Globe Editorial: US Conservatives Stepped Up COVID-19. Canadian Conservatives helped flatten it

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford puts on a mask as a new Daily Bread food bank opens in Toronto on May 25, 2020.

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

Those looking for explanations as to why Canada has successfully flattened the COVID-19 curve, as the virus reaches new heights in the United States, have many answers at hand. Universal health care here; his absence there. Greater confidence in authority here; a greater degree of suspicion from the authorities there. And, of course, there is this man in the White House.

But the biggest difference maker, and the key to Canada’s comparative success, may be the reaction of our Conservatives – leaders and voters -.

For example, in April, when the county of Texas which includes the city of Houston tried to introduce a rule requiring people to wear masks in public places, including fines, Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of the State, blocked the movement.

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That same month, when a handful of protesters gathered in Queen’s Park to demand an end to the lockdowns, Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford called them a “bunch of yahoos” and called their behavior “reckless” and “selfish”.

“I understand that people want to come out, but we have to be responsible,” said the leader of the largest province, who is arguably Canada’s most influential conservative.

Mr Ford was expressing the traditional peace, order and good conservatism of government: to beat the virus we are all in the same boat, so we all have to follow the rules. What could be more conservative?

The anti-pandemic policies chosen by Ontario and the six other provinces led by right-wing governments are no different from the paths followed by the Canadian Liberals, the New Democrats or the American Democrats. But since US President Donald Trump, the virus and its response have been treated by many Republican leaders and voters not as matters of life and death, to be treated by reason and science, but as new fronts in society. cultural war.

On July 16, Georgia Gov. Republican Brian Kemp sued the city of Atlanta in an attempt to force it to drop its mask rules and its local ban on assembling more than 10 people on city property. For Georgia, this is just the last political fight against the pandemic. In April, Mr. Kemp began reopening his state, despite objections from many local leaders. And before suing Atlanta, he issued an executive order to overturn other local mask rules.

In the seven days leading up to August 3, Georgia recorded a daily average of nearly 3,400 new COVID-19 cases and 46 deaths per day. The per capita rate of new cases and death is about 30 times higher than in Canada.

Now consider Alberta. The day before Georgia’s governor sued his largest city, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was asked about an upcoming anti-mask rally.

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“If they are upset with the use of the mask, the alternative will inevitably be more widespread suspensions of economic activity if we have a second epidemic,” said the leader of the United Conservative Party. “I think exercise responsible for personal freedom through the use of masks where people cannot physically distance themselves is a much better alternative.

Mr. Kenney has not issued a province-wide masking order, but he has supported cities that have chosen to do so, when and where they deem it necessary.

Reasonable people may disagree on how the various Canadian governments have handled the response to the pandemic. We criticized the reopening of bars too early and the failure to prioritize schools over drinking places. In April, we repeatedly called for testing to be stepped up, particularly in Ontario. And for months now, we’ve been emphasizing that Ottawa needs more and better border controls.

But Canada’s debate over the best response to COVID-19 has not been partisan. Provinces led by right-wing parties and a federal government led by liberals have cooperated and are largely on the same page. No conservative leader acts like science is a leftist con artist.

One lesson to be learned is that Canada is not the United States. Similar, but not the same. Different stories, different attitudes, different voters – and different conservatives.

Over the past decades, Canada’s Conservative parties have made a habit of looking to the United States for advice. But conservatism in Canada was born from a different tree, in different soil. During the COVID-19 era, the provincial conservative parties remembered their homeland. The federal Conservative Party, which is choosing a new leader this month, will only be relevant to the extent that it does the same.

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