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COMMENTARY: Premier Horgan’s generational blame game riles young British Columbians

Click to play video: 'Horgan facing backlash for ‘blaming’ COVID-19 surge on youth' Horgan facing backlash for ‘blaming’ COVID-19 surge on youth
WATCH: (March 30, 2021) Premier Horgan is facing backlash for blaming the spike in COVID-19 cases on 20 to 39-year-olds. Youth in that demographic are calling Horgan's appeal tone-deaf and unfair; despite the recent mask-less party at Big White ski resort. And, as Kylie Stanton reports, the premier is now doubling down on his remarks – Mar 30, 2021

Premier John Horgan’s cheap shot at young people was still reverberating around the province when the latest viral video of B.C. teens gone wild hit social media.

The boomers-versus-millennials battle started when Horgan called out the younger generation for their irresponsible pandemic ways.

Young people, Horgan said, were not following social-distancing rules and allowing COVID-19 to spread throughout the province.

“I’m appealing to young people: curtail your social activity,” Horgan said, specifically calling out British Columbians between the ages of 20 and 39.

“Do not blow this for the rest of us. Do not blow this for your parents and your neighbours and others who have been working really, really hard, making significant sacrifices so we can get good outcomes for everybody.”

Read more: B.C. premier backtracks on blaming young people for rise in COVID-19 cases

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Reaction was swift. Many older British Columbians appeared to support Horgan’s shame-’em-and-blame-’em message.

But many younger people were not impressed with his generational blame game, including the NDP’s youngest candidate in last year’s election, 19-year-old Justin Kulik, who called on Horgan to apologize.

But Horgan did not apologize. And then the viral video hit.

Shot at a packed bar at the busy Big White ski resort near Kelowna, the video showed unmasked young people dancing on tables and whooping it up in direct violation of public-health orders.

Click to play video: '‘Raging’ private restaurant party at B.C. ski resort' ‘Raging’ private restaurant party at B.C. ski resort
‘Raging’ private restaurant party at B.C. ski resort – Mar 30, 2021

An official at the resort explained that many of the young people in the video had just been laid off after the province ordered a shutdown of bars and restaurants effective the following day.

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Maybe they were just some out-of-work waiters and bartenders blowing off steam. But the Horgan government also pointed to the video as proof that what the premier said was bang on the money.

“This is exactly what he was talking about,” a senior government official told me in a text message.

“Maybe the premier could have been a bit more precise. Of course not all young people are flouting the rules.

“Maybe he could have been a bit more clear. But he wasn’t wrong.”

Read more: Whistler reeling amid ski resort closure, rise in P1 COVID-19 variant

But “maybe” is the operative word here. Maybe Horgan could have provided some solid data to prove young people really are “blowing it” for everybody else, as the third wave of COVID-19 washes over the province.

But what data exists is inconclusive.

The government pointed to new COVID-19 cases in the month of March, when people aged 20-39 made up 42 per cent of the case load, while representing just 28 per cent of the population.

But here’s the thing. Young people had been over-represented in the case count since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago, while Horgan kept reassuring British Columbians that the province was on “the right track” before the third wave of cases hit.

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According to statistics released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, people in their 20s made up 23 per cent of the COVID case count during the first year of the pandemic, while people in their 30s made up 19 per cent of the cases.

Since mid-March, when B.C. COVID-19 cases started to spike again, the share of the new cases for this age cohort was only slightly higher than the entire previous year.

In other words, there was no evidence to suggest young people were suddenly “blowing it” for older people, many of whom were now already vaccinated against the disease, while young people were moved to the back of the vaccine line and told to wait.

Read more: Majority of $1.1M in COVID-19 fines issued in B.C. remain unpaid

Many young people, meanwhile, were working on the front lines of the economy, earning minimum wage in grocery stores or fetching pub grub for boomers before the bars were shut down and they were thrown out of work again.

Horgan’s political opponents were quick to fire back.

“Young people have lost so much this year,” B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau reflected.

“Consider the precarious, low-paid, public-facing work they can’t afford to miss because the economic downturn hit them the hardest. Having lots of roommates because there is no affordable housing. A reliance on public transit.”

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At the same time many young people were in the riskiest positions to catch COVID-19, here was the premier scolding them for “blowing it” for the older generation.

That would be the same older generation, by the way, that was slow to close borders, to restrict travel and to recommend face masks as a way to stop the spread of the virus.

Are a lot of young people making poor, risky choices to gather together and party? Undoubtedly.

But blaming them for a pandemic that wasn’t their fault to begin with, while telling them to wait last in line to be vaccinated against it, hasn’t really helped anybody in COVID-weary B.C.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

 

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