Opinion

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

With Manitobans struggling under the weight of nearly three months of social and economic pandemic restrictions, Premier Brian Pallister made a special appearance Friday to discuss our uncertain future.

Did he provide any greater insight into when restrictions would be removed or lessened? Was he able to describe the order in which restrictions would be removed first, and which were likely to remain for some time?

Nope.

Instead, Pallister announced he was launching a survey to collect "feedback from Manitobans on (the government's) plan to move forward to safely restore services and activities."

The survey announcement was as pointless as it was disheartening.

First, at this particular moment in the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, most Manitobans fully expect science — not non-scientific polls — will drive decisions on restrictions. Suggesting they could be influenced by an online survey is as silly as it is disingenuous.

Second, despite asking people for input on "its plan," Pallister has yet to put that plan before Manitobans. The closest Pallister and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin have come is a comment that "everything is on the table."

Premier Brian Pallister (front) and Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, want to hear your thoughts about reopening the province. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Premier Brian Pallister (front) and Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, want to hear your thoughts about reopening the province. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

What should Pallister and Roussin have told Manitobans on Friday?

It is a fascinating question.

They should not, at this stage, start making promises about exactly when restrictions will be eased. No one is in a position to identify a specific date.

After suffering through one of the worst statistical outbreaks of COVID-19 in the world November-December, the trend lines in Manitoba are moving in the right direction. New cases in Winnipeg are on the way down, although a surge in the North is keeping the province in a state of heightened concern.

We're hardly out of the woods, yet, even though the premier once again attempted to put a statistical happy face on Manitoba's standing. Pallister noted, correctly, outside of Atlantic Canada, Manitoba is the only province with declining pandemic metrics.

However, on a per capita basis, Manitoba still has the third-worst number of total cases, and the second worst death rate. If this were some sort of weight-loss competition, we could say with confidence Manitobans had lost the most poundage but with the caveat we were grossly overweight to start with.

What should Pallister have said? The top of the list has to be a proposed order in which restrictions could be removed.

Based on daily briefings from public health officers and a rapidly expanding body of knowledge on COVID-19, an increasing number of Manitobans realize social gatherings — involving people from multiple households, with no social distancing or face mask use — are the true culprits in the recent outbreak.

Manitobans have a high degree of support for limits on social gatherings and non-medical mask use. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manitobans have a high degree of support for limits on social gatherings and non-medical mask use. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

They also understand smaller, non-essential retail businesses are not really much of a threat, as long as stringent and basic precautions are put in place.

Pallister already knows, as well, through independent opinion polling, Manitobans have a high degree of support for limits on social gatherings and non-medical mask use —arguably the two most most effective ways of controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It's hard to understand why Pallister and Roussin could not tell people now that, regardless of when things start to reopen, those two measures must be among the last restrictions to be removed.

So, based on what he already knows, what is the premier trying to accomplish with a survey? He seems to be trying to buy some time, although it's not clear why.

Remember, although the premier is informed by medical and scientific experts, he has viewed the pandemic and restrictions primarily through a political and fiscal lens — as worried about increasing budget deficits and declining economic activity as about contact tracing, testing and standards of care.

The end result is Manitobans were left vulnerable to a second wave of COVID-19, as the Pallister government attempted to hold the line on expenditures.

It is incomprehensible Pallister would attempt another stunt like the one he engineered last summer, when he prematurely launched an advertising campaign encouraging Manitobans to get back out and stoke the economy.

Then again, who knows?

When a premier has the audacity to ask his citizens to weigh in on a pandemic plan he has not yet revealed, almost anything is possible.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

   Read full biography
   Sign up for Dan Lett’s email newsletter, Not for Attribution