What the vaccine delays tell us about Canada’s position in the world

Sabrina Almeida

Prime Minister Trudeau sticks to his statement that all Canadians who want to be vaccinated will be able to get their shots by September. But as shipments get postponed for a truckload of reasons, even the weather, this seems less likely. So, it comes as no surprise that a recent Leger poll found half of Canadians (like me) don’t believe Trudeau’s rhetoric and hold his government responsible for the abominable delays.

Amidst all the federal government’s missteps with regard to vaccine procurement is a humbling realization about Canada’s world position. Sadly, we’re not as important or influential as our leaders, and many of us believe. So, we’re at the mercy of other countries, with even our ‘closest allies’ like the United States, ignoring our pitiful pleas for help.

Ironically, a few months into the pandemic, several friends in India expressed similar concerns about their country’s ability to procure COVID-19 shots.  At the time many believed that a domestic solution was the only way out fearing India would be at the bottom of the list of foreign vaccine manufacturers. I agreed with them silently thanking my good fortune that I had moved to Canada.  They too envied me. How ill informed we all were! 

India’s Serum Institute has emerged as the world’s largest producer of vaccines allowing the country to flex its muscle.

Canada’s prime minister, on the other hand, has had to eat humble pie and beg his Indian counterpart for vaccines. A move Trudeau did not admit to but has been broadcast by Modi. 

I can almost hear Modi sniggering while the request was being made. I wonder if he made Trudeau ask nicely. After all, our prime minister had all but called out India’s mishandling of the farmers’ protest. Of course  India was miffed and openly condemned what it termed as interference in its internal affairs. Now the vaccine bailout, which Modi wasted no time in tweeting about, signals a thaw in the icy relations much to the relief of Indo-Canadian business groups and those of us that want to be immunized.

Modi’s snubbing of Trudeau during his visit to India three years ago offered an unflattering insight into Canada’s insignificance to his country and India’s importance to us. How soon we forget!

Canada would be best served not to burn bridges with any country with our holier-than-thou attitude.  For one, there’s no telling who else we might have to turn to for vaccines. China, perhaps??? 

Given our track record, China might be less forgiving than India. The situation with Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou and China’s arbitrary detention of the two Michaels has shown we have no standing with them. We’re counting on the US to do the arm twisting. But if our southern neighbours don’t think we’re important enough to give us some much-needed vaccine doses, I doubt they’ll go head-to-head with their biggest competitors for us. Although we didn’t have a choice in the Huawei situation, we did  become collateral damage in the process.

Given that we’re a lightweight except when offering aid, one wonders what retaliatory measures Canada is planning against the European Union if they fail to keep their vaccine promises. Or more importantly, how we will smooth things over if we ever go that route. Perhaps we’re expecting Britain, which is still sorting out its own status with the EU, will bail us out. The bottom line is that we shouldn’t even be in a position where we’re considering retaliation.

The renewed camaraderie with India might be the silver lining. Modi can give Trudeau a quick lesson or two from his ‘atma nirbhar’  (self-reliant/self-sufficient) playbook. After all, the root cause of most of our problems is Canada’s loss of manufacturing capabilities and our consequent dependence on other countries which is coming back to bite us rather hard.

And while our leaders continually stumble in their attempts to figure all this out, Canadians wait with their faces pressed against the looking glass at countries readying for mass vaccinations. 

It’s time Trudeau worked the phone real hard if he expects to deliver on his vaccine promises to Canadians.




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