The vaccine passport is a win for Doug Ford. Let’s hope it doesn’t go to his head

OPINION: Things are looking up in Ontario. But the Tories shouldn’t let recent successes cloud their judgment like they did at the end of the second wave
By Matt Gurney - Published on Oct 15, 2021
The Ford government launched Ontario’s official vaccine-passport app a week earlier than expected. (Tijana Martin/CP)

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It’s not often that we get to start one of these columns with good news, so let’s lean in and embrace the opportunity: the Ontario vaccination passport, the official one, has begun rolling out through smartphone app stores earlier than expected. The target date had been October 22. The first tranche of Ontarians, those with birthdays between January 1 and April 30 (woo-hoo!), became eligible to download theirs on Friday. That’s a week ahead of schedule. That’s good news. And it feels good to say so.

I would also like to note, in the spirit of humility and transparency, that I was wrong about this working out. In a recent column here, I quipped that the project was likely to run long, if for no other reason than that you should always take the over when betting on Canadian government procurement timelines. I am delighted to have been proven wrong on this one, and I propose we immediately take the team who handled Ontario's vaccination passport and set them to work on replacing our submarine fleet. The Navy could use the help, and the French might have a proposal for us.

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A screenshot of the official Ontario vaccination-passport app.
A screenshot of the official Ontario vaccination-passport app.

As the vaccination passports roll out — every Ontarian will be eligible to download them as of Monday morning — we have to make sure we don’t go overboard in a rush to put COVID-19 behind us. Vaccine passports aren't magic. If we’re blunt about it, their only real use is in protecting some particularly vulnerable populations and, more broadly, encouraging hesitant people to go out and get the jab. Ontario's vaccination rate is very good. We’re in a solid position on that front. With luck, the passport will help us do even better.

And this is all against the broader backdrop of a pretty good overall COVID-19 situation across the province. We still need to wait about a week to see whether there’ll be a post-Thanksgiving bump, but we’re in a better position than many people, myself included, expected.

As welcome as this all is, and it is genuinely and sincerely welcome, I don’t think I’m the only Ontarian starting to cast a wary eye toward Queen’s Park. A largely vaccinated population, newly deployed vaccine-passport system, and good hospital metrics are all, indeed, reasons to begin a cautious, phased reopening. Because, let’s face it, we are going to reopen eventually. This pandemic seems to have dragged on forever, but it’s been only 19 months — well, only” — and it will end one day, probably soon.

A screenshot of the official Ontario vaccination-passport app. ​
A screenshot of the official Ontario vaccination-passport app. ​

The only real question is whether we stick that landing gracefully or fall flat on our faces again like we did during the third wave. Doug Ford and his government have a ton of reasons to want to reopen as quickly as possible. Some of them are noble and pure: normalcy is a victory for all of us; it’s what we have all been sacrificing for. But some of them are more crassly political: the public-health measures that the premier has been forced to resort to are obviously resting uneasily with members of his caucus and voting base. Ford is palpably uncomfortable with some of what this emergency has required him to do. And after all, there’s an election coming. The sooner the government can put this nightmare behind it and start looking to the future, the better it will feel about its chances (and despite what you might wish or believe, I’d say its chances are pretty good).

This all sets up the danger of another rush to declare victory and begin reopening, like we saw at the tail end of the second wave — shortly before the third wave kicked us right on the bottom. The Ford government does genuinely seem to have learned some lessons from that, or at least it has looked that way in recent months. My concern is that the Tories will let more recent successes go to their heads and rush the final stage.

Everyone wants their old lives back, myself very much included. But the dumbest thing we could do now would be to botch the final act in our excitement to be nearly at the end of this. Maintaining a slow, cautious approach isn’t just the right thing to do on its own merits; it’s also the conservative thing to do, and it is baffling how many of our conservative politicians seem to have forgotten the essence of what conservatism is supposed to be about: prudence and cautious, moderate, incremental change instead of headlong rushes into risky transitions.

Maybe I’m too cynical. Maybe I’m still so angry over the debacle of a third wave that I’m allowing it to sour my mood even as the overall picture improves. Hell, I hope that’s the case. But whatever the reason, I can’t help but watch Queen's Park with suspicion. The credibility that the Tories burned in the third wave is something they'll never get back, at least not in my eyes. I hope this goes well for them. I can make the rational case that it will. I still worry. I hope they still worry, too.

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