COVID is something we all have to learn to live with

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As for the Liberals, as people’s fear of COVID diminishes, their support for the government’s get-tough approach will fade away.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on February 14, 2022.

OTTAWA—Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen may have her way after all.

With Liberals breaking ranks with the government on vaccination mandates, all eyes are on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

And as the days pass with no solution in sight, what was a small Canadian story has become a global phenom.

Everywhere you look, from The New York Times to the BBC and beyond, all eyes are on Canada to see how we will handle the occupation of the nation’s capital.

The soft approach applied to the first two weeks of the standoff does not seem to be working.

Finally, police are planning to move in with arrests if the truckers do not clear the area of the Parliamentary Precinct.

But the success of the convoy in gathering world attention has also led to plans in other countries for similar blockades.

In addition, there is a lot of confusion over what the actual intent of the convoy organizers really is.

I have a dear friend who is an anti-vaxxer and she has been joining the group every day in sub-zero weather to protest what she characterizes as a communist-like grab by the government to force people to do things they don’t want to do.

She should know from whence she speaks as she and her husband fled communist Hungary and arrived in Canada with a baby and three dollars.

They built a wonderful life and became great contributors to Canada but she feels as though the last two years have ruined her life. Because she is not vaccinated, she has been unable to play sports and her lifelong love of tennis has been put on hold.

Many of her friends have tried to convince her about the safety of the vaccine, including scientific findings from international bodies like the World Health Organization and the American Centre for Disease Control. But to no avail.

Likewise, we have tried to point out to her that the convoy she is supporting is rife with anarchists and racists, who are using the pandemic fear as a way of promoting their racist messages of hate.

She does not care, because she feels as though this is the only way of getting her voice heard.

Of course, she is in the minority, as the vast majority of Canadians have already gotten their second dose of the vaccine. But no amount of cajoling, convincing, concern or coaxing will cause her to change her mind.

And unlike the rest of us, she is likely to make future political decisions strictly based on the vaccine issue.

So even though the vast majority of Canadians oppose the blockade and support the government’s vaccine mandate, they will likely not be voting on that issue in the next election.

However, the small minority of anti-vaxers who are supporting the blockade will likely cast their vote specifically for the only party that has opposed vaccine mandates, the Conservative party.

That gives the Tories a solid 10 per cent. That does not look like a big number but these people are zealous in their beliefs and will add money and manpower to the Conservative campaign effort across the country.

Liberal Joël Lightbound added fuel to Conservative fires when he came out against the government’s vaccine mandate and he was joined by Quebec colleague Yves Robillard in claiming that Liberals were politicizing the issue.

Government spokespeople denied the claim, saying they were simply following the science, but there is no doubt that the election schism on mandatory vaccines was key to the Liberal victory.

Although the Grits limped across the finish line, wavering members of the public decided to stick with the governing party because they supported the message that all Canadians should be vaccinated.

Recalcitrant Liberals like Lightbound and Robillard should understand that the vaccination question is a de facto political choice.

But at the end of the day, the supporters of mandated vaccines will move on to other election issues while those who oppose vaccinations will carry their beliefs with them to the grave.

As for the Liberals, as people’s fear of COVID diminishes, their support for the government’s get-tough approach will fade away.

Three premiers have already broken with their counterparts on ending the mandate, and others are making similar promises.

COVID is something we all have to learn to live with. Those who have protected ourselves by multiple vaccinations have already experienced newfound freedoms.

The unvaccinated are pretty much prisoners of their own personal bad choices.

But they don’t see it that way.

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