BALDREY: political conflict takes a backseat during COVID-19 pandemic

It has often been said that everything is political, but politics in its purest form does not exist right now – at least not in B.C. or the rest of Canada.

And it will be that way for some time.

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There is only one issue in the vast majority of peoples’ lives right now: living with and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the many ways it has affected them, from job loss to health concerns to all kinds of things.

Governments are being looked at differently and are not viewed through a traditional political lens. They are now seen as protectors of society and as institutions that will and must help people in so many ways.

A government’s “position” on all kinds of issues – forestry policy, education, energy projects, etc. – really does not matter at this time. All that matters right now is dealing with a crushing global pandemic that is the worst crisis since the Second World War.

All of which makes it hard to be an Opposition party.

The role of the Opposition is to “hold the government’s feet to the fire,” but given that most people want the government to succeed – by whatever and however it takes – to protect people and restore the economy, it is going to be very difficult to do that.

This week saw an extraordinary single afternoon sitting of the B.C. legislature, held in order to pass an interim supply bill that will give the provincial government legal authority to spend tax dollars for the next nine months.

Normally, such a bill is the subject of extensive debate and probing by an Opposition party, but circumstances are so mind-numbing right now there was really no point in the legislature sitting for more than a few hours.

In fact, it is not clear when the B.C. legislature will even reconvene. It could be months before MLAs return to Victoria en masse, and I bet most people are not bothered by that prospect at all.

For now, the BC NDP government and the Trudeau federal government—indeed, governments in every province – have de facto carte blanche authority to do whatever they think is necessary to deal with the crisis.

Any second-guessing of actions will look small and weak, if not actually damaging. There was an example of that on display this past weekend.

Some physicians at Royal Columbian Hospital made public a letter they and other doctors sent provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, urging her to take stronger containment measures to deal with COVID-19 and questioning her strategy.

That did not go over well with some other doctors.

Indeed, the president of the Doctors of B.C. was quick to respond with a strongly worded letter of her own, calling on doctors to rally around the provincial health officer.

“As physicians it is crucial that we are united in providing the public with clear guidance,” wrote Dr. Kathleen Ross, who also works at RCH. “We need to amplify Dr. Henry’s message. During these times of crisis, adhering to the public health direction as the single source of truth is imperative. The truth is that self-isolation and maintaining social distance will save lives.”

In fact, Dr. Henry and various levels of government have imposed a near “lockdown” on a number of fronts: the closure of bars, clubs, beaches, salons, spas, schools, rec centers, libraries, galleries and dine-in meals in restaurants.

Governments (and public health officers everywhere) will change and adapt their strategies over time for dealing with this crisis, as the situation warrants. My sense is the public has their backs, and will continue to have them unless a worst-case scenario takes hold, or if any government is seen as not coming through on assistance.

It is not as if we are moving to an authoritarian state or anything like that. However, we are clearly in the midst of a growing emergency, and society will accept stronger government powers and such things as legislatures not sitting again for potentially months.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary actions. And remember: keep your physical distance from everyone.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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