Rob Shaw: The B.C. government may have lagged in releasing its restart plan compared to some other provinces like Saskatchewan, but it’s here now.
British Columbians breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday with the release of a new provincial restart plan that charts a course to almost-normal by July 1.
Within weeks, we could be gathering with family and friends, travelling across the country, and enjoying a summer where COVID-19 isn’t a constant worry looming over every aspect of our lives.
But perhaps nobody was quite as relieved as Premier John Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who have both taken a drubbing in recent weeks by critics saying they didn’t have a plan to get us out of the pandemic.
“We have made extraordinary sacrifices as a province and as a people over the past 15 months, and nobody is more excited than the four of us to be moving into this reopening plan in a careful and thoughtful way, being mindful of the data, being mindful of the sacrifices so many have made to get as here,” Horgan said, flanked by Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Economic Recovery Minister Ravi Kahlon.
Each of the players on stage for the announcement has been a lightning-rod of criticism: Horgan for government’s lack of a plan (and frequent verbal gaffes), Kahlon for business aid that’s perpetually tied up in red tape, and Dix and Henry for bringing in circuit breaker restrictions that some people felt were too late.
But you could feel much of that vanish Tuesday, washed away by the public giddiness over Restart 2.0 and the prospect of an almost entirely re-opened economy by Canada Day (stadium-sized concerts and sporting events will have to wait until September 15 at the earliest).
“Relieved to see a Restart Plan for our province!” tweeted BC Liberal leader Shirley Bond.
“Grateful beyond words for frontline workers who have worked so tirelessly on our behalf and thankful that the majority of British Columbians did everything they were asked to do and more. Let’s stay focused and meet the targets!”
That’s a big change from just last week when the Opposition was in the house charging: “Businesses deserve a clear plan from the NDP.”
The change in tone is the first sign we’ve flipped a page in B.C.’s fight against COVID-19.
Horgan has bought himself at least a month of political breathing room to follow through, which is contingent on B.C.’s vaccination rates continuing to rise and case counts continuing to decline.
The B.C. government may have lagged in releasing its restart plan compared to some other provinces like Saskatchewan, but it’s here now. It looks prudent and feasible. Moreover, it’s going to be immensely popular. Criticizing it to score political points won’t fly very far with a public desperate to move on and out of this waking pandemic nightmare.
It’s a bit of the same story for Dr. Henry, who has been dogged by armchair epidemiologists and modellers questioning her every decision. That’s built to a head in the last month with an obviously-frustrated Henry forced to defend her decision-making and clashing with reporters in a way we’ve never seen before. At times, it has felt like the populace was on the verge of a full-on revolt over the extra restrictions and rules.
Yet the continued decline in case counts, hospitalizations, and intensive-care patients shows her “circuit breaker” decisions have largely worked.
There are still potential pitfalls in the restart. It depends on a continued steady supply of vaccine, upon which B.C. is wholly reliant on the federal government. It depends on people pushing through vaccine hesitancy and continuing to register to get a shot. It could all be derailed by ever-changing variant strains. And it’s entirely focused so far on getting everyone a first dose, because the province hasn’t had enough vaccine to effectively administer second shots.
Still, with timelines measured in weeks, the plan is what a lot of people were looking for.
“I’m confident that to a person, British Columbians want to get there, and I am absolutely beyond confident that if we get people to register to get a booking and get a vaccination, we will be able to have the best summer we’ve had in at least 15 months,” said Horgan.
Here’s hoping he’s right.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.
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