The COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, as the breathtaking spread of the Omicron variant is reminding us right now. But when it comes to our political leaders and their ability to react to these new threats, some of them seem to be going in the other direction.
Back in March 2020, some pundits (including yours truly) gave Ontario Premier Doug Ford credit for working constructively with the federal government and appearing to behave like a competent and empathetic leader. But in the months that followed, it became clear Ford was little more than a sentient weather vane waiting for the winds of public opinion to shift and then pointing his government belatedly in that direction.
Now, with Omicron, he’s taken that approach to an even more irresponsible level. According to a report from Queen’s Park Today, the Progressive Conservatives’ internal pollster decided to field test some ideas in advance of the latest round of new restrictions announced Wednesday. Survey respondents were asked whether they supported shuttering large public venues, reducing capacity at small businesses, delaying the return of in-class education, making vaccines mandatory for students and firing teachers, health-care workers and police officers who refuse to get vaccinated. One wonders just how much the results of this poll, and the answers to those questions, informed the government’s response.
Poll-based policymaking is a bad idea at the best of times, and we’re certainly not in good-time mode right now. But the speed at which this variant spreads and the degree to which it seems poised to overwhelm our health-care system make this approach even more reckless and irresponsible. Public opinion cannot possibly keep up with this variant, and by the time it does, the damage will already be done and counted. Trying to use polling to figure out the best way forward here is like trying to use a divining rod to navigate rush hour traffic on the 401 highway.
If it’s any consolation to Ontarians — and it probably isn’t — Ford’s approach to leadership isn’t the worst in the country right now.
As usual, that honour belongs to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who has once again decided to pull a reverse Gretzky and skate to where the puck definitely isn’t going. Last week, he announced his province would actually loosen restrictions, even allowing unvaccinated people to attend indoor gatherings.
“We need to go where the rest of Canada is,” he said, perhaps not realizing or caring the rest of Canada is rushing headlong in the opposite direction by announcing new restrictions and public health measures.
His logic, if you can call it that, was this decision “takes away another reason for division, with families arguing about having the unvaccinated aunt over for Christmas dinner.”
Never mind, for a moment, that the prospect of missing out on Christmas dinner might have actually encouraged said aunt to finally get vaccinated, which Kenney’s government insists is its goal. The fact he’s more concerned about the unvaccinated aunt than the nieces or nephews she might expose to the virus speaks to where his focus is right now: on the impending leadership review and the oversized slice of his rural base and caucus who refuse to get vaccinated.
In recent comments, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that “we must learn from our past.” But her boss, Kenney, seems biologically incapable of doing so. Instead, he seems determined to make the same mistakes with this variant as he did when he recklessly reopened the province — for good, he promised people — just as the Delta variant was about to arrive.
Opinion: Neither premier displays any of the intestinal fortitude that’s needed to stare down anti-vaccine skeptics and do what’s required to protect our hospitals and health-care system, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #COVID19 #Omicron
His senior staffers clearly continue to tempt fate. They’re already bragging about Alberta’s performance at the outset of a new wave that has yet to crest. And his recent reassurance he wouldn’t be lifting restrictions on the unvaccinated if “this represented a significant risk for widespread viral spread” sounds an awful lot like the cocksure declaration that “we just don’t see that scenario” when asked about the prospect of a fourth wave at the outset of his doomed “best summer ever.”
This is what passes for leadership right now among Canada’s Conservative premiers: either Jason Kenney’s arrogant stubbornness or Doug Ford’s passive populism.
Neither displays any of the intestinal fortitude that’s needed to stare down anti-vaccine skeptics or motivate people to put their community’s needs above their own and do what’s required to protect our hospitals and health-care system. Instead, both are expressions of cowardice that put their own partisan calculations ahead of the public’s safety.
The only recourse the public has left is voting them both out of office when they get the chance.