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Waiting to exhale

Maclean Kay
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Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta begin gradually re-opening their economies on Monday. BC is ‘not there yet.’

On Monday, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta begin cautiously re-opening their provincial economies, launching the first phase in each of their respective plans.

There are, of course, key differences in each plan, reflecting key local industries, population density, and how badly the province has been hit by COVID-19. That said, the various provincial plans are broadly similar.

Each province will re-open in phases, with weeks or even a month in between to gauge response and give authorities time to monitor and pull back if necessary. Re-opening starts Monday, May 4. If you’re reading this shortly after publication, that means this Monday.

I wrote about Saskatchewan’s plan earlier this week:

Phase One starts May 4, which includes medical services and “low-risk outdoor recreational activities,” such as fishing, golf, and boat launches. (It’s hard to imagine safer, more socially-distant ways to get fresh air.) But again, the approach is not so much jumping into the lake and bracing yourself, but slowly wading in to see if you can stand the temperature. Fishing and boat launches can start May 4, golf on May 15, and campgrounds June 1.

Manitoba’s plan is more detailed than Saskatchewan’s, but the key difference is a bigger first step. More businesses and services will open in the first wave, but with a longer time – a full month – before Phase Two, to monitor and gauge safety.

Manitoba has been almost curiously left alone by COVID-19, which led some to point to Winnipeg as a potential site to host everything from NHL tournaments to the UFC. But Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister made it clear that large-scale events like concerts and festivals aren’t in the cards any time soon – which, presumably, would include sporting events.

For its part, Alberta has been much harder hit by the pandemic. (How much harder? Alberta has roughly double the amount of COVID-19 cases than Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and British Columbia combined. The same day Premier Jason Kenney announced the plan, its provincial health officer announced 190 new cases in the province.) Nevertheless, the province will also start re-opening on Monday. Like its prairie cousins, Alberta will start with outdoor activities, and resuming non-urgent surgeries and limited office hours for dentists and other health providers.

Ontario also announced a plan last week, only without specific dates for each phase – including a start date. On Thursday Premier Doug Ford laid out more than 60 labour guidelines that businesses must follow.

In BC, Premier John Horgan spent much of his weekly media availability hinting at a plan – which looks like it will be made public next week.

“It’ll be different in British Columbia, because unlike other provinces, we resisted the call for a full lockdown of our economy and instead, adopted a different approach,” said Horgan.

He has a point; in some respects, BC is more open now than some of its neighbours will be next week – for example, construction has continued here. But, at the moment, BC seems to be slightly falling behind other jurisdictions. Dr. Bonnie Henry continues to talk about loosening restrictions in “mid to late May”, which would put BC weeks behind its western counterparts.

Waiting another two weeks may not sound like a big deal. And maybe you think it should be longer – fair enough. But from the government’s point of view, that’s 12 Dr. Bonnie Henry press conferences (six days per week), and at least another two from the Premier. That’s 14-plus hours of what would become non-stop questions about re-opening economies everywhere in Western Canada save BC – even in a province (Alberta) with a much worse outbreak.

Pressure would build, quickly.

Interestingly, when asked about whether BC would lay out a timeline similar to that in other provinces, Horgan said BC isn’t there yet, and then:

“Poll after poll and everybody I’ve talked to says, let’s not give up the gains we’ve made.”

Poll after poll? A rare hint during the pandemic that considerations other than science and health officials’ recommendations are, at the very least, acknowledged and taken into account.

Before you clutch your pearls too closely, there isn’t a democratic government on the planet that ignores shifts in public mood. But it was, perhaps, a glimpse into the many and various factors in play.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca

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