“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Above: Paul Newman in an outake from the film Cool Hand Luke.
The captain in Cool Hand Luke (1967) wasn’t referring to Canada’s vaccine roll out but man, his famous line is apt.
Let’s be clear: most Canadians want the Covid-19 vaccine ASAP. So do most Belgians. And Germans. Argentinians. Indians. South Africans. Pretty much everyone in the world.
Now here’s the hard part: when it comes to getting this vaccine (and lots of other things) Canadians just aren’t that special.
That’s right: we can be the best country in the world based on a whole range of metrics but that doesn’t mean we’re actually special. For a number of people – especially opposition politicians and journalists – this is proving a really difficult concept.
From this misconception have flowed two really important consequences: first, every day that 100 per cent of Canadians are not vaccinated is cast as a failure on the part of the prime minister and second the same actors have almost completely lost focus on containing the spread of the virus until the vaccine is actually widely available.
First thing first: the PM and the federal government have done a piss poor job of communicating about the vaccine roll out.
In November/December of last year, the opposition (and their media amplifiers) were doing a good job of making it seem like Canada wouldn’t get a single vaccine does for months if not years.
When it became clear to the government (i.e., approvals were in hand, contracts signed, delivery schedules provided) that several million doses of the two earliest vaccines would be arriving starting in December, the government was – understandably – quick to say so.
It was embarrassing for the opposition (to the extent that any opposition is capable of feeling embarrassment) and buoying for the government.
But in a year of bad news, a government that is obsessed with message and image at the best of times couldn’t help itself and expended zero energy explaining that those early doses were really just gravy – an almost unexpected bonus – and that the real program wouldn’t begin until spring.
The prime minister would have been well advised to stick to the most important and most accurate talking point he has: every Canadian who wants one will get a shot by September. Had that been his primary – if not sole – message, then the ups and downs of these very early doses would not have challenged neither Canadians confidence in the schedule nor the PM’s management of the pandemic at large.
And make no mistake, both of those things have happened.
But while one can’t blame the opposition Leaders for trying their best to make hay during one of their brief opportunities since the last election, it has lead the rest of us to take our eyes off the ball.
The notion that a significant number of Canadians – or citizens of any other country in the world with a handful exceptions – would have mass access to vaccines in the first quarter of 2021 was folly at best and hubris at worst.
And so utterly regardless of these ups and downs in deliveries, there were going to necessarily be months of 2021 where the vaccine was simply not going to be the solution to containing the virus.
No, for at least the first half of 2021 the job of keeping Canadians safe from covid-19 was always going to rest on the beleaguered shoulders of the country’s premiers. Pesky things, those constitutions.
Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t blame the Premiers for wanting someone else to blame. It’s been a shitty year. More so for some of them than others (*cough* Kenney’s polling at 30% *cough*), but of course they want this all to be Ottawa’s problem, not their own.
That’s politics. And so is Trudeau’s federal opponents wanting to help the Premiers make the PM look bad.
But the only blame Trudeau well and truly bears is his failure to refuse praise for the handful of early vaccine doses received before the real shipments kick in this spring. Had he done so he might have drawn some negative comparisons to the handful of countries like the UK and Israel who have gotten a significant jump on distribution, but he would not have created any reasonable basis for doubt about the vaccine program overall – a much more serious result.
Indeed, this was probably an inevitable outcome from this PM and his government: when one reflects on all the issues that have caused them serious grief have come down to hubris and poor communication, not errors of real substance.
So let it be with vaccines.