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 | Commentary by K.C. ADAMS
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 against COVID-19.”
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 medium-sized enterprises.”
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 more quickly.”
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.
The National 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 health needs.
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.
(With files from PMO March 20, 2020 press release.)
This article was published in
Volume 50 Number 9 – March 21, 2020