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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos during a press conference in Ottawa on Jan. 5.DAVE CHAN/AFP/Getty Images

If you were keeping score, you might have found that as Prime Minister, it wasn’t Justin Trudeau who was doing the announcing at his Wednesday press conference.

His health minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, told reporters the feds would distribute 140 million COVID-19 rapid tests over the course of January. His Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland, talked about loosening the criteria for wage subsidies.

Not Mr. Trudeau. He was there for a pep talk. So were his ministers, really.

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The point of this press conference – made clear by the number of times the PM and the two ministers repeated the same message – was to tell Canadians that the Liberal government knows they are frustrated, but the country will get through it. That Canada has the tools and we know what to do.

The PM empathized. He acknowledged frustration. No one wanted to start 2022 this way, he said.

“I can understand that people are frustrated,” he said. “But I also know that we know how to get through this.’’

This is the sort of thing Mr. Trudeau has done a lot of in the past two years, particularly in the first wave, when the Prime Minister’s daily press conferences were both a stream of pandemic policies and a pulpit for preaching social distancing and social cohesion. It was a good thing for a leader to acknowledge the common and try to muster some common will. It was widely welcome then, and for a time, it raised Mr. Trudeau’s approval ratings.

But it doesn’t take an opinion poll to know that pep talks are wearing a little thin now.

In several provinces, schools have moved back to remote classes, at least for a few weeks. There are renewed restrictions on gathering – five people maximum indoors in Ontario. Quebec has once again adopted a policy restricting basic civil liberties by imposing a curfew after 10 p.m. unless you are walking your dog.

The frustrations are, if anything, increasing because “we know what to do,” and some of those things, such as school closings, seem more damaging this time, not less. Apparently Mr. Trudeau, echoed by Ms. Freeland and Mr. Duclos, decided it was the time to buck up Canadians with the message that they know the drill.

“Two years into this pandemic, however, one thing has changed from those first early months: Canadians themselves,” Mr. Trudeau said. “You know what to do. You know how to keep your loved ones safe. And more importantly you know how to keep our health systems from getting overwhelmed.”

Mr. Trudeau arrives for the press conference on Jan. 5. With frustrations mounting in the latest wave of COVID-19, the Prime Minister wanted Canadians to know he empathizes.DAVE CHAN/AFP/Getty Images

The pep talk was Mr. Trudeau placing himself on the same side as pandemic-weary Canadians. He derided the now-notorious unmasked partiers on a Sunwing plane as “ostrogoths.”

It was also an opportunity for Mr. Trudeau and his ministers to tout things that the feds have done in this pandemic, notably procuring vaccines and paying benefits and wage subsidies, and things now being done, like buying more rapid tests.

It allowed him a chance to deflect blame for lockdowns and school closings to the provincial governments that impose them. The PM made the division of labour clear: It was his job to provide the provinces resources such as vaccines and tests, to secure the borders and support Canadian incomes and the economy, while the provinces decide on school closings and the like.

But both provincial and federal leaders are going to find one part of the pep talks they have delivered will bounce back on them later: their regular exhortation to the public to make sacrifices to spare the health systems, which Mr. Trudeau even suggested was more important for Canadians than keeping their loved ones safe.

That warning has been heard so regularly in this pandemic that it will serve as a reminder that Canadian primary health systems, in jurisdictions from coast to coast, are stretched too thin. That’s inevitably the case now, when the Omicron variant has spiked cases and kept infected hospital staff from working, but it’s also clear the system was strained before the pandemic and didn’t have excess capacity for critical care.

Provincial premiers, who are responsible for health care, will find voters will expect them to do something about that for the future. And Mr. Trudeau, who just ran an election campaign full or proposals for health care services that aren’t in his jurisdiction, can’t expect to escape those pressures, either.

But for now, with frustrations mounting in the latest wave, Mr. Trudeau wanted Canadians to know he empathizes.

Customers and businesses in Ontario are introduced to the first phase of the province’s vaccine passport system on Day 1 of the rollout. Patrons must show their proof-of-vaccination receipt to enter indoor businesses like restaurants, gyms, theatres and sports venues.

The Globe and Mail

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