Rob Shaw: Dr. Henry will face increasing pressure to speed up her timelines. She should continue to ignore it.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry will be under extraordinary pressure to throw the doors open and order a quick return to normal this week when she unveils her plan to relax public health restrictions.
She should resist.
Other provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan have ended vaccine mandates and will abandon indoor mask requirements entirely by the end of the month. British Columbians are looking at them with a mixture of envy and trepidation because they aren’t sure where the scientific rationale for the move begins and the political calculations of the premiers ends.
It’s clear though that Alberta and Saskatchewan are moving partly due to the trucker convoy protests. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe all but admitted as much in his press conference last week, trying to explain his “blended” approach of some science and some furious constituents who’d been flooding his MLAs with demands that restrictions end, which the convoy protesters demand.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was more cagey in his comments, denying the truckers were an influence even though the abrupt move to speed up reopening timelines came after reports rural MLAs in his caucus were making promises behind the premier’s back to a trucker blockade at the US border.
We are quite thankfully free of that political dynamic in BC.
Premier John Horgan told the trucker convoy protesters to go pound sand, after a relatively small but irritatingly noisy display on the legislature’s front lawn.
“People want to put COVID behind them, I get that, I’m at the front of that line with Dr. Henry and Minister Dix,” said Horgan. “But we want to make sure that we don’t do it in a reckless and cavalier manner just because people are honking horns. A small minority are honking horns.
“We want to make sure that the sacrifices that businesses and workers and communities have made over the past two years are not just thrown away because of some noise out on the legislative lawn or in the capital city of Canada.”
It’s the right call.
Throughout the pandemic, Horgan has ceded control of decision-making on public health restrictions to Dr. Henry. That’s largely kept politics out of BC’s COVID-19 decision making. You can say what you will about some of the choices health officials have made, but the idea of a nervously-sweating premier making frantic political course-corrections and overriding health officials is not a dynamic we’ve had to worry about in British Columbia.
Horgan remains steadfast that it’s the right approach to let Dr. Henry guide us out of the pandemic based on BC’s case counts, hospitalizations, ICU patients, and death rates.
That gives Dr. Henry a certain freedom to set a course for BC that is particular to the needs. If it’s a few weeks behind Alberta, so be it. We’ve come this far, guided by her and the science. We might as well see it through to what we all hope is the final phase of the pandemic.
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.