B.C.’s two opposition parties are offering sharp critiques of the province’s public health policies aimed at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are taking decidedly different approaches.
The BC Liberals have focused on what they say is a lack of transparency and accurate reporting when it comes to providing clear data associated with the province’s COVID-19 situation. They want better and more information regarding cases, vaccines and testing. They want the release of extensive demographic and geographic information.
The B.C. Greens want that too (who doesn’t?) but that party appears to have completely broken with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. They issued a blistering news release last week, accusing the government of falling down on all kinds of fronts when it comes to fighting the virus.
Although they did not name her specifically, given the fact Henry is setting the policies and the rules it is clear the Greens’ attack was aimed specifically at her performance.
The Greens want an all-encompassing three-week lockdown, including the closure of schools and stronger enforcement of public health orders and a non-essential travel ban (and one that is strongly enforced).
It seems clear the Greens are trying to tap into what appears to be rising public frustration, anger and bewilderment in the face of rapidly escalating daily case counts of COVID-19 and a steady rise in hospitalizations.
The BC Liberals obviously sense that public mood as well, but they have not called for an extensive lockdown or a travel ban or really anything that goes much beyond what is being done right now. Rather, they have mostly said what is currently being done can simply be done better (being a pro-business party makes it unlikely it would want to shutter the economy like the Greens).
I have pointed out before that opposition parties are walking a tricky political tightrope when it comes to questioning public health measures. Challenging governments is one thing, but taking on science comes with a risk.
Nevertheless, the Greens clearly feel more emboldened now to criticize the government on this front and likely think they are on surer ground with the public.
Perhaps, but I don’t see much evidence that our society wants to shut down the economy for three weeks in the elusive hope that such a move would stop the spread of the virus. Advocates of this “COVID-zero” approach point to success stories in distant places like New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam, yet fail to explain why various lockdown measures in much of Europe have not succeeded in stopping the spread there.
As well, it has never been made clear how lockdowns and “stay-at-home” orders can be enforced. Various authorities can indeed shut businesses, but do people really want police checkpoints on highways and ferries asking to see papers that prove your travel is essential?
It seems that only mass vaccinations are going to get us out of this worsening situation and we will not be at that stage for many weeks yet.
In the meantime, the political rhetoric over public health will continue to ramp up and up. The next few weeks will see some ugly COVID-19 numbers in this province, and the political debate will reflect that.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.