With federal elections drawing little attention to big ideas, one may want to evaluate potential parties and their leaders through one question: who would be best suited to respond to the next global crisis?
To do this, we can look for examples of how different governments and political ideologies respond to crises in which an understanding of science is required. The COVID pandemic is the most obvious and current example with climate change being the constant and growing “background crisis”.
A confusing matter is that only two parties have formed a government in Canada (albeit with minority support in some cases), so in terms of measuring federal performance, we can only assess how conservatives and liberals behave in government. By proxy, we can view the performance of the NDP through a provincial lens, and for the other federal parties we have no real data points to evaluate and only conservatives or liberals are in a position to form the next government.
The crisis preparedness assessment can take the form of a checklist. At the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote an article in this post about why humans do not act collectively in the face of obvious harm. This was based on the research I have done on the removal of hazardous materials such as mercury, lead and asbestos, and on the glacial pace of action to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Applying these insights to the global response to the COVID pandemic (noting that it was 17 months ago and the first cases were just arriving in Canada), I concluded that there are five main things we can learn from our history of not acting early. and decisively in the face of overwhelming evidence of imminent damage. And that we can apply this thinking to how we handle the COVID pandemic in Canada.
1. Use science, evidence, and history to inform decisions.
2. Carefully analyze specific and different responses and results, and act accordingly.
3. Gather the necessary information to aid in a quick response.
4. Act quickly and rigorously in the face of rapidly advancing threats.
5. Most importantly, do not allow short-term economic thinking to impair or delay your judgment of long-term public health and economic health considerations.
Here we are a year and a half later and we have ample opportunity to see how Canada and the provinces performed. It is true that this is not a scientific analysis, but a preliminary assessment based on what we see on the surface. Ono should be careful about how this information is extrapolated; however, in the spirit of a quick choice, here are some quick reactions.
First, and perhaps most importantly, healthcare is a provincial responsibility, so anyone trying to attribute Canada’s actions to the federal government is doing so on political grounds or misinterpreting the confederation. There is an important exception, which is the role of the federal government in the procurement, distribution, and promotion of vaccines. By world standards, it’s fair to say that federal liberals (along with many provinces) deserve an “A” for the pace and scope of vaccines. Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates of any country. And as indicated below, with some interesting regional variations.
The hardest part is evaluating the ups and downs of provincial actions and any political correlations that may exist between the political fringe and the COVID response. Leaving that challenge aside, we can group the provinces into three performance categories: high, medium and low, keeping in mind that these are relative within Canada, and a low performance in Canada would probably be a relatively high performance compared to many parts. from United States. , where per capita cases are still ten to twenty times higher, and the connection between political ideology and the response to a pandemic is stark.
The crude provincial performance assessment places Maritime in the high performance category, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and BC as medium performance, and Saskatchewan and Alberta as low performance. This considers responses to what we knew and when we knew it. In scientific terms, what matters is the timescale, since we knew that the Delta variant was dramatically more virulent and deadly, and we knew that the disease was transmitted through the air, and we knew that the absence of vaccines and masks, in addition to allowing For people to congregate, it would result in more illness and more deaths. In essence, it was obvious to anyone who understands science (or can read) that Alberta was hurtling off a cliff. The very expressive concerns of health professionals about the actions of the Alberta PCU in recent months were well documented. However, the easing of restrictions and claims made by Alberta’s prime minister that the pandemic was largely over were premature and irresponsible, pushing Alberta’s healthcare system to its limits.
While the severity of COVID was theoretically known in the early days of the pandemic, as I wrote in April 2020, the World Health Organization and medical health professionals were providing poor and inconsistent advice to the public, globally and in Canada. This resulted in most provincial governments acting slowly in the face of conflicting expert advice (the lack of advance travel bans and / or mask mandates was staggering). So the element of “surprise”, from a time perspective, meant that Quebec was the worst affected province in terms of total deaths and deaths per capita (which are twice the national average). The same analysis cannot be applied to the fourth wave that has hit Alberta, where provincial government mismanagement is inexcusable at best and possibly borders on criminal negligence.
From a political ideology and a regional perspective, there are some observations that can be made with the percentage of the population vaccinated as a proxy that can be used. In the United States, counties that voted Republican have been shown to have much lower vaccination rates than those that voted Democrats. What seems less well known is that Canada has a very similar partisan divide. In fact, the data for this country is equally striking.
There is a direct correlation in the provinces between vaccination rates and the percentage of conservative seats held. The provinces can be divided into the three general groups that I referred to earlier by looking at the percentage of conservative seats held in each province. The three categories are: provinces with more than 75 percent conservative seats, those with less than 25 percent conservative seats, and intermediate provinces. Using this categorization, there is a 100 percent correlation between vaccination rates and the percentage of conservative seats. The individual provincial details are even more striking.
Vaccination rates in Saskatchewan and Alberta (about two-thirds of the population) are well below the national average vaccination rate (74 percent) and Conservatives hold all but one seat in the two provinces. These are the worst performing provinces in the fourth wave. Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island lead the country by a wide margin in vaccination rates (over 80 percent) and are the only two provinces without conservative seats, and have led the country in handling the pandemic. . The other six provinces are right in the middle in terms of the number of conservative seats held (between 25 percent and 75 percent), vaccination rates (more than 70 percent but less than 80 percent) and the response. pandemic of the fourth wave. It is difficult to know to what extent people inform politics or vice versa, and the spread of misinformation on social media is clearly a factor, but the data is fascinating for its consistency.
So when you head to the polls on Monday, it may be worth reflecting on who is best suited to manage the next global crisis (or get us out of the ones we currently find ourselves in!) With an eye to historical performance. in management. science and risk.
Does the political party or the leader believe, support and follow the science? Is there a history of promoting or silencing scientists? Will the party move quickly in the face of the emerging scientific consensus or will it endorse attempts to confuse and undermine confidence in science? Do the parties focus on economic factors rather than health and environmental benefits (without understanding how they are mutually inclusive)? Do you listen to experts or protesters, scientists or CEOs? Do private interests come before the public good?
At the end of the day, voters can answer those questions based on their own observations and will vote according to their values and priorities. That is the purpose of democracy. One can only hope that the valuation of the interconnectedness of science and public welfare prevails in the minds of the voters. It is not simply an academic exercise.
Choosing a leader and party with the capacity to manage a public health crisis or the climate crisis has real consequences. Lives are at stake, our healthcare system is at stake, the environment is at stake, and the future of the country is at stake. It can be difficult to say who is best equipped to run the country, although it seems pretty clear that when it comes to handling a crisis and listening to experts, political ideology matters, and therefore which party is in power matters a lot.