Tim Louis: It's time for Dr. Bonnie Henry to stop pandering

A Vancouver lawyer makes the case why some lifesaving measures need to be made mandatory and not left up to personal choice

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      Has Dr Bonnie Henry decided to abandon science, choosing instead to rely on public opinion when making COVID policy decisions?

      On March 11, 2022, Dr. Henry eliminated the mandated wearing of masks in most public spaces. Offering no evidence that it was safe for people to cease wearing masks and emphasizing that doing so should now be a matter of personal choice, she attempted to justify her decision by stating that most people will continue to wear masks when appropriate to do so.

      Dr. Henry appears to have bowed to public preference—a majority of the public being opposed to a mask mandate—adopting a health-care decision-making model based not on science but instead the weathervane of popular opinion.

      I take no issue with her belief that most people will continue wearing masks when appropriate. However, even if her belief in this regard is true, her decision to then eliminate the mask mandate makes absolutely no sense and is not supported by basic logic.

      I will get to the basic logic in a moment.

      First, I must say that as disappointed as I now am with Dr. Henry, I am equally, perhaps even more, disappointed by the support for this decision from a number of my friends who refuse to be engaged in a logical discussion.

      Now here is the logic:

      Beginning with the 1965 publication of a bombshell attack on the American automotive industry, Unsafe at Any Speed, a then little-known man named Ralph Nader began lobbying the American federal government to require better safety standards from car manufacturers, such as automatically including seat belts in all vehicles.

      The car manufacturers argued that if it was left to consumer choice, the overwhelming majority of buyers would choose to have them, and that “Big Brother” should not be imposing seat belts on the few that did not want them.

      I fear that if Dr. Bonnie Henry had been the government official deciding whether or not to mandate seat belts in all vehicles, they would never have become mandatory.

      Fortunately, decision makers at that time quickly realized that even if car manufacturers were correct that most buyers would select seat belts, if some did not and the choice was left to the consumer, countless numbers of lives would be lost as a result.

      Ralph Nader’s advocacy also included insisting that shatterproof laminated glass be made mandatory for windshields in all vehicles. The car manufacturing industry once again argued it should be a consumer choice—shatterproof YES or shatterproof NO.

      Responding to Nader’s clear, scientifically sound arguments and advocacy, in 1966 the U.S. Congress passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act—mandating numerous safety automobile and road safety standards to protect American drivers and passengers.

      Dr. Bonnie Henry was not the decision maker, and these safety improvements have now been mandatory for decades.

      Once the inclusion of seat belts became mandatory for all manufacturers, Ralph Nader began a campaign to promote legislation that their use be required. The logic was that if a mandate resulted in even a few individuals using seat belts where absent the mandate they would not, lives would be saved.

      Once again, the “Big Brother” argument was trotted out—that the overwhelming majority would use them absent legislation and that seat belt use should be left up to individual choice.

      Fortunately, once again Dr. Bonnie Henry was not the decision maker and jurisdictions around the world have now made the use of seat belts mandatory.

      My good friend Dr. Fred Bass was part of the ‘no smoking in public places’ movement. When he first began his campaign, a majority of the public smoked and were opposed to bylaws prohibiting smoking in bars, restaurants, and public places.

      Fortunately, policy makers decided to make their decisions based on science and sound public policy instead of public opinion. Today, we take no smoking in public places legislation for granted. As a result, cancer deaths are dramatically lower than they would be otherwise.

      There was a time when drinking and driving was accepted. Fortunately, organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have been successful in fundamentally shifting public opinion on this matter.

      Today drinking and driving is simply not an acceptable thing to do. It is, in fact, so unacceptable that if today government were to eliminate all laws against drinking and driving, on the basis that most will still not drink and drive, I am absolutely positive that the overwhelming majority of the public would demand these laws be re-enacted rather than see people die needlessly.

      You can see where I’m going. The list is endless.

      Red lights—personal choice or a law?

      Food safety—individual manufacturer responsibility or a law?

      Building codes—left up the individual developer or governed by laws?

      Nobody in their right mind would argue that we should reject the so-called nanny state and get rid of the laws and regulations that protect us, just because a small group would prefer that some requirements be ended.

      Sound public policy should never be left in the hands of those who are too timid to ignore the weathervane of public opinion.

      Daily atmospheric CO2[Courtesy of CO2.Earth]

      Latest daily total (May 20, 2022): 420.69ppm

      One year ago (May 20, 2021): 418.87 pm

      Tim Louis is a Vancouver lawyer and former city councillor and park commissioner. This article first appeared on his blogThe Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.