Thank you, Chair.
I thank the finance committee for the invitation to appear, but first, here are my disclosures, which are standard. I do not have any conflicts of interest because I don't consult or have any investments of any kind anywhere. Secondly, I don't belong to or donate funds directly or indirectly to any political party, and I don't allow lawn signs on my property in any election. Thirdly, I am one of those high-risk Canadians as I am over 65 years of age, I do have rheumatoid arthritis and I do take immunosuppressive drugs.
Now I'll go to my comments.
For the past 90 days, the Government of Canada has undertaken unprecedented monetary and fiscal spending to avert an economic disaster of massive numbers without income. As a consequence, governments deliberately shut down most of the economy.
As a consequence of this, I think that today Canada faces a far more pressing problem. Per the PBO and other forecasts, Canada is facing a deficit of approximately a quarter of a trillion dollars. While a considerable number of analysts have publicly stated that this is sustainable, a careful review of these comments reveals caveats and hedges to these statements that limit what I'll call the “sustainability thesis” to the current year or the short run.
In sharp contrast, as I argued before this committee a couple of months ago, deficits of this magnitude are not sustainable sine die or indefinitely into the future. Indeed, the distinguished former Governor of the Bank of Canada, Dr. Dodge, and his C.D. Howe group, I believe, have come to this conclusion.
Yet in scrutinizing the press conferences of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance announcing yet more and more federal spending, I cannot find any serious or extensive discussion of the very temporary nature of these programs and the urgent need for an exit strategy, not in five years or three years but starting almost immediately, and there is, in my view, a reason. Our public health officials and our federal and provincial elected leaders from all political parties have done such an effective job of frightening the population into believing—in my view, wrongly—that everyone is equally vulnerable to infection and death from COVID-19 that there is very little public support for reopening the economy.
To be fair, the lockdowns were chosen because we did not know better at the time. Today, the public health data from every country very clearly reveals that elderly people over 65 and people with serious health issues are highly vulnerable—people like me—but also that vastly larger numbers of the population are at very low risk and, overwhelmingly, these are young or middle-aged healthy individuals, who, as I've said, are most of the population.
Now, with the experience and knowledge of the past three months, our leaders must revise and revisit our strategy to address COVID-19. The Government of Canada must work very closely with the provincial governments to classify, per the WHO, every firm and every industry by degree of risk into low-contact and low-risk activities, such as almost all of retail, excepting bars, restaurants and entertainment, versus high-contact, high-risk activities characterized by many people together in close contact for extended periods of time.
Much, much more importantly, the Government of Canada, in conjunction with the provinces, must undertake a communications campaign to educate the public concerning those at high risk and to encourage or even insist that those high-risk individuals self-isolate. I want to illustrate this very quickly with a very personal example.
Three years ago, I came down with an ordinary cold/flu, like many Canadians do, but it turned into a virulent pneumonia for six weeks. I've never been so sick in all my life. So what? What's my point? Well, I learned that I have a responsibility to myself to change my behaviour, because it was and is in my self-interest. I cannot expect Canadian society to throw millions and millions of young people out of work and destroy hundreds of thousands of businesses because Ian Lee has a seriously compromised immune system. That's not right.
Long before this crisis, three years ago, I started to self-isolate—I didn't even know the word—by completely avoiding places where there were a lot of people, in buildings close together in the winter months, coughing on me, and who probably would make me sick. Restated, we must turn our public health model upside down. Isolate and protect the elderly, for sure, and the sick and the vulnerable, while ensuring that low-contact, low-risk businesses are reopened with appropriate distancing measures, staffed by low-risk individuals. Thank you.