Majority of Canadians back inquiries into national, provincial pandemic responses: poll

Click to play video: 'New poll shows majority wants public inquiry into government reaction to COVID-19 pandemic'
New poll shows majority wants public inquiry into government reaction to COVID-19 pandemic
A new poll has found a majority of Canadians and British Columbians think there should be a public inquiry into government handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. John Hua reports – Apr 22, 2022

A majority of Canadians favour a thorough review into how all levels of government handled the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new poll.

The survey from B.C.-based pollster Research Co. found 66 per cent of respondents backed a public inquiry into how the federal government managed the pandemic, with 23 per cent opposed.

The poll also found that more than three-in-five Canadians also backed public inquiries at the provincial level.

Research Co. president Mario Canseco said a majority of residents in every region of Canada backed the concept of provincial inquiries, regardless of whether they lived in regions with higher support for their government’s performance like B.C., Quebec and Ontario, or regions that panned government performance such as Alberta and the Prairies.

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Sixty-one per cent of respondents in B.C. and Ontario said they were very or somewhat satisfied with their government’s response, compared to 59 per cent in Quebec, 41 per cent in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and 37 per cent in Alberta.

“The reality is it’s all over the country. We’re talking about a pandemic that took the lives of more than 38,000 Canadians — this is an important matter for the future … we need to make sure we are all ready for the next one,” Canseco said.

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“Even though there is a high level of satisfaction with how the federal government handled it and, in particular here in B.C., we see a lot of people who say we should take note, we should do whatever is necessary to make sure the mistakes in the early stages that caused so many people to die, the mixed messages that we had for instance when it came to wearing face masks, or all the situations we had to see in the care homes, they want Canadians to sit down and figure out how not to allow something like this to happen or how to be better prepared.”

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The poll also found that 82 per cent of Canadians believe COVID-19 remains a real threat, and that a declining number of residents believe the worst of the pandemic is “behind us” — 62 per cent, down 10 points from March.

In that context, Canseco pointed to a planned national inquiry in the United Kingdom which will come with a broad scope, looking at preparedness, the public health response, the response in the health-care sector and the economic response.

“If you had an inquiry that was only going to focus on one or two things as its own terms of reference, people would not be that satisfied,” he said.

“I think there’s an appetite for a holistic approach, and that is one of the reasons for the level of support for the public inquiry to be as high as it is, not only federally, but also provincially and municipally.”

Global News requested comment from the federal ministry of health, but a spokesperson said they would not be able to respond by deadline Friday.

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Bernadette Cheung is among those backing the idea of a thorough inquiry at a provincial level.

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Cheung’s grandmother is one of 41 seniors who died in an outbreak that eventually grew to infect 99 of 117 residents at Vancouver long-term care home Little Mountain Place.

Efforts by residents’ families to get answers from the facility, local health authority and province have generally gone nowhere since January 2021, she said.

Families’ focus has now shifted to reforming the system to prevent future deaths, she said.

“I just felt overall there was a lack of ownership,” she said.

“There was a lot of pushback about under whose jurisdiction should this be. Is it each health authority’s responsibility? And if so they’re not getting the right or consistent direction, and each care home is struggling to get consistent feedback as well. Overall it just felt like a mess.”

Cheung said she hoped to see an inquiry that both ensured documentation about the handling of the pandemic in LTC facilities was made public, and led to concrete action to reform institutions.

BC Liberal Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon agreed there was a need for a thorough accounting B.C.’s pandemic performance, including how it shared information.

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“There absolutely does. And not because we want to try and say, ‘Oh somebody made mistakes,’ it’s because we want to learn so next time we do a better job,” he told Global News.

I think the biggest challenge we’ve seen so far with this government is transparency. That raises distrust and it causes people to wonder what they’re up to, and we don’t need that.”

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British Columbia has already announced a review of its operational pandemic response, but the move was quickly criticized for excluding decisions by government and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry from its terms of reference.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix pointed to that review when asked about the prospect of an inquiry, adding the province was still in a pandemic.

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He said his government’s priority coming out of the pandemic would be to strengthen and build capacity at agencies like the B.C. Centre for Disease Control to prepare for the future.

“What we need is not just reviews in the moment, but permanent independent structures in place to assist us in responding to pandemics,” Dix said.

“I actually think that’s what’s required, and made some decisions to that respect and will have an announcement to make on that soon.”

But those types of actions may not be enough to satisfy the public, according to Canseco.

“If you’re going to do this, go all the way,” he said.

“We need to talk about were we ready for this, what actions we took, and also what type of situation did we face economically, because that is something we’re still going to be paying for down the road.”

Poll results are based on an online study conducted from April 16 to April 18, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data was statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is +/- 3.1 percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty.

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