Hesitancy on the Border Could be the Prime Minister’s Ultimate Downfall on Vaccines

Commentary, COVID-19, Government, Jack Buckby

The prime minister of Canada has made no secret about his belief that every Canadian should get vaccinated. 

“I just want to get back to normal,” he said in May, insisting that the path back to normality was to ensure that everybody, including the “crusty old uncle who resists” or a “friend who’s skeptical” take the vaccine regardless of their doubts. 

And beyond his derogatory and demeaning statements about those who are hesitant to take a brand new vaccine—because let’s face it, “crusty” is hardly a compliment—the prime minister’s economic decisions could be having the opposite effect of what he wants. Rather than uniting the Canadian people as “neighbours,” the prime minister is risking further division and harm. 

The prime minister recently said that he would not “rush” to open the border with the United States and that he would base his decision on the “interests of Canadians and not based on what other countries want.”

But if the prime minister truly wants as many Canadians vaccinated as possible, then this policy would be misguided—and for several reasons. 

Firstly, refusing to take steps to open the border is an indication that there remains a general hesitancy to return the economy and life to normal. This isn’t just an economic issue, but an indication that things are not changing despite more than 64 per cent of those eligible to receive the vaccine having already received the first dose as of the beginning of June. The prime minister should not overestimate his ability to lure people into vaccination centers with the promise of freedom later when minimal signs of progress are shown despite substantial vaccination victories right now.  

Secondly, it may ultimately make people question the science. With more than 1.38 million known cases of COVID infections in Canada so far, an untold number of unknown cases and over 56 per cent of the total population given the first dose of the vaccine as of the end of May, Canada is well on its way to achieving herd immunity. In the early days of the COVID pandemic, experts would regularly cite numbers between 60 per cent and 90 per cent, but these numbers are now largely undivulged by public health experts to avoid political controversy. 

However, the fact remains that Canada is hurtling towards herd immunity at high speeds and when combined with a renewed trust placed in the Canadian people to use their own initiative to reduce spread, there is now a very clear and achievable way out of this lockdown that follows the science. 

What’s more, as Canada heads toward herd immunity, relaxing some measures at the border could serve as an indication that vaccination efforts are working and Canada is on the right path. Failing to take any steps to open the border does the opposite, prompting Canadians to ask why the science no longer matters or makes sense.

Finally, maintaining a strict border with Canada’s closest neighbour, trading partner and ally could easily be portrayed as an ultra-authoritarian and ultra-nationalistic policy decision. It hurts the national economy for the sake of pride—a policy that liberals like the prime minister could easily accuse conservatives and populists of endorsing. It prolongs economic hardship, too.

Travel restrictions imposed in the wake of the pandemic have already cost Canada’s GDP around $28 billion and half a million jobs through 2020, with that number rising ever greater as we reach the middle of 2021. 

Maintaining the existing policy at the border hurts the national economy to save face and presumably in the hope that it will encourage people to take the vaccine to reach the prime minister’s goal of ensuring everybody takes the vaccine. It’s an idea so bad that even the prime minister’s own MPs, including the House of Commons finance committee chair, are calling on the prime minister to start taking some bold decisions. 

Whether refusing to take action on the border is a matter of pride or misguided good intentions, the prime minister is risking sewing distrust in the science, in the vaccine and in the nation’s progress combating the pandemic. If the prime minister truly wants to achieve his dream of uniting the country behind the vaccine, then now would be the time to show people that the sacrifices made so far are starting to work. 

In other words: follow the science.

 

Jack Buckby is a research associate at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. 

Photo by CDC on Unsplash  .