‘All hat, no cattle" is a derisive description favoured by some in the cowpunching trade when they describe individuals whose bluster, posturing and conversational hot air far outstrip their actual hard work and meaningful accomplishment.
When it comes to enforcement measures aimed at clamping down on behaviours that defy COVID-19 restrictions and therefore pose threats to the well-being of Manitobans, it could fairly be suggested that Premier Brian Pallister has to date offered up a whole lot of Stetson and very little steer.
Throughout the 14-plus months in which this province has struggled to flatten the COVID-19 curve — with varying degrees of success, dictated in large part by the province’s responses to the ebbs and surges of viral infection — Mr. Pallister has often talked a very good game when it comes to enforcement and penalties.
He has promised, on numerous occasions, that his government will hold accountable those who refuse to adhere to the sensible and measured restrictions imposed in the ongoing effort to limit transmission of the virus within Manitoba’s borders. But the reality of the purported hard-line enforcement from his tough-love-espousing government has turned out to be something of a rather lackadaisical nature.
For evidence of the contrast between words and deeds, one need look no further than last weekend’s gathering at The Forks of a few hundred mask-defiant/anti-vaxx-inclined malcontents whose seeming purpose was to bask in the dim lit ambience of their shared abject ignorance. The event had been promoted online for several days in advance — as most such convergences of misinformed mulishness have been in recent months — but this one had the added cachet of a high-profile itinerant agitator to bolster the crowd count by adding an exotic from-away flair to the pandemic-decrying prevarication.
The province would necessarily have been aware that the so-called protest was going to happen, and that it might be larger than some others in the past. As such, one might have imagined a stepped-up effort aimed at limiting — or even, preferably, pre-empting — the assembly would be the preferred manner of applying the enforcement mechanisms.
It was not.
Instead, the event occurred as scheduled; maskless hundreds milled about aimlessly, sharing groundless conspiracy theories and, very possibly, virulent viruses, and "enforcement" amounted to the issuing of a couple of — as in TWO — tickets. Late Friday, nearly a week later, 20 new fines were levied. When asked this week about the tepid response, Mr. Pallister conceded that’s a good question, and added he feels "very strongly that we need to do more in terms of enforcement."
For his part, Justice Minister Cameron Friesen pointed out that enforcement staff were, indeed, present at the rally, observing and capturing video, and predicted more tickets would be issued after the gathered evidence was assessed (by late Friday, the total had reached 20). An encouraging suggestion that actions will have consequences, until one considers another report earlier this week outlining how less than 10 per cent of the $1.7 million in pandemic-related fines issued so far have actually been collected.
The closely aligned goals of prevention, deterrence and punishment seem equally underserved by the current arrangement.
The end result of this week’s discussion, it appears, is yet another firm commitment that the province is going to get tough — this time, no fooling around — with health-order scofflaws in an effort to stem what is destined to crest as COVID-19’s third and most harrowing wave.
For the purposes of the aforementioned hat/cattle analogy, at least, Manitoba’s premier seems to have developed a very unique brand of herd immunity.