Do not pass Go. (Unless you want to, I guess? Nobody’s stopping you.) - The Orca
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Do not pass Go. (Unless you want to, I guess? Nobody’s stopping you.)

Rob Shaw 2
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Rob Shaw: Premier John Horgan promised travel restrictions, but every time he’s asked, they become less clear, less tough, and less real.

B.C. is halfway through its second week of tough new travel restrictions, and so far not a single ticket has been handed out to anyone breaking the rules – mainly because not a single police officer is sure how to actually enforce those rules.

What was supposed to be a bold plan to crack down on non-essential travel between health authorities, with roadblocks and border checks, now looks more like an exercise from Premier John Horgan in on-the-fly populist policy making that has over-promised and under-delivered.

“I think we’ve been pretty clear,” Horgan said Tuesday.

“I said last week, restrictions were coming, get ready for it. I said on Monday, we’re going to have restrictions by Friday – we do. The minister responsible said we’ll have enforcement mechanisms in place by this week – we will.”

But two weeks in the pandemic’s 24/7 news cycle is like a lifetime for the public.

Consequently, Horgan and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth have been inundated with questions since Horgan blurted out his initial plans to ban travel between health authorities.

Ever since then, government has been walking the proposal back, while simultaneously contorting itself into a pretzel to give the impression it’s not actually changing anything.

First it was the “random” checkpoints Horgan promised, quickly abandoned in the face of concern that random police checks disproportionately harm minorities and members of black and indigenous communities.

Then it was roadblocks between health authorities, which turned out to be such a logistical nightmare in Metro Vancouver that Farnworth backed off and declared Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health one large health region – meaning the most populous area, with the most cases of COVID-19, where you might actually want to limit travel won’t actually have any restrictions at all.

Ever since then, government has been walking the proposal back, while simultaneously contorting itself into a pretzel to give the impression it’s not actually changing anything.

Then there were the Albertans. Discouraged from entering the province under Horgan’s original plans due a series of very stern signs the premier promised would be erected at the border, only for us all to learn later that Albertans would actually be fine to travel into the interior or northern health authorities, as long as they didn’t try to cross into the Lower Mainland.

Then there was the police enforcement that was promised up front by Horgan, but has been watered down due to opposition from the RCMP union.

It’s now at the point that Horgan can’t even promise how police will participate.

“Law enforcement is not directed by politicians, thank goodness for that,” he said, one week after trying unsuccessfully to do that very thing.

“We lay out the orders. We lay out the laws. And it’s up to law enforcement to deploy the resources to meet those expectations.”

In the end, B.C.’s much-hyped travel ban appears little more than a series of checks at the B.C. Ferries terminals, and maybe the occasional roadblock on the Coquihalla. All sizzle, no steak. All bark, no bite.

At the centre of all this has been Horgan at his most pugnacious and combative. He routinely appears frustrated at the demands for more detail and confused as to why the public might be upset at the prospect of sweeping travel bans seemingly made up on-the-fly.

The Opposition BC Liberals have seized on the issue to try and portray Horgan as a confused bungler, peddling half-baked ideas. In return, Horgan called the BC Liberals “obtuse” for not understanding the larger picture in which he’s trying his best to protect British Columbians.

“If you want to make political points punching me in the nose, fill your boots,” he said in one of his more memorable lines during question period Monday.

At the centre of all this has been Horgan at his most pugnacious and combative.

None of this is good for the province. Not the confusing launch, nor the befuddling lack of details.

“I appreciate that the time between announcement and delivery is frustrating for people,” said Horgan.

“But I also understand that people are responding, that they get it. They understand that we all have to hold together here and moving from one health authority to another is not in the best interests of salvaging our summer. So people are already responding before the enforcement tools are in place, and I think that’s a good thing.”

People might be responding. But it’s more likely they are doing it in spite of the premier’s confounding plan, than because of it.

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.

rob@robshawnews.com
twitter.com/robshaw_bc

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