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A cough in the wind

Rob Shaw: The provincial government has announced a pandemic review that doesn’t review pandemic decisions – and so far, declined to explain why.
Covid-19 Update
(BC Government Flickr)

It’s easy to criticise the BC government’s new review of the pandemic for excluding public health decisions and economic aid programs.

“Laughable,” declared Opposition leader Shirley Bond.

“It’s like - we’re going to review World War II, except not the military part,” Tweeted the Times Colonist’s Les Leyne.

“Telling decision to exclude public health,” Tweeted the Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer. “Last year, public health balked at full cooperation with seniors advocate review of care home outbreaks… what is excuse this time?”

While there might be merit to Emergency Management BC taking a look at its preparedness and communication methods for future disasters, what was missing from the announcement was some type of context from the province into how future reviews would fill the glaring gaps left by this one.

That left everyone to wonder how a review into the largest health crisis in modern history could be done without touching on issues of, you know, health – masks, vaccines, vaccine cards, booster doses, occupancy limits, distancing requirements, school safety plans, and more.

That raises a much larger and more fundamental question the government appears to be dancing around: Does it even want to review the decisions made by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry?

Certainly, some critics out there would love to string her up like a pinata and bat her around with cheap shots, second-guessing everything she did.

But Premier John Horgan doesn’t want that. Nor does Health Minister Adrian Dix. Neither does the general BC public, who polls have shown largely supports Dr. Henry and the difficult no-win decisions she’s been forced to make for more than two years.

Certainly there is value in some type of review of how BC performed on public health. The difficulty will be in finding a respectful, fair and impartial way to review Dr. Henry’s decisions, by someone who is actually qualified to do so, in a way that produces recommendations that are useful for future pandemics.

The BC government hasn’t figured out how to do that yet, hence the glaring hole in its first pandemic review.

To be fair, no other Canadian province has done this yet either. And certainly there’s a case to be made that Ottawa, which approved the vaccines, purchased them, shipped them to provinces, set guidelines on how to use them, and issued national recommendations on public health, should also be reviewed – perhaps even first.

Add to the mix the fact that the pandemic is not even over yet. Almost 300 people remain in hospital and almost 50 in intensive care. Perhaps the time is not yet right to start a public health review, when officials are still managing the lessening Omicron wave.

These are all fair questions to raise and arguments to make. It’s a shame the BC government hasn’t made any of them.

Sitting silent on the issue makes the government look arrogant and out of touch.

Worse, it raises the possibility the province has no intention of learning any of the real lessons from the pandemic. That would be the worst outcome of all.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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