CALGARY—Canadian conservatism is showing itself to be a whiny bastion of imperious, incompetent, and now flailing mostly white men—and their co-conspirator women—who blame everyone else for their problems and shortcomings. It’s beginning to look like a lighter version of our MAGA-obsessed southern neighbours.
What the pandemic has shown is that the so-called “Resistance”—as defined by a dubious December 2018 Maclean’s cover consisting of Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, United Conservative Party (UCP) leader and now Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, then-federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford—aged like spoiled milk left out in the hot sun. These same premiers are failing hard at their ability to control the spread of COVID-19.
The failure is provincial. The failure is male and hard to distinguish from Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” influence.
Fast forward two years later, and a global pandemic rages on, infecting people at an alarming, exponential rate. These provinces failed to take public and workplace health seriously. Alberta saw significant outbreaks at the Cargill meat plant, the JBS meat plant, and long-term care facilities. In December of last year, the UCP cut the requirement for occupational health and safety committees that the previous NDP government put in place as an attempt the eliminate red tape (every time you hear a Conservative say they’re eliminating red tape, a billionaire hears the cha-ching of a cash register). And the UCP has been particularly aggressive with undermining workplace standards, so much so “the Alberta government has not reprimanded, fined, or shut down a single workplace in the province for violations of public health ‘guidance,’” according to The Tyee. Furthermore, Kenney’s response in May downplayed the deadly virus as akin to the flu, saying in all his MAGA majesty: “We cannot continue indefinitely to impair the social and economic—as well as the mental health and physiological health of the broader population—for potentially a year for an influenza that does not generally threaten life apart from the elderly and the immunocompromised.” And that was before he continued with his attack on public health with $600-million in cuts and a loss of about 9,700 jobs.
Seems like relying on science is optional. Sounds familiar.
Ontario’s long-term care disaster is well-documented. The bloviating Premier Ford has a pattern of blaming others for his COVID-19 response failure and moving the goalposts of success when he can’t do that. Remember when he pledged to increase testing back in March? The goal was nearly 20,000 tests per day by April 17, even though the province was only at 2,500 per day. When they couldn’t reach their goal, they just revised downward to 12,500. When they didn’t build the capacity they needed over the summer, resulting in endless hours in long lines, they restricted testing, even though the federal government gave them billions of dollars to help with testing. One would think a robust testing regime would be in place before Phase 2 opening or a well-foreseen second wave, but who needs a reliance on science when Ford is in charge? Perhaps Ford shouldn’t have cut public health during a pandemic. The National Post reported that after being elected in 2018, the “Ford government quickly froze PHO’s [Public Health Ontario] budget and signalled that deeper cuts, to PHO and local health units, were on the way. The new administration also proved uninterested in some core public health missions, things like basic science.”
In Saskatchewan, Premier Moe didn’t equip the province with proper ventilation equipment, ICU beds, or even hospital beds until after the virus hit. A Saskatchewan-based medical anthropologist commented that “it seems the politicians allowed political considerations to cloud their vision.” Some identity politics are more acceptable than others. And some ideologies have more power to create policies that impose those ideologies on others.
Premier Pallister, who wanted to cancel funding for charities and non-profits who deliver services to the most vulnerable during a pandemic, resorted to verbally beating people into COVID-19 restriction submission. His first grand idea to combat the pandemic was COVID cops in every neighbourhood. And with a Winnipeg police force that has a trigger finger for Indigenous people, nothing could go wrong there.
Instead of admitting that their pandemic messaging has been a flaming pile of garbage, each of these premiers began to blame the public for their failures. “In other words, our political and bureaucratic leadership, aided by the media, has pushed a narrative that individuals have the responsibility to defeat the pandemic, and any outbreaks—past, present, and future—are the fault of people who break unclear and largely unenforced rules,” Pouyan Tabasinejad wrote in Passage. Indeed.
What were these guys doing during the lockdown? They should’ve been building testing and tracing capacity, providing PPE, quarantining those travelling from inside and outside of the province, stepping up spending for the small businesses they claim to love in the form of financial support for inflated operating costs due to increased safety requirements, and prolonging their re-opening until those conditions were met.
Instead, we get a lot of finger-waving, personal responsibility crap, which has always been a strawman argument to ignore the systemic and systematic failures in response to a global pandemic. Now their ineptitudes, based on flawed MAGA ideology, will be instrumental in bringing this country to its knees.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.