Politics

KINSELLA: Swift action by feds just what the doctor ordered

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There have been too many casualties during the pandemic.

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Jobs and businesses — millions of them. Economies, savings, futures. And, of course, lives: by last count, COVID-19 has killed 5.4 million people.

Nobody, to date, has added up the pandemic’s cost to the credibility of governments. But someone should. It would make for interesting reading.

At the start, in and around March 2020, no level of government seemed to be communicating well. In Canada, the Justin Trudeau government told us not to wear masks. It insisted that the risk of infection was “low.” It called prudent public health measures — like closing borders to countries with outbreaks — racist.

Later on, the federal government made a fiasco of vaccine communications, too. They told Canadians the AstraZeneca vaccine was safe, and even offered up footage of the Prime Minister getting a dose of it in April.

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Shortly thereafter, Canadians were told AstraZeneca was possibly unsafe, and it was withdrawn. Then, it was okay again. Then, it was withdrawn again, this time for good.

Around the world, governmental COVID incoherence was a pandemic, too. Former U.S. President Donald Trump said the virus would go away in the spring. Then he suggested injecting people with bleach.

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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson considered COVID “a scare story” at the start, and even mooted getting injected with it on live TV to demonstrate that the threat was overblown. Then he actually got infected, and almost died as a result.

A year ago, some governments looked like they had a handle on COVID, and were communicating well with their citizens. Back then, many of us in the media were singing the praises of Australia and New Zealand.

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The former closed its borders the week the pandemic was declared, and it was applauded as “The Lucky Country” for its minuscule infection rate. But Australia got cocky, and was too slow on vaccinations — and multiple brutal lockdowns were the result.

So, too, New Zealand. In the Business Insider, the Guardian, The Washington Post, Deutsche Welle, Time and the CBC, New Zealand was heralded as the global COVID-19 “success story.” Its Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was nominated for a Nobel Prize for her handling of the crisis.

And then, Ardern’s policy of “eliminating” a virus that will likely never be “eliminated” fell apart, and she was obliged to impose lockdowns and push for vaccinations. No one, as far as we know, has recently nominated her for a Nobel Prize.

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So, in fairness, Canada was not alone in the incoherence of its public relations efforts. Around the world, scores of governments got it wrong, sometimes with fatal results.

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The result of all that incoherence is well-known: anti-vaxxer lunatics seized on every mistake and misstep to vindicate their madness. Too many otherwise-sane people declined to get vaccinated.

And politicians were punished: Donald Trump ended up being defeated by COVID, not Joe Biden. Justin Trudeau lost a shot at a majority government, in part, because his government’s pandemic communications efforts hadn’t inspired confidence — and Conservative leader Erin O’Toole lost a shot at power, in part, because of his mid-election vaccination vacillating.

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It was encouraging, then, to this week see Canada’s new Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos react to the alarming new COVID variant, Omicron, with speed and decisiveness — faster, even, than the Americans.

Wrote my Sun colleague Brian Lilley: “Kudos to Justin Trudeau and team for acting quickly for a change.”

As recent history reminds us, much can still go wrong — and the virus has a way of muddying the reputation of even the most capable political communicator.

But this week, at least, our federal government looked like it had learned a few lessons about how to communicate better during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And that is just what the doctor ordered.

— Kinsella was Chief of Staff to a federal Liberal Minister of Health

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