On COVID Messaging, It’s Time Government Treated Us Like Adults

May 10, 2021 Updated: May 10, 2021

Commentary

In the long, strange saga of Canadian governments’ response to COVID-19, one of the strangest crept by last weekend. Asked what difference getting vaccinated would make to our medical risks and severely impaired liberties, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said she had no idea but would have a really good one soon.

It’s not strange that she had no idea. Some are born inept, some achieve ineptitude, and some have it thrust upon them. And Hajdu inherited a ministry whose normal business is pretending the slow-motion disaster of socialized medicine isn’t happening, and when a crisis erupted she stole some deer’s headlights and kept them.

Possibly given SNC-Lavalin, Justin Trudeau didn’t want to fire another female cabinet minister in case it was still 2015. But you’d think by now the PMO would have fitted her with a mask that filters sound.

Unfortunately, if she’s health minister you sometimes have to remove her muzzle and hope. As with the defence minister, even if you cuss when it happens. So there was Ms. Hajdu on May 1 being asked: Well, for a year we’ve been told to shut up and stay in our basements until the vaccines come along then Hallelujah. So can we please go out again?

Of course, some health authorities said good grief no, you can never go out again, are you insane, there are germs, wear 16 masks for the rest of your short lonely life. Just as the military would fortify the moon against Mars. So someone asked Hajdu. In May 2021, I remind you, 14 months after the first lockdowns and 17 months into the pandemic. And she went duh, I dunno.

OK, she said on CTV’s Question Period, “We are working with provinces and territories to understand their own epidemiology. … It’s the percentage of Canadians that are vaccinated, and it’s the extent of disease that’s being transmitted in communities. We will have guidance out for Canadians very shortly about what they can do with one dose or two doses of the vaccine.”

Meaning what exactly? No wait. Don’t say anything. Because my focus isn’t the fog. It’s the “very shortly” that emerged from it. What is she waiting for?

Hajdu’s ministry has been monitoring the “epidemiology” for 14 months. It’s not the only thing they’ve been doing. But surely it’s the most important. And their second-highest priority has been praying for vaccines. So why didn’t they know, or at least devise a position, on what happens once the vaccines arrive? What else have they been doing? (If it’s studying the impact on Canadians of delaying “elective” surgeries, they certainly haven’t shared it with us though it wouldn’t be an entirely irrational use of their time.)

As usual, to ask what they’re thinking runs up against the modern political obsession with cunning messaging, which here created a trap. Not the specific, contradictory nonsense they’ve spouted: the overall insistence that “the science” says one thing and one thing only. It’s normal for science to say one thing and one thing only, and the job of politicians and journalists is to crush dissent through ridicule if possible and police action if necessary.

Now people rather predictably want to know what this famous science says about life after vaccination. As jurisdiction after jurisdiction open up, they wonder when we nice Canadians can get back in the swimming pool. And Hajdu has no idea and no cover story. How can it be?

The authorities should level with us about risks and uncertainty, instead of further corroding trust in our society by saying vaccines are totally safe, totally effective, and you still can’t leave your house. The grown-up argument for vaccines is that the risks are very small and the benefits very large. But it requires decision-makers to treat citizens like adults, and act like them, instead of Doug Ford growling do you want me to shut this province down, because I will shut it down so fast.

Remember the original lockdowns? Two weeks to flatten the curve is now as quaint as an 8-track, a mullet or, for youths, the Java Edition of Minecraft. But my objection isn’t that they didn’t work. Many things in life don’t, especially those improvised in the face of sudden calamity. Even if it’s also strange that the original SARS didn’t leave us better prepared logistically and mentally.

My objection is that all along, our governments have radiated certainty that they knew exactly what they were doing, and only a chump could doubt the efficacy or necessity of their latest action or inaction, from refusing to close the border to vaccines. Has the PM at any point even admitted their procurement strategy was a bit of a mess?

So now we’re getting vaccinated, slowly but surely. And the health minister has no idea what it means. Is there no adult available for the job?

Strange.

John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.