Comment: Many questions about the province’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic

The majority believe if you are critical or questioning, you are critical of the provincial health officer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A commentary by a former deputy minister in 10 ministries under five premiers, who also ran his own small business for 20 years.

In my commentary on May 17, I asked several questions about the province’s handling of COVID-19. In response, I received emails from across the province, asking more questions. Here are a few.

On government decisions:

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It is possible that both excellent and disastrous policy decisions will be made in the crucible of any crisis — and that is why it is essential to maintain a close watch on how decisions are made.

Who will gain? Who will lose? What are the potential risks and benefits? Does this have to be done now? Is there sufficient evidence? Can the long-term operating costs be supported?

These and others need to be canvassed fully and openly before public money is spent in normal times, and at a time of heightened public anxiety, even more so.

On fear and hope:

Fear. Seductive when used by the powerful. Effective. Dangerous for democracy. Once unleashed, hard to unwind. Having used the fear emotion, will our leaders now unwind it, and offer some hope?

I find the threat of the unknown about a fall return scary. All I hear is the worst case. Wrong so far. Why not positive? Give the best case as well?

When will the government pursue an aggressive confidence campaign as much as it did a fear campaign to truly get this economy working? We get it — it’s not back to normal, but the high-level messaging continues to stoke fear and anxiety and that won’t help any of the next phases be successful. Why would we not use this great public health success to our economic advantage?

On social conditions:

What are the rates of domestic violence when we have had parents and children isolated together?

Have child apprehensions increased?

What are the increases to suicide rates, mental-health interventions and relationship breakdowns?

On public-private worker differences:

Public workers in non-essential jobs stayed on the payroll, still receiving benefits, including defined benefit pensions, while non-union workers who pay the majority of taxes lost their jobs or were laid off with uncertain futures.

How is that fair to us in the private sector? Why are all the decision-makers comfortable in government jobs while those whose lives they are affecting are left with long-term risk, possible bankruptcy and the tax bill?

On education:

So few questions are being asked about the education model and how risks are being balanced — the risk of catching the virus over the risk of long-term educational and social impacts. Are we to pretend there is no price to be paid for this interruption in structured learning? Part of the education experience is learning, but so much of the experience is socialization.

Are we sure we are on the right track? High-needs kids and vulnerable students are suffering the most. How are we looking after these learners? What about the hungry kids who rely on the hot lunch at school?

Don’t parents deserve to know the case numbers in their community to make informed choices about sending kids back to school? While we can publish the names of care homes with infections, we can’t give case numbers by community so we parents can decide?

On business:

If help is provided to businesses, we should expect some transparency in how the money is used. How will that be done?

How many people are seeing their life savings vanish as their businesses disintegrate?

Domestic and international tourism is essential to Victoria business. What is the government projecting for business failure in downtown Victoria if the border remains closed?

Tourism is one of the business sectors most impacted. Can we develop a B.C. promotional message that encourages local families to get a much-needed break while benefiting our industry?

Why is it that large restaurants with 600-person capacity will be allowed to open at 50 per cent capacity with 300 customers indoors with air conditioning blowing germs around, but we can’t have celebrations of life, funerals, outdoor weddings or religious services?

On health issues:

1. We don’t know how much long-term damage the virus is doing to other organs.

2. We don’t know how the virus is impacting children.

3. We don’t know if children can have the virus, are asymptomatic and transmitting to others.

4. We don’t know when in the virus’ cycle it tests positive.

5. We don’t know to what degree the virus is mutating .

6. We don’t know if the virus is seasonal.

7. We don’t know what immune system conditions puts people at the most risk.

Will we break the chokehold on health-care costs by accelerating the use of virtual appointments with nurse practitioners and pharmacists with expanded powers?

The big question:

What are we aiming for when reopening and re-energizing our economy and society?

Accepting what we have today as normal is defeatist. I accept where we are today, and likely for some time, is a “new reality.” However, what the future looks like is unknown.

What is it we want to get to? The same as we had before? That is aiming low. Shouldn’t we be using this time to completely reconsider what we do and how we do it? Governance, health care, education, science, business, social services, everything, are at an almost dormant stage.

Why not think big about how we do the whole thing better?

I received about double the number above. These are representative. My read is these folks’ views, and mine, are in a minority when imposed against the whole population focused solely on health outcomes.

The majority believe if you are critical or questioning, you are critical of the provincial health officer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Her brilliant advice was accepted by government, and they deserve credit. As I write there is one case on Vancouver Island, two in the north.

We are entering the recovery stage and the responsibility for recovery rests entirely with cabinet as more than health concerns must be considered.

I also believe transparency and debate are essential and that there is a relationship between the numbers falling and questions rising. That is good for democracy.

bobplecas@shaw.ca

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