Research Council of
Canada will "expedite research and development with small and
The government wants to use its Innovation
Superclusters "to tap into a national network of 1,800 members, and
Innovative Solutions Canada to help companies commercialize products
Commercialize means to put the "critical supplies"
on the marketplace for sale or to fill government orders.
The plan will "deliver direct support [funds] to
key Canadian companies that are working on large-scale and later-stage
research and development projects aimed, in the immediate term, at
producing countermeasures to COVID-19." Which "Canadian companies" are
doing such a thing, if any, is debatable as COVID-19 is a relatively
recent phenomenon. The plan "challenges innovative companies to develop
research-based solutions, technologies, and products that can address a
variety of COVID-19 issues."
This exposes a
basic weakness of the imperialist economic system. The people have no
control over the companies, whether innovative or not. The cartel
parties in the parliaments horse trade over which big
companies and financial oligarchs whose representatives they are should
get the biggest share of the pie. The aim of private companies
is to make money. This aim directs their research and development of
products but they are happy for the government subsidies. To counter
such narrow aims -- making money at the expense of the human
factor/social consciousness -- the government would have to
introduce public enterprises under its control with a different aim of
research and development of products to meet the health care needs of
the people and not private profit.
The present aim of maximum private profit has
obviously failed with regard to having a secure supply chain of
necessary health care products or it would not be a matter of
discussion and concern. In contrast, public health supply and
pharmaceutical enterprises would have a particular aim at this time: to
fight COVID-19. They would also have a general aim to serve
the health care needs of the people under all circumstances through
establishing a domestic self-reliant supply chain under Canadian
control stretching from research to production and seamless planned
distribution based on recognized demand.
The federal plan wants to "source equipment needed
to support Canada's response to COVID-19 here in Canada. The Government
of Canada will use existing supply arrangements and innovative,
flexible procurement approaches." But these "existing supply
arrangements" are those that have created the problem. None of the big
health care suppliers, including pharmaceutical companies, are Canadian
nor do they even have much of a research or manufacturing presence in
Canada. The last truly independent Canadian pharmaceutical research,
development, and production company was Connaught Medical Research
Laboratories, connected with the University of Toronto. Connaught
Laboratories was famous for its production of the diphtheria antitoxin
and discovery and mass production of insulin in the 20th century but
fell victim to the initial onslaught of the anti-social offensive. The
federal government privatized it in 1986, with a global pharmaceutical
monopoly seizing its facilities, research and scientists.
The government plan says, "It is also reaching out
to suppliers to identify and purchase equipment, supplies, and services
needed for Canada's response to COVID-19. With a view to longer-term
support, the Government of Canada will ensure procurement flexibility
to support innovation and build domestic manufacturing capacity to
supply critical health supplies to Canadians."
The problem with the plan lies in the absence of
control, on the part of even the government, let alone the people.
These companies are privately owned and controlled and obsessed with
their aim of maximum profit in competition with others to make their
particular empire dominant. Secrecy surrounding their research is
paramount. The ownership of most of them and the ensuing private profit
they expropriate is bound up in shares traded on the global stock
markets. The stock prices have taken a pounding since the seriousness
of the pandemic became known and the economy went into crisis. The
owners of the company shares want their companies to be put back on
track to make maximum profit and expand the market value of their stock
and the market share of their companies in competition with others.
That is the aim that will dictate their decisions. The fine words the
government may say about "supplying critical health supplies to
Canadians" are in contradiction with the reality of the imperialist
system and its aim and demands. Any "supplying" will be at the
discretion and prices dictated by the companies to ensure private
profit and the dominance of their particular empires.
The government's fine words also reveal an absence
of immediate purpose and direction to confront the problems in the
health care system as they pose themselves. The country needs certain
health supplies right now, including testing kits to track the spread
of the virus, as well as the appropriate clothing, respirators, etc.
The government has the power to commandeer factories and manufacture
the necessary products right now and at market prices determined by
their prices of production and not the global speculators. The
government should use its power to take over manufacturing facilities
and begin immediately to produce what is needed to serve the public
good. The issues of ownership and making private profit should not be a
factor at this time.
As far as research is concerned, the lack of
Canadian control over scientific research is a result of years of
wrecking of public research and the privatization of whatever research
councils that used to exist and the complete lack of independence of
university research from the dictate of the global financial oligarchy
and what it wants.
Research Council of Canada is a shell of its former self, but what is
left should be ramped up to deal with the concrete problems and
challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presents. The government has the
power to commandeer scientists and research from the private sector.
Scientists should be asked to join the National Research Council on
specific tasks and bring with them their already existing research on
such issues as more efficient COVID-19 testing kits and a vaccine.
The Public Health Agency of Canada and Health
Canada are capable of determining specific needs right now that should
be acted upon and produced, which include personal protective
equipment, sanitization products, diagnostic and testing products,
therapeutics, pharmaceuticals and disease tracking technology. The
government must commandeer existing factories to accomplish this
essential task. Relying on the financial oligarchy to do so is a
terrible gaffe that will have serious consequences.
The government says that the National Research
Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program has relationships with
researchers across Canada. Those researchers should be united and
moulded into a team dedicated to solve the country's most pressing
The people's immediate health care needs should
not be viewed as a marketplace to enrich a few at the expense of the
many and public health. As with any endeavour, the devil is in the
details. In the case of COVID-19, we need sufficient testing to see how
the virus is spreading and containment measures. After everything is
said and done, until a sufficient indicative percentage of the
population has developed immunity, either because they have had the
illness and survived or there is a vaccine, then social isolation to
curb the spread of the disease has to be maintained.
This article was published in
Volume 50 Number 9 - March 21, 2020
Commentaries: Canada's Plan to Mobilize Industry to Fight COVID-19 - K.C. Adams