Premier Scott Moe held a COVID-19-related press conference last week.
That shouldn’t be column-worthy material. He should be holding these sessions at least once a week, answering questions from the media about the number of people in hospital with COVID-19, and what the government is going to do about the impact of the “fourth wave” of the virus.
But these press conferences have become rare occasions for the premier. Perhaps he could justify the lack of these gatherings in July and early August because the pandemic-related restrictions were over, and we were looking to shift from a pandemic mentality to an endemic mindset.
But once the case numbers started to soar in late August, he should have been appearing before the people of the province and answering questions from the media on a regular basis.
Ditto Minister of Health Paul Merriman, who couldn’t offer us a legitimate explanation on why he went 35 days without a public appearance.
So what did Premier Moe have to say during his press conference? That we were going to have tougher restrictions heading into Thanksgiving? That the restrictions would be coming in after Thanksgiving? That his government was going to get tougher on those who haven’t had the vaccine?
Or that his government was going to create a simpler, more consistent, more coherent set of regulations, rather than the muddled mess that has created so many headaches for businesses and organizations?
The province was assuming command of emergency management operations in the fight against COVID-19.
For many in Saskatchewan, the response could likely be summed up by saying “huh?”
The government says this should alleviate stress on front-line healthcare workers. That’s a laudable concept, as front-line workers have been under so much pressure, especially the past few weeks.
But we have no idea whether this will be beneficial or not. Regardless, it once again felt like the government was doing its best to delay the inevitable.
A growing number of people believe that the government moved too quickly to remove COVID-19 restrictions a few months ago. You could see the pride in Premier Moe in late June and early July when those restrictions were eradicated, amid low case counts and relatively high vaccination rates.
He hoped it would be a blueprint for other provinces. Instead, it’s become a cautionary tale for those looking to follow suit.
The vaccination benchmarks needed to be higher, not just for the first dose, but especially for the second dose.
And the vaccine passport system should have been brought in once the number of cases (and, correspondingly, the number of people in hospitals) soared.
Moe, Merriman and others might want to be anywhere else than answering questions from the media on this a couple of times a week, but they really don't have a choice. They need to be transparent.
At least the Alberta government – who truly botched their handling of the pandemic over the past year – has been there to face the press. But it's unlikely that Jason Kenney will be Alberta's premier much longer. Moe likely wants to remain in the role for a few more years. (Who could blame him, though, if he's thinking of an exit strategy after the toll of the pandemic in the past 19 months, and the impact of the last six weeks in particular).
Moe has been far from perfect since March 2020, but generally he’d done better than most, dealing with a situation that didn’t have a playbook, and usually required reactive rather than pro-active leadership. He has to try to balance what's in the best interest of public health, and what's best from the economy.
There are relatively large and vocal critics on both sides. One side wants a return to restrictions. Earlier on in the pandemic, they often called for tougher restrictions.
Another side wants nothing to do with increased restrictions, and didn't want restrictions from the outset of the pandemic.
There hasn't seemed to be much of a middle ground. The moderates haven't always been vocal, and it seems like they're a shrinking number.
Back to Moe, even his strongest supporters would have a hard time defending his recent performance.
It’s incumbent for them to stand before the public, answer questions, and be accountable for decisions.