Opinion: What if the public were in charge of B.C.'s COVID response?

Opinion: Leger survey explores how British Columbians would fare managing the responsibilities of the provincial health office

Vancouver Sun 3 minute read May 10, 2021

As the pandemic wears on, we’ve all become armchair pundits, offering our opinions, criticisms and commentary on absolutely every way the pandemic has been/is being/will be managed.

British Columbians’ favourite topic to poke holes in is Dr. Bonnie Henry’s public health orders restricting social interactions and business operations. In fact, Leger’s research shows that public support for our province’s pandemic leaders, Dr. Henry and Minister Adrian Dix, is down by 21 points since December.

At Leger, our business is figuring out what people think about pretty much anything and why they think it. We know that the biggest factor in the psychology of why people are willing to share their opinions is that it gives them the feeling that they are part of a decision-making process.  In a global pandemic overshadowed by fear and uncertainty, wanting to feel like we can influence the future isn’t such a bad thing.

With that in mind, what if the people of British Columbia took on the job of managing the pandemic response? Our team asked how B.C. residents would approach choosing rules and guidelines.

Would we keep B.C.’s existing provincial health orders? Our survey shows that we would strongly support social distancing protocols and mask wearing (83 per cent) and ensuring that people are working from home (80 per cent).  With only about six-in-ten in favour, we might or might not implement restrictions for social gatherings or travel.

What would we add to the B.C. health order mix? We would increase restrictions for communities that have higher COVID-19 case counts (82 per cent), and we’d bring in 14-day quarantines for visitors from other provinces (76 per cent). Only 52 per cent support stay-at-home orders. Only two-in-five support a mandatory curfew. And only 24 per cent of us would agree to moving all schools online, as our Albertan neighbours did last week.

Stepping back to consider what we would and wouldn’t add to our current suite of rules, we see that those we’d support adding would, in theory, increase restrictions on people other than ourselves. Those we wouldn’t support adding, well, those ones would have considerable impacts on our own lives.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call human nature. It is worth pointing out that our human nature is something that Dr. Bonnie Henry has had to consider every time she issues a provincial health order that may change how we work, play and learn.  And we only need to look to other provinces to respect the consistency and compassion in the decisions she has made.

We also wondered how increasing vaccination numbers are influencing our degree of support for public health orders.  We assumed that those who have had one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine would support lifting the restrictions. We were fascinated to learn that this group is actually more likely to support all the restrictions. Perhaps this is a vote for trusting science.

So, to our fellow B.C. keyboard-warriors, how would we fare with the responsibilities of managing the provincial health office? Could we do a better job than Dr. Bonnie Henry? The answer is no.

Heather Owen and Jason Allsopp are both vice-presidents in Leger’s Vancouver office. The survey data is from Leger’s B.C. Omnibus Study, conducted from April 16 to April 18 among 1,000 British Columbians. 

Leger invites you to participate in future public opinion surveyshere:

For more information visit leger360.com.

Letters to the editor should be sent to sunletters@vancouversun.com. The editorial pages editor is Hardip Johal, who can be reached at hjohal@postmedia.com.

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