I usually get pretty pumped about elections. Not this one.
With only a few days left before the federal vote on Monday, I’ve barely paid attention to it. The reason is obvious: the country is in one of the worst public health emergencies in its history. The only thing that matters at the moment is how to prevent another wave of COVID-19 from killing more Canadians, overwhelming hospitals and bankrupting more businesses. The fact we’re even in an election is a disgrace.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election last month, he knew he would have to put Ottawa’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on hold. Politicians can’t govern and electioneer at the same time; it’s impossible. It’s one or the other.
Trudeau picked electioneering. He did so for the most self-serving of reasons: he thought he could regain majority status in Parliament at a time when Canadians are vulnerable and not paying attention to political issues.
Public health is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial governments. Ottawa should be working 24/7 with the provinces to fight COVID-19, including developing strategies to boost immunization rates, combat vaccine hesitancy and develop national proof-of-vaccine cards.
Vaccine mandates for domestic air and train travel should have been enacted weeks ago, not weeks from now. There were seven flights scheduled to land in Winnipeg from Alberta Thursday and another eight on Friday. Alberta, where case numbers and hospitalizations are soaring, has the lowest vaccination rate in the country. Meanwhile, there are still no requirements to be vaccinated when boarding a domestic flight in Canada. (Manitoba has a 14-day self-isolation rule for unvaccinated people who arrive in the province, but it’s not enforced).
The federal government should have been working on all of those files (and more) over the past month. Instead, the prime minister and cabinet have been on the hustings glad-handing, analyzing polling data and waging petty partisan battles with their opponents.
Canadians have been forced into an election campaign they neither asked for nor needed. They are exhausted and frustrated. Many have lost jobs or businesses, some are grieving, and others are struggling with long-term conditions from COVID-19. Some parents are afraid to send their kids to school. Despite that, the bright minds in Ottawa thought it would be a good idea to hold an election.
Canada has lost five precious weeks in the war against COVID–19... The common enemy has been given an advantage to strike hard while politicians fight among themselves for votes. That is unforgivable.
Trudeau said a campaign was necessary because Canadians need a choice on how government should respond to the pandemic. That's beyond nonsensical. The federal government didn’t need an election to get a mandate from the people on how to do its job during a public health crisis. It’s obvious what needs to be done. The problem is the federal government has been missing in action over the past month.
Trudeau has taken his eye off the pandemic ball. He and his cabinet are not involved in the day-to-day operations of government as they normally would be during a public health emergency. They are not present to respond quickly to changing circumstances, to listen to provincial concerns and drive policy where required. They are engaged in partisan politics while the machinery of government has been left on auto-pilot.
Canada has lost five precious weeks in the war against COVID-19. With immunization levels stalled, the implementation of vaccine mandates for domestic travel delayed, and communication from the federal government on the pandemic all but dried up, the election has allowed the virus to outflank the country. The common enemy has been given an advantage to strike hard while politicians fight among themselves for votes. That is unforgivable.
Canadians will still vote. Democracy is too fragile to forfeit that responsibility, no matter how inappropriate or reckless Trudeau’s election call. But how they vote, and what drives their decision-making in this election, may not be what the Liberal government was looking for.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.