Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 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 a vaccine regardless of their doubts.
And beyond his derogatory and demeaning statements about those who are hesitant to take a brand new vaccine – let’s face it, “crusty” is hardly a compliment – Trudeau’s economic decisions could be having an effect opposite to what he wants. Rather than uniting Canadians as “neighbours,” he risks further division and harm.
Trudeau recently said he wouldn’t “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 he truly wants as many Canadians vaccinated as possible, this policy is misguided.
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, it’s an indication that things aren’t changing despite more than 75 per cent of eligible Canadians having already received their first vaccine dose.
Trudeau shouldn’t overestimate his ability to lure people into vaccination centres with the promise of freedom when minimal signs of progress are shown despite substantial vaccination victories right now.
It may ultimately make people question the science. With more than 1.42 million known cases of COVID-19 infections in Canada so far, plus an untold number of unknown cases, and over 75 per cent of the total population given the first dose of the vaccine, Canada is well on its way to achieving herd immunity.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts regularly cited numbers between 60 per cent and 90 per cent for desired herd immunity. But those target numbers are now mostly not talked about by public health experts, presumably to avoid political controversy.
However, the fact remains that Canada is hurtling towards herd immunity at high speed. When combined with a renewed trust in the Canadian people to use their initiative to reduce virus spread, there’s now a very clear and achievable way out of this lockdown that follows the science.
As Canada heads toward herd immunity, relaxing some measures at the border could serve as an indication that vaccination efforts are working. But failing to take any steps to open the border prompts Canadians to ask why the science no longer matters or makes sense.
Maintaining a strict border with the Unites States – 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. It prolongs economic hardship, too.
Travel restrictions imposed in the wake of the pandemic have already cost Canada’s gross domestic product around $28 billion and half a million jobs through 2020, with those numbers rising as we reach the middle of 2021.
Maintaining a tight border hurts the national economy to save face, presumably in the hope that Canadians reach Trudeau’s goal of ensuring everybody takes the vaccine. It’s an idea so bad that even Trudeau’s MPs are calling on the prime minister to start making some bold decisions.
Whether refusing to take action on the border is a matter of pride or misguided good intentions, Trudeau risks sowing distrust in the science, in the vaccine and in the nation’s progress in combating the pandemic.
If Trudeau truly wants to unite the country behind the vaccine, now would be the time to show people that the sacrifices made so far are starting to work.
Follow the science.
Jack Buckby is a research associate at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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