Canada Ebola Panic Blues

The Hon. Chris Alexander, immigration minister, who you shouldn’t vote for.

Although I am in general not a fan of the current government, I am still very surprised and highly disappointed in the Government of Canada’s ridiculous decision to stop issuing any visas to residents of, and travellers to, the countries affected by the ebola outbreak. Ebola is a dangerous, scary virus that is very likely to kill you should you contract it, so I can understand why you wouldn’t want it in your country. But ebola can’t be spread except by contact with bodily fluids of people who show symptoms. And the amount of people coming to Canada from these countries is small enough that they can be checked. In case you’re in doubt: the decision made by the government doesn’t apply to Canadians who go, nor to people who do have visas already but haven’t used them yet. So the actual harm reduction achieved by this ban is zero. Worse than that, it’s below zero because a blanket ban is irresponsible: the reason it is strongly discouraged is not just economic – it poses a health risk because it can lead authorities to cover up outbreaks, and travellers to avoid official channels. So our government is doing something that increases problems associated with the ebola outbreak, going against the advice of scientists and public health professionals, and as a bonus, breaking its obligations under the International Health Regulations treaty. As Nick Cohen writes in the guardian, ignoring the advice of scientists for political grandstanding reasons is a problem that has huge negative effects far beyond ebola. There is no doubt that this is what’s happening. As the National Post points out, officials in the current Canadian government can’t even claim to be standing by a misguided principle, as they were involved in vigorously protesting and overturning the travel advisory to Toronto during the SARS outbreak (a disease where a travel advisory actually makes somewhat more sense because of the possibility of airborne spread, but still not really, since once again non-symptomatic carriers are not contagious). Vancouver East MP Libby Davies is quoted as saying:

“The World Health Organization and the World Bank have both spoken out sharply against international travel bans, so the experts we’re relying on to fight Ebola are saying this is not the right approach. The Conservative government seems more interested in public relations than in acting on recommendations from public health experts.”

That seems spot on to me. The Canadian system of government is set up so that the party in power can govern, and the opposition has very little power but lots of opportunity for bullshit political posturing by shadow ministers. There are advantages and disadvantages to this system, but how do we react when the dumb PR-based posturing is instead undertaken by the government, and replaces actual governance? I think that, even if you are generally a conservative person, stuff like this is indication that the current government doesn’t deserve your money, doesn’t deserve your support and doesn’t deserve your vote.




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