A ‘how not to’ lesson for the new premier

Manitoba Conservatives will choose a new premier for this province next weekend, ending the interregnum that started Sept. 1, when Brian Pallister stepped down. The new premier’s first order of business will have to be protecting Manitobans from the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/10/2021 (291 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba Conservatives will choose a new premier for this province next weekend, ending the interregnum that started Sept. 1, when Brian Pallister stepped down. The new premier’s first order of business will have to be protecting Manitobans from the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Pallister’s previous miscalculations and the difficulties that now confront Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe and Alberta’s Jason Kenney provide ample warning to Manitoba’s next leader, showing the wrong way to protect public health and curtail the pandemic. The wrong way is to announce victory at the first sign of declining COVID-19 numbers, declare the pandemic over and start the celebrations.

Premiers who have behaved in that manner looked like fools a month or two later when the virus came storming back. Messrs. Moe and Kenney not only look like fools — they are being cursed every day by the patients and the health professionals who have to bear the resulting burden.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe had to re-introduce restrictions. (Mark Taylor / The Canadian Press files)

If our new premier wants a motto to post on her office wall as a constant reminder, she might use an old piece of wisdom from baseball legend and master of malapropism Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Manitoba’s COVID-19 numbers look good just now compared to those of the other Prairie provinces. This province has mostly been reporting fewer than 100 new cases a day lately, while Saskatchewan was reporting between 300 and 500 new cases and Alberta has been finding around 700.

Good news of the kind Manitoba is now hearing encouraged Mr. Kenney and Mr. Moe back in July to lift most restrictions on public gatherings and invite their people to enjoy a wonderful summer of their usual activities. The upsurge in infections quickly followed in September and is only now starting to subside.

Mr. Pallister made the same mistake a year earlier, leading to a terrible November of rapidly spreading infection, and again in the spring of this year, forcing Manitoba to fly some of its most seriously ill COVID-19 patients to intensive care units in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

There’s a competitive virus that infects some premiers. Each wants to be the first, or among the first, to stomp the pandemic into the ground and liberate the local public from masks, social distancing, limits on social contacts, limits on public gatherings.

The pandemic, however, is not a sporting proposition in which heads of government win points by reaching some finish line ahead of others.

The pandemic, however, is not a sporting proposition in which heads of government win points by reaching some finish line ahead of others. There is no discernible finish line, and there is no way of knowing how close a province is to freedom from risk of infection.

The pandemic is an attack on people’s health which has already infected 1.7 million Canadians and taken the lives of more than 28,000. Provincial governments have to curtail spread of the disease as best they can while allowing families and businesses to carry on their activities in reasonable safety.

Manitoba’s new premier will have to listen sympathetically to families and business leaders who find the public-health restrictions irksome. She will also have to listen with equal attention to the scientists who are monitoring the disease and to the doctors, the nurses and therapists who have to treat COVID-19 patients.

There is no wisdom in picking a side in this continuing debate and reaching for a simple solution. The new premier is signing up for a job in which one has to look at all the facts every day and inflict the least possible harm on Manitoba’s people.

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