A snap election would actually be a welcome diversion

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Two confidence votes, two near misses in two weeks prepares voters for the fact that an election will come sooner rather than later.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on October 22, 2020.

OTTAWA—The nail-biter vote in the House of Commons on Oct. 21 is a precursor of things to come.

Two confidence votes, two near misses in two weeks prepares voters for the fact that an election will come sooner rather than later.

A national campaign might be a nice break from the onslaught of bad news prompted by the coronavirus.

Held on the first anniversary of the minority Liberal government win, the vote came on the heels of another close call. In both instances, the New Democratic Party voted with the Liberals. But NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was obviously frustrated about having to prop up the government. Singh risks alienating his base if he is too close to the government.

Confidence vote fatigue will soon set in. It won’t be too long before a House of Commons money bill is defeated, triggering the election that nobody allegedly wants.

The Liberals would be the most likely beneficiaries.

Just recently, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was re-elected with her party’s largest popular vote in the past half-century. Since the country adopted proportional voting, she was the first leader who managed to secure a majority government with 49 per cent of her fellow citizens supporting the Labour Party.

Just a few months earlier, Ardern was facing certain defeat. But her handling of the pandemic, quickly locking down borders and isolating the island, saw her popularity soar.

Three Canadian premiers have called an election during the pandemic, and it appears the trio will all be rewarded with majority governments.

Lockdown fatigue is also creeping into the equation. With the second wave rolling across Canada, citizens are starting to ask more questions.

In the beginning of the pandemic, it was comforting to see public health officials and politicians appearing together in a daily briefing to update a nation reeling from the worldwide viral transmission.

But now people don’t even bother to tune in. And the comfort that came from the solid science of public health officers is being replaced by ridicule.

Halloween is cancelled in one province but not in another.

Movie theatres are closed down in the hot zones, despite a lack of evidence that a single case of the virus has been transmitted in cinema.

The gradual erosion of confidence in the overall public handling of the crisis probably began when Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam veered into the world of sex advice.

On coupling, she suggested that if you don’t know your partner very well, you should wear a mask. Why not a paper bag?

The question of transmission is not the only thing on people’s minds when they hop into the sack together, especially if they are relatively new partners. Instead, it is all about getting as interconnected as possible, and that could be quite difficult if they are both wearing masks.

Then came the Thanksgiving advice, or lack thereof.

At first, Ontarians were informed that a dinner within your bubble with up to a maximum of 10 people was permitted. Then the advice was altered a few days before the blessed event, and we were told to dine only with those we live with.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford tried to explain the confusion by saying the 10-person rule was supposed to apply only to that number of people who lived in the same household. But in Canada, there are not too many 10-member families living under one roof.

The province recently shut down gyms and restaurants in the hot spots. The City of Ottawa issued a new ruling that outdoor tennis would only be allowed for singles players. All doubles matches were verboten.

That happened without a scintilla of evidence that a single tennis player had contracted the coronavirus while on the court.

As for gyms, there was a reported case of a super transmission at a spin class, where the owners claimed to be following the guidelines, but the bicycles were too close together. But why punish all clubs for the mistake of one. And how did dance studios secure an exemption?

Nobody expects science to have all the answers. But people do expect government lockdowns based on facts.

Instead, we are seeing different approaches across different provinces, and public support for pandemic efforts is eroding.

On balance, Canadians are happy to join queues and follow rules. We have willingly integrated hand-washing, masking, and social distancing into our daily routines. But the cancellation of Hallowe’en was the tipping point.

A snap election would actually be a welcome diversion.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.