They’re going to put the generals in charge – and who can blame them? But will it work?
On Thursday, the Ontario government said former chief of the defence staff Gen. Rick Hillier will lead a provincial effort to oversee distribution of coronavirus vaccines. On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, chief of staff for the Canadian Joint Operations Command, will run the national-level vaccine distribution program.
Perhaps the arrival of the brass will be the bracing tonic everyone needs. It has, after all, been a dismal week for political leaders and their public health aides.
In Ontario, for instance, the auditor general delivered a scathing report on the province’s early response to COVID-19, saying it was “slower and more reactive” than that of other places. In Alberta, behind-the-scenes tension between the province’s top doctor and the Jason Kenney government was revealed. And federally, the otherwise capable Dr. Theresa Tam continued to be a less-than-empathetic communicator. It has all been a bit disheartening as Canada’s COVID caseload spurts upward.
Meanwhile, politicians managed to bumble what should have been positive news about vaccines, namely that they seem quite effective. Yet Justin Trudeau had to confess we won’t all get them in January. Oh, and we can’t manufacture the vaccine in this country, either. Now, people are dismayed instead of hopeful.
So sure, call in the generals. It was, after all, the military that bailed out long-term care homes last spring when their staffs couldn’t properly care for vulnerable residents. It was also the military that officially blew the whistle on the inhumane living conditions some seniors endured.
Canadians tend to have a positive view of their Armed Forces. We see them as disciplined, politically neutral and effective under pressure. We believe they get things done. And the fair, fast distribution of vaccines is a thing we definitely want done.
Naming Hillier and Fortin is part of a desperate effort by politicians to buy a little time in order to keep Canadians onside with physical distancing, whether it’s masks or lockdowns. Hillier still enjoys a sturdy reputation as a no-nonsense leader – exactly what the beleaguered Ford government needs. Fortin will play a similar role for the feds. Both will provide political cover to leaders whose own reputations are starting to erode as the pandemic drags on.
Do their appointments mean anything will be done better? Who knows? But sometimes a fresh face is what it takes to rally the troops.