Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Anything but normal

Plenty of people are rightly wondering how the Saskatchewan Party could possibly have hyped up an announcement about what we'll see as students return to fall, then unveiled what remains the least substantive excuse for a plan in the country. And while there's no doubt that the lack of concern for students, teachers and their families is a matter of political calculation rather than reasonable governance, there are a few noteworthy theories about how a pitiful excuse for an education plan now fits into the prelude to a fall election.

One of the theories being floated is that Scott Moe and company never planned to be quite as negligent as they made themselves sound yesterday - but that they think offering nothing to begin with will allow them to seem reasonable by then making minimal concessions in the face of public outcry.

But if that theory was remotely plausible on its face, it seems an unlikely one given what happened the last time the same party used that exact line of reasoning.

Remember that the 2017 budget included all kinds of sudden and unexplained austerity measures - including attacks on everything from libraries to funerals for the poor to parks to spiritual care. And the result was a massive wave of protests - which resulted not only in the Sask Party reversing course on many of the cuts, but also in Brad Wall having to flee the political scene as his association with such callousness permanently tarnished his reputation.

To be sure, some of the worst elements of the budget were still rammed through, particularly the destruction of the STC. But even if the tradeoff of a leader's public image for a few austerian policy objectives was seen as worthwhile just after a provincial election, surely it would be seen as far too dangerous immediately before one.

That leads to the question of whether there's some political interest being fed by the non-plan. In particular there's been some speculation that any mandatory masking policy or limitation on full school operations will be seen as a betrayal by Moe's core voters.

But the problem with that view is that it doesn't seem to fit with the evidence as to how most Canadians actually see the pandemic. For the region covering Saskatchewan, significantly more voters see provincial governments as moving too quickly rather than too slowly in reopening.

Moreover, roughly half the population outright supports mandatory mask requirements, with another third being willing to go along with it. And while Conservative voters are the least enthusiastic about masking, they're not all that far off of their fellow citizens even with their political leaders failing to make much of a case for joining in the collective cause.

And there's also an additional option beyond (or in addition to) masking which the Sask Party has refused to consider, being investments in school facilities and staff to reduce the risk of community spread. That would avoid the conspiracy theories of any anti-maskers, and wouldn't face any obvious constituency in opposition other than extreme anti-government cranks.

So let's turn to what seems like the most plausible explanation: that the issue is one of the Saskatchewan Party's aversion to both treating COVID-19 with any sense of importance, and acknowledging the role the government can play in responding to it.

Among the other observations from yesterday's announcement was that the Sask Party's spin includes a large dose of "normal" language. And that looks to foreshadow the mood of complacency Moe wants to set for the election period: sit back, watch our attack ads, and let us take care of business as usual.

But if Moe's spinmeisters thought that Saskatchewan's residents were prepared to accept "move along, nothing to see here" as a response to a continuing pandemic, the rapid public response would seem to offer a compelling refutation of that theory. And the more it becomes clear that Moe is still minimizing both the threat of COVID-19 and the need for government leadership in response, the more likely Saskatchewan's voters are to turn to a party which is actually willing to do the work to  answer essential social concerns.

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