The more time that passes, the more the restrictions on our lives seem to have run their course in the eyes of the population. At least that’s what a February 1, Angus Reid poll indicates: Fifty-four per cent of Canadians believe it’s time to lift the restrictions and let people who have COVID, or who fear it, self-isolate. In Quebec, 59 per cent of people agree with this principle, a clear majority.
This probably partly explains why the Quebec government is finally following other provinces in making public a timetable for the end of lockdown. Unfortunately, not only does this timetable lack ambition, but there is also every reason to believe that the lifting of restrictions will once again be fleeting, in Quebec and the rest of the country, and that measures that are among the most restrictive in the G7 will be reimposed as soon as a new wave appears on the horizon.
It is not normal that the restrictions we face are among the most severe in the world since Quebecers’ immune systems are no weaker than those of people living elsewhere. Constantly crying that our monopolistic, government-run health care system is less efficient and less adaptable than the public-private partnerships that exist everywhere else is not a good excuse either.
Our policymakers must start reflecting on the consequences of their actions on economic sectors that employ a very large number of Canadians, like tourism and hospitality, which need much greater predictability. Indeed, European tourists are already planning their summer vacations. Tourism and hospitality need a timetable for the end of lockdowns that provides longer-term guarantees than what our governments have put forward in terms of the opening up of services and the procedures for entering the country. After all, why plan a summer vacation to a country that risks offering you less freedom than you have at home?
In addition to the repeated lockdowns of Canadian provinces, abusive measures at the border make Canada even less attractive as an international destination. The country’s image has taken quite a hit, and it will take a long time to recover if our decision-makers don’t change course very quickly.
At least the solution is simple: The federal and provincial governments need to plan for the long-term and definitive easing of restrictions. For example, the ending of the PCR test requirement announced by Ottawa will only be effective if the government commits to abandoning this measure at least for a predetermined duration.
Instead, why not take a page from France, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom and just ask for proof of vaccination upon entry? This would have the merit of placing us on equal footing with countries that compete with us when it comes time to attract international travellers and conferences. Does anyone really need reminding that these represent the bread and butter of air carriers, hotels, and restaurants?
The timeline for ending provincial lockdowns must also be accompanied by firm commitments not to once again shut down large swaths of our economy and of the hospitality sector, like restaurants. If these measures really worked, would over two million Quebecers have been infected by COVID-19 between December and the beginning of February? The more time passes, the clearer it becomes that these measures seem designed more to reassure a certain segment of the population than to have a real effect on community transmission.
After two years of often arbitrary government decrees, most Canadians want to decide what level of risk they are prepared to tolerate to live the lives they want to live. The beauty of it is that aligning our public policies to the mood of the population will give our entrepreneurs a real chance to be successful again. The time has come for governments to end pandemic uncertainty and give a shot in the arm to sectors of our economy that have been on artificial life support for far too long.
Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President and CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute.