COVID truths, lies and misinformation

With a spring election in the air, there's no telling how low Canada's Conservatives will go to rewrite the script on the federal Liberals' COVID response

It’s said that truth is the first casualty of war. It’s also said that the truth can set you free. Here’s another to add to that list for these pandemic times: truth is a mutha. 

That’s proving especially true for opposition Conservatives who’ve had to eat crow over the Liberal government’s vaccine rollout this week.

The party’s recent messaging on the coronavirus – which has been to throw as much crap as possible at the wall to see what sticks – has left leader Erin O’Toole with doo-doo on his face claiming Canada would be at the “back of the line” on a vaccine. Canadians aren’t buying the spin, according to the latest opinion polls.

A new survey for the Canadian Press released by Leger today has the Libs up on the Conservatives by 6 per cent and satisfaction with the Trudeau government’s response to the pandemic at 66 per cent.

The same cannot be said for Conservative premiers. In the Conservative bastion of Alberta, Jason Kenney’s approval ratings on the pandemic have dipped below 40 per cent – which is double digits behind even Trudeau’s approval ratings.

In Ontario, Doug Ford’s approval ratings have taken a 20 per cent nosedive to 62 per cent after climbing to the stratosphere at the height of the first wave earlier this year. With Ford, though, the downturn has more to do with his government’s inability to manage a second wave rather than a partisan adherence to the Conservative line that the feds are making a mess of their COVID response.

We’ve witnessed this kind of denial and Trumpian embrace of “alternative facts” on the part of Conservatives in the past. Before the pandemic, there was a denial of the truth about climate change as part of a bid to fight the feds’ carbon tax. Who could forget that Maclean’s cover of Conservative premiers, the angry white men of the so-called climate action “resistance.”

Ford was an enthusiastic disciple back then of Con-speak. He still is on climate change. Ford was at it again last week with legislation hidden in his government’s pandemic recovery bill that clears the way for his developer buddies to run roughshod over environmental protections on the Greenbelt. He followed that up this week with a fundraising letter to party supporters in which he claims to be “floored” by federal Liberal plans to up the carbon tax and asking for their financial support (again) to “scrap” the tax. Yes, that would be the same carbon tax he fought over and lost in court. He’s even starting to change his tune on the feds’ COVID response, taking a shot recently at federal reluctance to ante-up on health care transfers to the provinces. This from the same guy who’s sitting on $12 billion from the feds in COVID recovery funds. But I digress. 

Canada’s Conservatives have always been adept at taking cues from Republicans stateside and developing the apparatus to reframe reality. It started with the modern Conservative Party under Stephen Harper talking over the heads of the mainstream media. And then the defunding of the country’s public broadcaster, the CBC. More recently, it’s been through Facebook groups like Canada Proud – and online organs like True North and Post Millennial masquerading as new outlets – that have taken up the cause of making like the FOX News of the Great White North. 

But even FOX has its limits when it comes to spreading false information, as we’ve seen from the big lie Trump has been trying to sell stateside about election fraud robbing him of victory. Ever since being the first media outlet to call Arizona for Joe Biden, FOX has fallen out of favour with the hardcore in the Republican party. So now we’re seeing conspiracy sites like Newsmax filling the void. Can it happen in Canada?

When it comes to the pandemic, there’s been a concerted effort by the governing Liberals to temper expectations and get ahead of the curve. That’s why we’ve been hearing a lot at daily COVID updates from government officials about the need for “transparency.” It’s the only way to build and maintain public trust. So far the public has been seeing through the opposition’s partisan BS on the coronavirus.

But where we will be a few months from now – after a winter of pandemic lockdown, more economic hardship and with an election on the horizon – remains to be seen.

The ballot question so far is shaping up to be whether the feds have done enough to support Canadians through the crisis. But there’s no telling what the Cons will do to change that narrative. If early signs are any indication, it’s going to be ugly.


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