This is for the woman who yelled “Do you feel safer now?” when my daughter stepped off the sidewalk to give the woman and her rambunctious dog room to pass. Do you feel safer now? My daughter stepped off the curb to give the woman and her dog some space. The woman took this as a challenge to her anti-whatever beliefs.
It’s time for the anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-restrictions (“Antis”) to come to terms with their decision to reject life-saving vaccines and defy public health restrictions while at the same time demanding the state save them from the consequences of their ill-informed decisions.*
It’s also time for the Kenney government to rectify the mess it created by pandering to the Antis.
First let’s recap.
We have over 20,000 active cases, over 1000 in hospital with 243 in ICU. More than 2,600 Albertans have died.
We’ve doubled our ICU beds from 173 to 350. Non-ICU nurses are being redeployed to ICU, retired nurses and doctors who haven’t set foot in an ICU since medical school are being asked to pitch in. All non-urgent surgery for adults and children (including transplants, tumors, and cancer) have been cancelled. Nurse to patient ratios are out of whack, standards of care have been “relaxed” and the rates of hospitalization, ICU admission and death among unvaccinated Albertans are between 8 to 60 times higher than in the fully vaccinated population.
The only reason AHS hasn’t triggered the triage protocol is the number of ICU deaths is keeping pace with the number of ICU admissions.
The Kenney government put us in this position ostensibly to protect the Antis who believe their right to exercise their freedoms trumps our right to avoid illness and death.
There is no philosophical basis for this position (more on that below) so one can’t help but think this is Kenney’s heartless way to keep the libertarians and misinformed onboard.
This feels unfair and it is.
A quick read of John Stuart Mill’s treatise On Liberty illustrates why.
Mill set out two maxims to address the exercise of individual freedoms within society. The first states the individual is not accountable to society for his actions if his actions concern no one but himself. The second states that individual actions that are “prejudicial to the interests of others” may be subject to social or legal punishment.
As the political theorist Theresa Man Ling Lee put it: individuals are free to do whatever they want unless and until their actions pose a threat to others. At that point the state can intervene to stop them.
How does Mill’s treatise play out here?
Maxim #1: The Antis refuse to get vaccinated (okay), but it is unacceptable for them to refuse to comply with public health restrictions and threaten, deride, and assault others who do.
Maxim #2: The Kenney government failed to intervene to protect Albertans against the Antis who endangered their health by violating Maxim #1. Kenney’s restrictions were too little, too late. Cases spiked. When he finally reintroduced public health restrictions, they were confusing, and included an easy-to-forge vaccine passport that shifted the burden of enforcement from the province to municipalities and business owners.
Finally he fiddled with the health ministry, swapping Jason Copping for Tyler Shandro. Nothing new came of this.
Copping announced three priorities. Two (increasing baseline hospital capacity permanently and preparing the healthcare system to “more adequately respond to potential future waves of covid”) do nothing to address the immediate problem. The third (educating vaccine hesitant Albertans to get immunized by speaking with experts) is ineffective at boosting vaccine rates when compared to mandatory vaccine passports.
The only effective government intervention—imposing additional firebreak restrictions—isn’t in the cards.
So we’re back where we started.
Most Albertans are doing the right thing, but a minority are exercising their individual freedoms without taking responsibility for their actions and the Kenney government refuses to intervene.
Given that we’re heading full steam ahead into the crisis, it’s appropriate to ask Kenney and the Antis to defend their positions. John Stuart Mill’s two maxims are helpful here.
First, to the Antis who preach the sanctity of individual choice, will you accept responsibility for your decision, stay home and observe public health restrictions when you go out? No? Then how about this, if you become ill with covid or a loony internet remedy, will you stay away from the hospital—you chose to run the risk of getting covid, you’ll have to tough it out—so the rest of us can access the medical care we need.
Second, to Health Minister Jason Copping. Surgeries were cancelled across the board to make room in ICU for covid patients, the majority of whom are unvaccinated, will you work with AHS to convert 173 ICU beds back to non-covid ICU beds and start scheduling the surgeries that have been cancelled. That will return AHS to its pre-covid position and still leave 177 surge beds for covid ICU patients who you can triage to your hearts content. While you’re at it, could you pay all nurses a covid bonus, say $15,000, to ensure we’ll have some nurses left to deal with this crisis and its aftermath.
And lastly, to Jason Kenney, will you please for the love of God, focus on the covid crisis and forget, for just one moment, the internecine battles threatening your leadership.
Really, is that too much to ask?
*NOTE: these comments relate only to those who could get vaccinated and comply with restrictions but choose not to do so.