The brief spring of pandemic political harmony in Canada seems to be at the end of its life


An international polling firm recently asked citizens of each of the G7 countries to identify their most reliable source of information on the new coronavirus outbreak. In France, Germany, Italy and Japan, the first choice was “television news”, while the largest number of Americans chose their doctors and health care providers.

In Canada, a plurality – 30% – said their most reliable source was “government / politicians”, a figure only matched by 28% of British citizens who said the same thing about their leaders politicians. In the United States, only 10% identified government and politicians as their preferred source of information.

Whatever good will Canadian officials have had in the past two months, it could become all the more precious as the country enters a new phase of the crisis. But that confidence and unity could also become much more difficult for governments to maintain – especially if we are already witnessing the start of the first real political divisions of the pandemic.

The recent increase in support and approval by elected leaders does not necessarily signal a reversal of the long-term downward trend in the level of trust in Western societies. “When we are worried,” said an American political scientist recently, “we have to trust someone to protect us.”

How Governments Gain Trust

But that at least suggests that we are still able to trust political leaders. And there are probably also good reasons for this trend of warming public confidence.

Non-partisan health officials – people with real expertise – have been put forward by Canadian governments to explain what is happening and what needs to be done. Federal and provincial political leaders have repeated consistent messages that echo the advice of experts. Citizens have been asked to make significant sacrifices, but governments have cushioned these difficulties with additional support which, for the most part, was delivered quickly.

Each of these pieces strengthens the other to build trust and keep things together. A feeling of common cause – “stronger together” – may one day be recalled as the determining feeling of the first two months of the pandemic in Canada.

But what if closing most of the economy and keeping people in their homes was the easy part?

How safe do you feel, Canada?

Maintaining public confidence will be even more vital now. Although the premiers and the federal government have begun to develop plans and principles for the “reopening” of society, the resumption of economic activity will depend on the feeling that people feel it is safe enough to go to stores, restaurants and schools.

As British Columbia Premier John Horgan pointed out this week, “All closed businesses could open tomorrow and if the public, the general public, does not have confidence in their personal well-being, they will not enter it. establishments. ”

To this end, the Ontario government has released a series of new guidelines for businesses and has promised that provincial inspectors will apply these standards.

“Today is a ray of hope,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford. He is “optimistic” that in the near future more businesses will be able to open safely. 0:52

However, the potential for new outbreaks remains; federal modeling continues to assume that there will be periodic increases in the infection rate throughout the fall and winter. Improved tests and contact tracing may limit the impact of these outbreaks, but Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said this week that his province’s plan may change and, in some cases, restrictions may have to be re-imposed.

We share the costs – but not the risks

While the provinces have aligned their approaches to shutting down schools and businesses fairly quickly, there is now a risk that provincial approaches will begin to diverge – as evidenced by Quebec’s relatively aggressive plan to reopen schools in May.

Just as the virus has exposed vulnerabilities in the health care system, particularly for older Canadians in long-term care, reopening could also reveal inequalities in work and life – between those with access and those who do not, those who can afford to stay at home and those who cannot, and those whose jobs put them at higher risk and those who are relatively security. Already, there have been serious outbreaks at a meat processing plant in Alberta and among migrant workers on a farm in Ontario.

A masked staff member works a Walmart pay line. The effects of the pandemic are compounded by economic inequality, as many Canadians cannot afford to stay away from jobs that put them at risk of infection. (Bobby Hristova / CBC)

“I think there will be an emerging gap between those who can choose when and how much to change their social distancing and those who cannot,” said Jennifer Robson, professor and policy analyst at Carleton University and the ‘one of the many academics to be consulted by the federal government.

Political tensions begin to rise

There is also a political divide over the possibility that government assistance to the unemployed discourages people from returning to work.

Premier of Manitoba Brian Pallister said this week his province “is fighting a federal program that currently pays people to stay out of the workforce” – an apparent reference to federal supports that provide up to $ 2,000 a month to those who are unemployed because of COVID-19.

In fact, for most Canadians, the strongest incentive to stay at home is likely to continue to be a highly contagious and deadly virus. But if a significant number of businesses fail to find people willing to work, the role and design of government assistance could become an important area of ​​contention.

The tools that governments have served well so far – transparency, regular updates, readily available financial aid, and very careful action – could continue to be useful in the weeks to come. Opinion polls also suggest that Canadians are in no rush to reopen the economy.

But the longer this virus is with us, the more things will emerge with the potential to shatter public confidence and shatter things.


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