As Quebec election looms, Legault steps away from pandemic spotlight | CBC News


After almost two years as the general public face of the province’s COVID-19 response, François Legault has pulled a U-turn.

Since Feb. 1, the Quebec authorities has held a complete of 15 information conferences about COVID-19. The premier has attended solely two of them.

His final look at a normal COVID-19 information briefing was on Feb. 8, almost three months in the past. That is when he advised Quebecers it was time to study to dwell with the virus.

“The inhabitants is fed up. I am fed up. We’re all fed up,” the premier mentioned that day. “Proper now, we will take a calculated threat and eventually flip the web page.”

Since then, not solely has he turned the web page on strict public well being restrictions, he is additionally relinquished the province’s pandemic highlight, after months of getting it just about to himself. 

Consultants CBC Information spoke to agree on one of many main explanation why. 

“We now have elections coming in Quebec in early October,” mentioned Prof. Daniel Béland, a political scientist and director of the McGill Institute for the Examine of Canada.

“They do not need this coming election in Quebec to be concerning the pandemic.”

WATCH | Legault has a lot to realize from staying away from COVID-19 matter, says Daniel Béland:

‘Politically savvy’ for Legault to distance himself from pandemic, professional says

Daniel Béland, the director of the McGill Institute for the Examine of Canada, says being the the general public face of the province’s COVID-19 response might be detrimental to François Legault. 1:04

Shielded from blame 

Now you are extra prone to discover the premier discussing wind and renewable-energy projects and Quebec Metropolis’s future tramway than the pandemic.

However the virus hasn’t disappeared. Not less than 3,000 Quebecers have died from COVID-19 to date, this 12 months alone.

There are almost 2,300 individuals in Quebec hospitals with the virus, and the day by day case depend clocks in at about 2,000, though the precise quantity is probably going a lot increased: since so few individuals have entry to PCR exams now, the province’s means to trace the unfold is not almost what it as soon as was. 

So despite the fact that COVID-19 remains to be very a lot current, two years into the pandemic, the once-daily briefings have a special really feel now.

It’s an unelected official, Dr. Luc Boileau, the interim public well being director, who meets reporters, both alone or flanked by different unelected well being specialists.

That setup is a throwback to the earliest days of the pandemic, when Boileau’s predecessor, Dr. Horacio Arruda, was the primary public face within the province’s combat in opposition to the virus. Legault then stepped in and started addressing Quebecers each day.

Even when Legault is not the general public face of the province’s combat in opposition to COVID-19, he’s the one who has last say on pandemic restrictions. The general public well being director can solely make suggestions. 

However the way in which Béland sees it, casting Boileau because the province’s sole pandemic spokesperson does have the impact of defending Legault and the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec from blame and liberating up the premier to make use of his public appearances for different functions. 

“They wish to speak about different issues, concerning the financial system and about a few of their insurance policies that they’ve launched,” Béland mentioned.

François Legault and newly sworn-in CAQ MNA Shirley Dorismond, left, rejoice final month’s byelection victory in Marie-Victorin. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

They do not wish to threat any political capital, Béland says, “like they did a bit quickly through the Omicron wave, by making errors that shall be tied on to François Legault. That is why he’s making a distance between himself and the administration of the pandemic.”

That distance grew to become much more obvious in March.

Radio-Canada revealed emails, displaying that Arruda, then the general public well being director, had needed to scramble to discover a scientific foundation to justify the province’s second pandemic curfew on the finish of final 12 months.

The day following the publication of Radio-Canada’s story, there was a COVID-19 information briefing. Solely Boileau confirmed up. He was compelled to reply questions on an issue he had nothing to do with.

Legault waited one other 5 days to make a public look, and that was to launch the byelection marketing campaign in Marie-Victorin, a longtime Parti Québécois stronghold on Montreal’s South Shore which CAQ candidate Shirley Dorismond finally received.

The premier remains to be not speaking about his absence from common COVID-19 briefings. A request for remark was not returned.

Montreal police detain a person who ran from them firstly of the second curfew imposed by Quebec, on Dec. 31, 2021. In March, Radio-Canada revealed emails that confirmed then-public well being director Dr. Horacio Arruda had been hard-pressed to justify that curfew scientifically. (Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press)

Sending improper message

Legault’s strategy is not a lot completely different from that of different premiers, in accordance with College of Ottawa Prof. Patrick Fafard, an professional within the politics of public well being, who says it is acceptable for the premier to “step again a bit.”

In current months, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s public appearances have additionally had loads much less to do with COVID-19. Voters in Ontario are headed to the polls subsequent month.

Provincial governments “try to shift the framing of COVID away from one in all disaster … to at least one  of problem, continued vigilance,” Fafard mentioned.

UQAM Prof. Kim Lavoie, a specialist in behavioural medication, says the premier is sending the improper message, telling Quebecers to study to dwell with the virus and not attending COVID-19 information briefings. (Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC)

“The one downside is that many within the public well being group, and certainly, a big swath of most people don’t assume now could be the time to make the shift,” he mentioned. 

Université de Québec à Montréal Prof. Kim Lavoie, who holds the Canadian analysis chair in behavioural medication, is amongst those that typically want to have politicians play the background on scientific and public well being issues. 

However after 20 months of being omnipresent, Legault telling Quebecers to study to dwell with the virus proper earlier than disappearing from COVID-19 information conferences sends the improper message, even when it advantages him politically, she mentioned.

“I feel the message persons are getting is there’s nothing we will do, and we’re all doomed to get contaminated,” mentioned Lavoie.

She mentioned there’s nonetheless loads we do not know concerning the virus, together with the results of lengthy COVID and repeat infections from Omicron and its subvariants.

“I do not assume the pandemic itself is healthier,” mentioned Lavoie. “I feel the dialogue round it’s much less dramatic.”

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