Mask mandates, fickle NDP voters, and the 2001 B.C. election debacle

The danger for John Horgan and Adrian Dix is that a significant number of their party's supporters will migrate to the B.C. Greens, who've gotten real about COVID-19

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      How long can the B.C. NDP government hold off on reimposing a provincewide mask mandate in some indoor spaces?

      I would wager no more than three or four weeks.

      And if Dr. Bonnie Henry resists reinstating a mask order on transit and ferries, the health minister and the premier's office may have no option but to replace her as the provincial health officer—or she could even offer up a reason to leave her job.

      That's because NDP politicians who spent nearly a generation on the opposition benches are not going to want to see their hard-earned majority government put in jeopardy by one specialist in public health.

      Here's the problem facing Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix. They're increasingly being viewed as scientific dunces as public awareness grows about how COVID-19 is transmitted.

      I'm sure it galls both of these politicians, given that they perceive themselves to be intellectually sophisticated.

      The most biting attacks have come in the satirical punk-infused videos by the Dexamethones.

      The one below, "COVID is Airborne", was posted nearly a year ago.

      Video: The Dexamethasones' "COVID is Airborne" went on YouTube in April 2021.

      Horgan and Dix also know that they can't continue to hide behind Henry if this sixth wave of COVID-19 starts filling up hospital wards. The NDP is going to wear this politically.

      I would also wager that the king of realpolitik in this government, premier's chief of staff Geoff Meggs, might argue against reinstating a mask mandate for fear of enraging the so-called low-information voters. Normally, Horgan and Dix listen to Meggs.

      But the political costs are likely starting to become too high for NDP MLAs in cities like Vancouver, Burnaby, Victoria, and Richmond.

      I can only imagine the conversations going on in private between NDP MLAs who represent constituencies in these cities and Dix. He is not so stupid as to see the folly of ripping off masks on buses in the face of an airborne vascular disease that, in a minority of cases, causes brain damage, heart attacks, strokes, and organ failure.

      Do David Eby or Janet Routledge, who represent constituencies with major university campuses, really want to be associated with a party with antediluvian attitudes about COVID-19? Especially when they know that this may cost them a lot of votes in the next election and perhaps lead to Routledge losing her seat?

      One thing saving the NDP at this point is the widespread perception that the B.C. Liberals will be even worse stewards of public health. But the danger for Horgan and Dix is that a significant number of former NDP voters will migrate to the B.C. Greens, who've gotten real about COVID-19.

      A major turning point came on March 23 when the White House's head of science and technology policy, Alondra Nelson, said what some scientists have known for nearly two years: "The most common way COVID-19 is transmitted from one person to another is through tiny airborne particles of the virus hanging in indoor air for minutes or hours after an infected person has been there." 

      It's not just the White House's statements on airborne COVID and Long COVID that made the B.C. NDP emperors appear to have no clothes. Another concern for Horgan and Dix must be how the national media is covering the Ontario government's refusal to reinstate a mask mandate in schools.

      When University of Toronto health researcher Colin Furness goes on national TV and declares that intensive-care admissions are a lagging indicator and that it's time to recognize that most COVID-19 transmissions are via the airborne route, you know that the message is finally getting through to the journalists.

      The tweet below by retired statistician and chartmaker Bill Comeau received thousands of likes.

      Keep in mind that Ontario premier Doug Ford is actually more COVID-cautious than Horgan. Ford kept the mask mandate on transit, unlike the B.C. NDP government. The Ford government also wasn't steadfastly opposed to bringing HEPA filters into classrooms and gyms, unlike Horgan's crew.

      In Horgan-ruled B.C., visitors to hospital wards were actually discouraged from wearing N95 respirators!

      The latest slides from the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group suggest that the Omicron subvariant BA.2 now accounts for about 80 percent of all cases. But the data experts with this group cannot estimate how high the BA.2 wave will crest for a bunch of reasons, including the lack of provincial information on infection rates. This lack of data makes Horgan and Dix appear to be evading the truth.

      In the face of the BA.2 surge, Quebec and Prince Edward Island extended their mask mandates until the end of the month. Philadelphia brought back an indoor mask mandate this week.

      The move by Philadelphia has the potential to prompt other U.S. city councils to do the same. It's likely only a matter of time before these motions start coming forth at the council, school board, or even park board levels of government in Canada.

      When that happens, Horgan and Dix will no longer be able to resist the pressure. That's my guess and I emphasize that it is only a guess.

      I've been watching these guys for more than 20 years. They witnessed the NDP drubbing in 2001 when many thousands of their voters parked their votes with the B.C. Greens in protest.

      Horgan and Dix then spent four years scrambling for work and securing nominations until they could finally get their names on the ballot in safe constituencies and get elected to the legislature.

      Now that they have finally obtained their treasured majority, Horgan and Dix never want this to happen again. This is what drives them.

      If they think their voters don't want mask mandates—as Horgan and Dix believed in March—they'll toss them aside, even at the cost of higher COVID-19 case counts and more gruelling days in the wards for patients and hospital staff.

      But once Horgan and Dix realize that their political futures are on the line by rejecting the science around how COVID-19 is transmitted, they'll act quickly and decisively. It's only a matter of time. Higher hospitalization numbers will give them sufficient political cover to justify this decision. It remains to be seen whether Henry will go along for the ride.