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Don’t nag, but instead show what ‘doing better’ looks like

Mayor Gaby Wickstrom: “We need to do better” may be intended to reach some people for the first time, but risks alienating those who’ve done their part from the beginning.
Stay home, but, like…harder.

I don’t know what’s worse: an end date for lifting pandemic restrictions continually ripped away like some sort of deranged Groundhog Day; or the word “indefinite.”

It feels like a torturous hike with an uber-fit friend, where you keep hearing the words, “just a little farther, we are almost there.” We don’t believe it anymore.

I am going to preface this by saying I like Dr. Bonnie Henry. I think she has kept British Columbians relatively safe, and I am okay with the trajectory B.C. is on. We will never get to zero cases and unfortunately, we will still see deaths. But can we do better?

I think the communication needs to change. A short while ago, we heard the phrase “we need to do better.” I confess, as a rule follower, I wondered what I could do better. I am already doing everything I can. On UnSpun, Jody Vance said she didn’t hear the same thing and related it to a marketing campaign. While it may grate on you and me to hear it one more time, she points out the listener may be hearing it for the first time. But are they?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, B.C. has had the same style of press conferences. They are incredibly long, and questions are repeated over and over. As a Mayor who used to listen to them faithfully, I now rely on the BCCDC website or flip to Twitter for Justin McElroy’s statistical tweets. (I have given up on the app, it keeps crashing.) I can find all the information I need in a short period of time. One and a half hours for a presser is simply too long. COVID keeps morphing. So should the press conferences.

The biggest fear I have is the risk of losing the faithful. The ones who’ve been grinding it out, following the orders, and taking all the recommendations to heart. I feel these people are on the brink of throwing up their hands, and saying screw it, I give up! Without outing anyone, I know this to be true; I’ve seen it firsthand. How do we motivate the faithful to keep going?

I believe the government needs to find a new way to communicate. The anti-masking, COVID deniers are not going to change their minds. The government needs to reach the line straddlers who know they should be doing more, but for some reason have not been motivated to do so. This will require a new way of messaging. Not with a mad dad tone and finger pointing, but rather a positive message on the success stories. There are businesses, communities, and regions doing well. Telling these stories might help some to “do more” and help the faithful remain so.

I believe we’re at the stage in this pandemic where transparency holds the key. Be open with the numbers, municipality by municipality. Tell us what the benchmark is: A certain number of cases? Zero deaths? A level of inoculations? Tell us! I believe this type of information will prompt individuals to “do more.” Of course, there’s a risk people will relax – but I honestly don’t believe this is true of the overwhelming majority.

Currently, our region of Vancouver Island North has zero cases. We know we’re not immune to COVID reaching us. There have been sporadic cases. This summer saw an outbreak in the small community of Alert Bay, resulting in the loss of an Elder. Because of this, we are not smug about our current success, but we will keep doing what we must to keep our communities safe: take pride in the work we’ve done, and encourage each other to keep going.

If we are “all in this together” while floating around in our different boats, then we need better communication – because we need to help each other reach the finish line. Our lives and the ones we love are literally depending on it.

Gaby Wickstrom is the Mayor of Port McNeill, a small community situated on the north end of Vancouver Island in the traditional territory of the Kwakwakaʼwakw Peoples.