Yes, we’re frustrated, and scared and looking for someone to blame. But believe it or not, the politicians are doing the best they can.
“Best” doesn’t mean excellent, or even good. But if you’re looking to blame base political calculation for the sluggish rollout in vaccines, for the on-again, off-again, back-on-again lockdowns, for the overall inconsistency of Canada’s response to the pandemic, you should probably look again.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the premiers and municipal leaders have miscalculated, underestimated, failed to deliver. But they are not making life miserable because of short-term calculations with an eye to the next election, or to enrich themselves.
The pandemic has revealed to all the mediocre performance of our political system. But mediocre is not incompetent or corrupt. We’re better than that, at least.
Although you wouldn’t have known it from the reaction on Wednesday to new measures from Ontario Premier Doug Ford aimed at bending the curve on the province’s rising rate of infection.
“Too little too late,” social media declared. “He needed to do this weeks ago.” “Time to close everything we don’t need to actually survive.” The reaction to a similar announcement from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was much the same.
In the opinion of many of these critics, Ottawa and the provinces dropped the ball in the early days of the pandemic and never properly picked it up again. Governments - at least outside Atlantic Canada - failed to seal borders when the virus first appeared. The initial lockdown was too porous and short-lived; subsequent ones have been as well. We should have sought to virtually eradicate the coronavirus, to reach #CovidZero; instead, in an effort to placate voters, governments pursued half measures. Now, more than a year into the pandemic, we face yet another, variant-fueled, wave of infections, with too few vaccines available.
Without question, future studies and inquiries will chronicle terrible mistakes, the worst being the failure to protect the frail elderly in nursing homes in the opening stage of the pandemic. But there is little evidence that any premier, from the NDP’s John Horgan in B.C. to the CAQ’s François Legault in Quebec, favoured naked political calculation over best practices. There is no reason to believe that partisan impulses caused Mr. Trudeau to pursue one course when he should instead have pursued another, or that governments used the pandemic as an excuse for pork or patronage.
Instead, the Prime Minister and the premiers are muddling through. As of April 7, Canada had 610 COVID-related deaths per million citizens, according to Worldometer, a better result than Germany (928) or France (1,488), but worse than Denmark (419) and far worse than Australia (35), which implemented much more severe measures early on.
Canada has administered 18 doses of vaccine per 100 people, according to Our World in Data, which is frustratingly far behind the United States, where doses equal half the population. But the European Union is at 19 per cent.
Canada’s handling of the pandemic has been average. Middle of the pack. Uninspired. But not awful.
At least some of the criticism of government comes from people relatively immune to the consequences of lockdowns. It’s easy to call for warehouses, assembly lines and construction sites to be shut down if you’re working safely from home and your job is secure.
It’s easy to call for schools to be closed if you aren’t parenting a child. It’s easy to condemn faith leaders for trying to keep places of worship open if you yourself are not devout. It’s easy to condemn overcrowding in parks if you have a big back yard.
And it’s easy to accuse politicians of chasing after votes or pandering to their base or succumbing to dogma rather than science if you aren’t responsible for decisions that could throw many thousands of people out of work, send businesses into bankruptcy and leave the economy in even worse shape than it already is.
By all means, let’s hold governments and politicians at every level to account. But let’s also remember that they’re human, that they and their advisers have been working around the clock for a year, and that most of them, most of the time, are using their best judgment, for better or worse.