Written for Daily Hive by Adam Bremner-Akins, SFU Political Science Student, and former BC Green Party MLA Candidate
On Monday, Premier John Horgan joined Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix to announce a new series of COVID-19 restrictions after case averages began rising in mid-February.
These restrictions should have been brought in sooner. But BC officials decided to wait as case counts crept up and, as a result, our case averages have spiked and new COVID-19 cases have doubled. John Horgan’s reaction?
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Rather than explain his government’s inaction or focus on specific rule-breakers, he chose to cast a blanket of blame over all young people, accusing them of “blow(ing) this for the rest of us” at Monday’s COVID-19 update.
There has been a strong push back on social media since the briefing on Monday. However, despite the nearly unanimous condemnation, he refused to walk back his attempt to deflect responsibility.
“I am not apologizing,” he told Surrey radio station Red FM on Tuesday.
“If 19-year-olds are asking me to apologize, I’ve got what I wanted.” It appears that what he wanted was to shift the ire of the public onto an easily identifiable group who have already been disproportionately victimized by this pandemic.
In reply to @JustinKulik 's tweet that @jjhorgan owes young people an apology for his COVID 19 remarks yesterday, Premier Horgan said: ""I am not apologizing, my intention was to catch young people's attention. If 19 year olds are asking me to apologize, I've got what I wanted."
— RED FM™ (@RED931FM) March 30, 2021
Young British Columbians have been on the front lines of this pandemic, risking their health and safety, since day one. While there is no denying that case counts are rising among young people, the responsibility of the premier and his government is the protect all British Columbians, not blame groups of them for his government’s incompetence.
Horgan’s focus on rising case counts among young people and on social gatherings ignores the work young people do every day in this province. The cohort that he is scapegoating does include rule breakers and may include a disproportionate number of partiers, but it also includes the majority of essential retail workers, restaurant service workers and a significant portion of hospital staff and educators. These are all roles that have become the most dangerous in the province.
As a result of their very public interactions, young people are disproportionally impacted by COVID-19. Their work increases their likelihood of exposure to the virus, thus increasing the probability that they will test positive.
The conditions for their typical employment dramatically decrease the likelihood that young people will be able to take advantage of opportunities available to older employees. Most of their service sector jobs do not offer paid sick leave or allow them to work remotely. While in the past there were employment options for them, the economic contractions caused by COVID-19 have forced young people to take employment that they know puts their health at risk.
A year-long pandemic is an economic challenge to everyone. However, for a group that is relatively new to the workforce and who lack any base of financial resources, it is a disaster.
Young people who are lucky enough to still have a job can’t afford to take time off. Pre-COVID rents already absorbed the bulk of their income and the government had done nothing to mitigate this.
Simply meeting the cost of living was already forcing many to work multiple service sector jobs and the pandemic exacerbated this challenge in innumerable ways. For those who are students or who are attempting to accumulate enough to become students, it has presented a whole range of new challenges. Their need to meet tuitions that only increase while still dealing with the cost of staying fed, and housed, has pushed many well past the breaking point.
We have all seen videos of groups violating public health orders with activities that are clearly dangerous. Those groups often visibly include people in the age range between 20 to 39.
Everyone in those activities should be prosecuted for violating public health orders and putting people at risk. However, there are also many videos of people who are not in that group parading through the streets breaking the same public health orders and further advocating that others do so. While there have been references to these assemblies, at no point did the premier characterize them by age and blame them for the crisis.
Sonia Furstaneau said it best in a tweet Monday afternoon.
“Maybe (the) government could look at the data and systemic conditions that are leading to higher case counts in this demographic and step up to help them,” she stated.
If John Horgan wanted to help young people, he would step up and address the issues facing young people in the province today. Instead of doing the work to make life for young people easier, he chooses to pin the results of his inaction on the group who, after the elderly, are most impacted by the virus.