This column is an opinion from journalist and political commentator Jen Gerson. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
When we look back at COVID-19, I wonder if we will remember the moment when anti-lockdown protestors at the Edmonton legislature began to chant, “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” at the mention of Deena Hinshaw’s name.
It’s a phrase that became infamous as a rallying cry for Donald Trump supporters — who once demanded such extrajudicial proceedings for Hillary Clinton. The phrase now evokes its own kind of manic power, which is why it makes such a vicious and unhinged cat call when directed at our mild-mannered chief of public health.
More than a year into this pandemic, clear-eyed rage and economic terror are running the show for the segment of the population now appearing unmasked at anti-lockdown rallies around the world.
Alberta is not immune. At least 15 members of Jason Kenney’s caucus are in open revolt against further punitive lockdown measures, and letters calling for the premier’s resignation are now circulating among UCP board members.
Even among the more complacent, compliance with these measures appears to be on the verge of breaking, even as our hospital capacity grows ever more strained.
A terrible irony
The terrible irony of it all is that everything seems to be falling apart at the very moment when the end of the crisis is at hand.
That’s because, by some miracle of medical science, numerous effective vaccines are being distributed by the thousands. Every day that goes by brings us closer to herd immunity from COVID-19 and, thus, a return to normality.
Yet featured prominently among the anti-lockdown protestors were signs like this: “COVID Jabs Kill.”
Whatever sympathy one might have for the protestors disappears quickly at the sight of this. It’s as if those most opposed to lockdowns are also those who are most likely to hate the most powerful tool at our disposal to end them.
Imagine being locked in a cage for a year, then being handed a key, and insisting you’d rather stay imprisoned, as the cell offers a better perch from which to rail about the tyranny of your cage.
Polling data conducted for the CBC is at least somewhat heartening.
As many as half of all Albertans surveyed said they planned to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it was available to them; a further 14 per cent said they had already received a first dose at the time of polling. About one-in-five wanted to wait to see how the vaccine campaign rolled out, and watch for interactions or side effects. Only 14 per cent of Albertans are not planning to take the shot.
That means a majority of Albertans — almost 65 per cent — are or will soon be vaccinated.
We can also hope the wavering 20 per cent will come around when they see their peer group return to life as normal. After all, the odds that anyone will actually know someone who suffers from a serious vaccine complication, such as the two non-fatal blood clots so far reported in Canada, are very small. For the vast majority, this will be a seamless and uneventful process — albeit an unpleasant one.
There isn’t much to be done for the remaining 14 per cent who refuse to take the vaccine. Polling data shows that this crowd largely falls along fairly stereotypical lines; more likely to be conservative, less educated, and pessimistic about the financial future.
This is a class that is often met with contempt by much of society, and it’s not my aim to add to their troubles, which strike me as being real and profound. So often, our conversations about lockdowns, restrictions, and closures have glossed over just how deep a rupture our COVID-19 response has been to those who don’t have the luxury of working from a computer at home.
More than woolly stubbornness
Our approach to this crisis has imposed drastic and unprecedented restrictions and sacrifices on us and our personal freedoms. Not everybody was on board with this approach, and from the beginning, we in the media have ignored, glossed over, ridiculed, and condemned those who did not get in line for the benefit of the greater good.
If a sizable slice of the population doesn’t trust us now when we tell them that vaccines are safe — well, at a certain point, we have to admit that we haven’t given them much reason to.
Their intransigence is, perhaps, the price we’re going to pay for that. And the bill will come in the form of reduced herd immunity.
In these signs and protests and conspiracies I see more than just woolly stubbornness. Canada has long been a complacent, peaceful, easy kind of place to build a life, and while most of us wouldn’t trade our comforts, this ease has also bred in us boredom and aimlessness.
Railing against oppression and tyranny — perceived or otherwise — is exciting and purposeful. It gives us a sense of meaning and community; the action of heroism in pursuit of a painted enemy.
So, get the jab and we all just return to our ordinary, sedentary lives? Crisis is not such an easy thing to give up.
CBC News’ random survey of 1,200 Albertans was conducted between March 15 and April 10, 2021, by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The sample is representative along regional, age, and gender factors. The margin of error is +/-2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For subsets, the margin of error is larger.
The survey used a hybrid methodology that involved contacting survey respondents by telephone and giving them the option of completing the survey at that time, at another more convenient time, or receiving an email link and completing the survey online.