Editorial: A COVID-19 social contract for Canadians


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an impassioned plea Friday for people to cut down their face-to-face contacts.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/File

These days, Canadians are concerned about two extraordinary crises: the clumsy, dangerous efforts of Donald Trump to scuttle democracy south of the border; and the swift, sharp increase in COVID-19 cases here at home. Only one of these crises can we do much about.

So it was that Canada’s chief public health officer unveiled some grim projections Friday: if our current COVID-19 behaviour continues, we will see 20,000 new cases a day by the end of the year. If we start increasing face-to-face contacts, that daily number could climb to 60,000. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added more sobering news: a normal Christmas is “right out of the question.” We need to reduce face-to-face contacts, he said, and “we need to do it right now.”

Yet Trudeau doggedly rejected suggestions of a centralized action plan for Canada, beyond stating that border restrictions with the U.S. will be extended (good, and not just because of COVID; see opening paragraph). But he forcefully rejected outlawing interprovincial travel as “not an idea I am even contemplating right now … I am not looking to bring in a federal hammer.”

The idea of nationwide rules appeals because pandemic practices across Canada are confusing. Toronto will be locked down Monday; Ottawa won’t. We’re told not to gather with others, but Quebec offers a four-day Christmas-visit “social contract” with residents. British Columbia has only just mandated face masks indoors. Manitoba, meanwhile, has completely hunkered down.

Yet the prime minister is right to reject centralized rule-making at this point. In Canada, one size does not fit all. “Best practices” for managing COVID will come through responsible decision-making by provincial and local officials who know their communities. There is no sense in an all-powerful politburo cracking the whip.

In fact, both federal and local officials have shown admirable respect for Canadians’ autonomy throughout an ordeal where some mandatory regional orders were inevitable. For instance, Trudeau flatly refused Friday to order the use of the COVID-19 Alert app for federal employees. “I want people to feel they have ownership and agency over their decisions,” he said, even while encouraging people to download the tool. Letting citizens make individual choices is “very powerful,” he added.

There is comfort in knowing politicians have faith in us as citizens to do the right thing on COVID-19 if given proper information. In the long run, that is the social contract that will get Canada through this crisis. The other crisis, south of the border, we can only cross our fingers about.



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Editorial: A COVID-19 social contract for Canadians

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