The essence of good journalism is diversity of opinion. This was demonstrated by two columns in last week’s National Post, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that international air travellers arriving in Canada would be confined to a government-designated hotel room while awaiting Covid-19 test results. John Ivison’s column, headlined “A good idea poorly executed”, was basically supportive while Chris Selley concluded that, “Mandatory hotel quarantine exists solely because it suddenly became a political necessity and a welcome distraction.”
Who got it right? Read this chronology of the Trudeau government’s actions and judge for yourself:
December 22 – News of the British coronavirus variant prompted Ontario Premier Doug Ford to call for additional restrictions. “There’s just not enough being done to protect us from the threats coming in from the outside,” he declared. Canada’s Federal Health Minister, Patti Hajdu, defended the government’s existing measures, noting that only 1.3 percent of Ontario’s Covid-19 cases had originated outside the country. Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair also challenged Ford’s accusations, stating that the federal government’s restrictions on international flights “are among the strongest and most rigorous in the world”. Data compiled since then show that it was during the subsequent period of federal inaction that the variants got their deadly foothold.
January 7 – New rules announced by Trudeau only a week before – on New Year’s Eve, as it were – kicked in, requiring all incoming international air travellers (including returning Canadians) to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test before boarding their flight to Canada, and then to quarantine for two weeks.
January 29 – Trudeau announced that, effective February 3, all travellers would be required to undergo a second test upon arrival. But rather than awaiting results from quarantine at home (or, if not from Canada, at their intended destination), they would be confined for at least three days in a specially modified, government-designated hotel room that they must pay for, at an estimated cost of “more than” $2,000 per person. If the second test was negative, they would be allowed to return home (or go to their final destination). But even with two successive negative results proving them to be among the most Covid-19-safe people in the country, they would still be required to quarantine for the remaining 11 days, all while being subjected to “increased surveillance”.
In yet another incomprehensible move, Trudeau announced a three-month suspension of flights to and from Mexico and the Caribbean, regions with no recorded variant cases. Along with the testing and hotel-isolation requirements, this completely unexpected missive struck travellers like a bombshell. Stressed-out Canadians flooded airports trying to book flights, get a Covid-19 test and hurry home before the February 3 mandatory hotel lockdown, an impossible goal to accomplish in just four days.
Then it turned out the hotel rule would only come into effect on February 22, meaning that much of the initial stress and scrambling could have been avoided. Was it another instance of federal incompetence, or deliberate sandbagging of innocent Canadian citizens? Down south, however, some of the locals wasted no time in exploiting the opportunity. Stories soon circulated of outrageous price-gouging for legitimate Covid-19 tests, along with black-market sales of fraudulent negative test certificates. Anyone could have seen this coming – anyone, it seems, except our prime minister and his Cabinet.
Eventually, it became clear that Trudeau had petulantly imposed the earlier deadline without considering the time required for public servants to set up the arrival testing and hotel arrangements. And as we’ve since seen, those arrangements were bungled, with already-stressed passengers caught in chaotic airport scenes. Those scenes were repeated at some hotel check-ins, made worse when room-service staff were unprepared to meet the needs of hungry registrants.
But Trudeau still wasn’t done with his day of havoc-creating new rules. He then announced that all international flights arriving after February 22 would be directed to just four airports: Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. He had again failed to consider the impact on Canadian travellers. Those four airports work fine for people living locally. After being released from the hotel, they can simply go home for the remaining days of their quarantine.
But what about people who must take another flight to get home? Consider for example a couple from Winnipeg confined at a Calgary hotel. Will they be allowed to fly home after their three-day hotel stay, or must they stay at the hotel for the rest of the 14-day quarantine, adding potentially another $6,000 to their hotel bill? Even when they are allowed to go home, they must still buy two additional tickets to their original booked destination.
Besides Winnipeg, Canada has 12 other international airports including Moncton, Halifax, London, Ottawa, Quebec City, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Victoria, all equipped for customs clearance and entry screening. Plus literally dozens of smaller airports that are classified as ports of entry and can normally accept flights from outside Canada. Shutting them all down to international travellers is further evidence of our would-be emperor’s uncaring attitude towards his “subjects”.
The actions taken during those 39 days from December 22 to January 29 must surely be among the most historically ill-conceived by any Canadian Prime Minister. Two over-arching questions remain to be addressed.
Will the forced hotel stay keep Canadians safer?
When the Prime Minister implemented the hotel lockdowns on February 22, the Covid variants had already spread across the country. The CTV coronavirus tracking website reports that, as of March 1, there were 1,290 active variant cases. Passengers arriving with negative test evidence are the least likely of all Canadians to be carrying the virus, yet they are locked in hotel rooms. Meanwhile, locals who have tested positive are free to quarantine at home. And the untold thousands of people who cross the border for reasons deemed essential – such as commercial truckers – and who have collectively logged millions of crossings since the pandemic began remain exempt from Covid-19 testing. That this makes no sense is not lost on arriving air travellers. No wonder many are simply wheeling their luggage through the arrivals area, out to a waiting cab and heading home. And now we hear public health officials vow to hunt them down like criminals and issue fines of up to $1,800 per day.
What is the real motivation for the Prime Minister’s actions?
The most likely answer comes from Chris Selley’s “a political necessity and a welcome distraction”. The Prime Minister has come under intense criticism for a fumbled vaccine procurement that has placed Canada in 43rd place (depending on the week) in vaccinations per capita. Dubai, for example, had given nearly 60 percent of its people at least one shot by late last week (and foreigners are welcome to fly in and have themselves vaccinated for a fee). That impressive figure is still far lower than world leader Israel, at over 91 percent of its population. The United States was far behind, but still at 21.7 percent and growing by 1.5 million shots, or about 0.5 percent of its total population, daily.
How about Canada? We stood at an unforgivably low 4.7 percent, and daily vaccinations were proceeding at a mere 0.14 percent of our population per day. At that rate, it will take 714 days – nearly two years – to jab every Canadian’s arm even once.
Trudeau has a history of attempting to deflect blame when he gets himself in trouble. He tried to blame the public service for awarding a $900 million contract to the WE Charity that had paid large sums in speaking fees to members of his family. True to form, Trudeau now resorts to blaming the runaway virus infections on those “unpatriotic and selfish” Canadians who travelled south, partly to escape that very virus. Innocent, law-abiding Canadians who merely insist on exercising their fundamental freedoms in the face of relentless social and political pressure to conform are being singled out for punishment.
Publicly vilifying a particular group to win public support for persecuting them has long been a favoured practice of despotic dictators. It has no place in our Canada.
Gwyn Morgan is the retired founding CEO of EnCana Corp., formerly Canada’s largest producer of natural gas.
Main image source: verchmarco, licensed under CC BY 2.0