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What the government response to the COVID pandemic can teach us about management

I think an overlooked component of the present COVID pandemic, at least in Canada, was how much power each level of government had to respond to the pandemic. Canada follows the common three-tiered structure of municipal, provincial, and federal governments. In the Great White North, only the provinces are mentioned in the Canadian Constitution and are given certain rights and abilities. By and large, a municipality is a concept under the jurisdiction of the province. In Canada, the federal and provincial governments share jurisdiction on powers and laws, and cities typically have no power besides bylaws, which themselves are limited in scope by the provincial government.

Most of the response to COVID-19 was left up to the provinces. The federal government could not do much beyond procure vaccines and restrict the border. It was the provinces which implemented lockdowns and other restrictions. The Canadian constitution prohibits the federal government from doing that sort of thing, unless given emergency powers through the Emergency Measures Act. In my opinion, some provinces acted better than others. British Columbia had the strongest early response to the pandemic and as of the date of this writing is making solid progress in stamping out the second wave. They came down hard and fast as soon as the second wave was evident. This should be contrasted with Ontario, which was slow in acting and instituted a lockdown on Boxing Day. Most of Ontario's reluctance came from the concern that not all regions of Ontario required a lockdown, merely the cities contained in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Before Ontario's lockdown, and even now, the City of Toronto was calling for a strict lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. However, cities have no power to institute lockdowns and restrictions themselves. Instead they must wait for the province, and Toronto was waiting for some time. Had cities possessed the same autonomy in the Constitution as a province, they could have implemented the lockdowns and restrictions best suited for them at the proper time.

There are a couple political points to be made here. First, there's something to be said about the Canadian government's delegation of responsibilities to provinces. All provinces are not equal and they are not governed in the same way. I think the Liberal party should invoke the Emergency Measures Act, but in the future the Constitution must change to make provinces heavily accountable to the federal government at the temporary cost of their autonomy. Second, cities must also be recognized in the Constitution so they can act in their own interest without relying on a sluggish or uncooperative provincial government.

In terms of management, not every moment will be a crisis. Most of the time a good team and a good management structure will hum along like a well-oiled machine. When things do go south, the team needs to have the authorization and ability to remedy the situation as soon as possible and how they see fit. If the team is not available or not able to address a problem, management needs to be technical enough to provide assistance or handle it themselves.

After this is over, there will be a lot of reflection on the actions and behaviours of the governments. Likewise, managers should reflect on what went well and what didn't both during normal day-to-day operation and during times of crisis. It's only through reflection that the status quo changes for the better.