In my view, fighting Covid – 19 is by far the most important near-term priority of Canadian government and society. Therefore I disagree with the Trudeau Government calling an election in the middle of the fourth wave. My view is not that of Opposition politicians, who argue that an election should not have been called because the Government was not defeated on a non-confidence vote.
The Caretaker Convention
If, as former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson would say, a week is a long-time in politics, then seven weeks is an eternity in the midst of a pandemic. Why seven weeks? The election campaign will run for five weeks and, if there is a change in government, the transition period will last another two weeks. If the result of the election is a complicated deadlock, the transition period could be even longer. A lot of exponential spread can happen in seven weeks, or even five.
Government activity during the period when Parliament has been dissolved and a new Government has not yet been sworn in is regulated by the caretaker convention. In essence, during this period, the public service should carry on routine operations and the cabinet should not make policy.
The convention does make an exception, namely that “in the event of emergencies, such as natural disasters, the government must have a free hand to take appropriate action to ensure that the public interest, notably the safety and security of all Canadians, is preserved.”
The current version of the convention also includes a reference to Covid – 19: “the unpredictability of the disease and its potential variants, raises the possibility that a number of public health related decisions may need to be taken urgently and in the public interest during the campaign. The Government commits to continuing to keep the Opposition Parties informed of any significant decisions that are required to be made as a result of the management of the pandemic.”
I find the Covid – 19 exception unrealistic and irrelevant to the current context. The pandemic is not like a natural disaster, for which there are standard non-partisan responses. The pandemic has become deeply enmeshed in our politics. There are differences among political parties about how to respond to it, most notably the Liberals’ support for a vaccine mandate and passports, and the Conservatives’ silence on those topics in their platform (see pp. 18-19) and likely opposition during the campaign.
Shortly before calling the election, the Trudeau Government announced its intention to impose vaccine mandates on federal government employees and federally regulated industries and establish a vaccine passport that could be used domestically as well as internationally. Due to likely Conservative opposition to these policies, all that the public service can do during the campaign is make plans to implement them. If the Liberals form the Government, the plans can be implemented; if the Conservatives form the Government, the plans will be scrapped.
If the pandemic evolves in a way that requires the Trudeau Government to take action, even if it consults with the Opposition Parties, there is no certainty that they will support the action. If the Trudeau Government is not re-elected, the new government could quickly reverse the Trudeau Government’s decisions.
By calling an election, the Trudeau Government has abdicated its role in leading the response to the pandemic.
Other Players are Stepping Up
The vacuum in federal leadership is inducing other groups in Canadian society to take action, because they perceive it to be in their interest not to allow the fourth wave to lead to a fourth round of lockdowns. Some provincial governments –notably Quebec and British Columbia – are taking the lead in developing vaccine mandates and domestic passports. In contrast, the idiocracies of Ontario and Alberta are mired in confusion and obfuscation. Businesses, in particular the largest banks, are requiring their employees to be vaccinated. Entertainment providers, for example Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, are requiring fans to show proof of vaccination. The University Health Network in Toronto is implemented a hard vaccine mandate for its employees: get vaccinated by October 22, or you’re fired.
Some educational institutions, for example Seneca College, are requiring vaccination to attend campus in-person. Because of its strong commitment to vaccination, Seneca is not offering testing as an alternative.
Through the efforts of all these governments and organizations, we might be able to achieve a 90 percent immunization rate and avert the worst of the fourth wave.
Policy towards Covid – 19 will be a key factor in my decision at the polls. After this unfortunate, unnecessary, and unhelpful hiatus, I intend to vote for the party that will use all possible tools, including legislation and regulation, to end the pandemic as quickly as possible.