Trust Is the Foundation of Authority, and Governments Are Losing Both

The heartbreaking death of Nathanael Spitzer, the cancer-stricken boy from Ponoka, exposed a most callous streak in Alberta’s medical bureaucracy. There is no forgiving how Alberta Health Services appallingly used a child’s death to promote yet more COVID-19 fear.

However, one should dismiss Deena Hinshaw’s empty promise to process deaths of minors scrupulously before reporting in future. It’s empty because the percentage of COVID-19 deaths among children is almost zero in Alberta, and all other reporting remains the same.

Hinshaw’s apology raises the question of trust in public authority: Do Albertans trust health bureaucrats and their elected bosses? The question of trust is important. Trust is a key link between rulers and the ruled. When the population has no trust in public officials, such officials govern without support. Without trust, rulers rule by imposition, merely enforcing and punishing; and when support is lacking, harsher enforcement becomes necessary for compliance.

As governments coerce more, their authority is further undermined. Coercion signals an absence of authority. The harsher use of coercive power is what happens when consent and trust are low.

Trust was an early casualty when governments in Canada reacted to the COVID-19 threat by immediately copying Beijing in imposing draconian lockdowns, but without protecting the most vulnerable. The harsh confinement rules are condescendingly undemocratic. They showed from the start that governments don’t trust their citizens to do what is right without pressing them with fears and power.  

People will respect rulers because they trust the sources of their authority: 1) the constitution and laws, 2) knowledge and competence, and 3) sound decision-making. Since March 2020, these three authority sources have been battered in the handling of the COVID-19 threat. Ottawa and the provinces seem unaware as to how they have consistently undermined their own authority.

First, our constitution and laws have been repeatedly bruised with an unchecked and unwarranted expansion of government powers: with the disregard for due process, with the weakening of Parliament, with persecutions – and at times brutal police arrests – with the choking of free expression and assembly, with the trampling of mobility and workers’ rights, with the violations of medical privacy and the not so veiled defilement of bodily sovereignty, with the dismissal of the emergency management authority, and with the domination of a kind of medical-industrial complex.

Second, one expects government to have knowledge and competency about governing emergencies.  Despite the early panic, Canadians hoped their governments would be competent in rolling out pandemic action plans, clearly executing objectives, and to have exit strategies for the crisis. Instead, the policy became the crisis. Governments quickly dismissed existing emergency plans and hatched new ones in panic and on the fly. They had no (and still do not have, 19 months later) reasonable objectives or exit strategy. Reaching herd immunity all hinged on vaccination. Sadly, the vaccines don’t immunize and cannot lead to herd immunity. So, governments choose to force vaccination and to marginalise those who refuse it instead of tackling the growing gap in trust.

The key to good government, when all else is in place, is good judgement. But good judgement has been absent, almost uniformly across the country (For a brief time, it seemed Alberta might be the exception). There has been poor judgement in the choices and adhockery of policy response to the virus. Erratic decisions never signal sound judgement. Let’s grant that things change quickly during crises, but the crass imposition of tenuous things, although presented as absolute science, time and time again, can never inspire confidence. To the contrary, the flip-flopping increases the confusion among most and defiance among many. There has been even poorer judgement in the divisive blaming, the thoughtless name-calling, and the gaslighting lies, primarily against those who dare to question or protest the haphazard decisions.

Always playing to the crowd, Premier Jason Kenney says he cannot understand why some persist about Ivermectin or why they won’t vaccinate. But that crowd is volatile. While the fears in which governments are foraging for support will eventually cease, the divisive abuses heaped on the vaccine recalcitrant will continues to erode public trust – and the trust lost about competence and judgement won’t likely be regained.

In the first week of October alone, the executive, the judicial and the medical bureaucracy failed Albertans again. The torqued blaming and punishing of the unvaxxed, Justice Germain’s offensive decision compelling speech to preacher Pawlowsky, and the naked attempt to manipulate the tragic death of young Nathanael Spitzer are all bold demonstrations of power still eroding trust.

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