David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

COVID and Conspiracy Theories

Brandon Sun, November 21, 2022 – David McConkey

Can we learn from our provincial COVID response to help us deal with our current healthcare crisis? And also to help us prepare for the next pandemic? I am afraid that in Manitoba we are too often content with mediocrity and are reluctant to learn.

And now we cannot publicly talk constructively about COVID. Why? Because we have slipped into a new era of conspiracy theories, destructive social discourse and widespread distrust of our institutions.

Let’s start with how Manitoba is doing in handling COVID. One indicator is the number of COVID deaths per million people. I recognize the limitations of any one metric. But it is relevant to look at deaths. First, of course, because of the loss of the individuals and resulting pain to their families and friends. And also because of the strain it puts on the healthcare system when the sick are hospitalized here or transported to other provinces for care.

In addition, because COVID is not likened to pneumonia: the “old person's friend,” gently accompanying a frail oldster as they shuffle off this mortal coil. Rather, it sounds like a COVID death is a tough way to die.

And, finally, because people are still dying of the disease. Hundreds in Canada die of COVID every week.

So, let’s examine the numbers.

When looking at COVID deaths in Canada per million population, the first thing that jumps out is Quebec as the highest. The second highest is Manitoba. And I’m afraid that the easy choice for us is to breathe a sigh of relief and to not look any further. At least Manitoba is not the worst! So, that counts as success, eh?

But we can learn by comparing Manitoba to other provinces. The COVID death rate in Manitoba is about 40% higher than in Alberta, 60% higher than in Ontario and a whopping almost 90% higher than in British Columbia. (Manitoba compares even more poorly with the Atlantic provinces and the territories, but let’s keep this simple.)

Please let those numbers sink in. COVID deaths in Manitoba are one and one-half times to almost double what they are in other populous provinces.

I can hear the excuses. Those other provinces are wealthier; their residents are younger, healthier or whatever. So how does Manitoba compare to Saskatchewan, which is similar to our province? COVID deaths in Manitoba are 20% higher than in Saskatchewan.

Why does Manitoba do so poorly? If we could find out why and then could improve our outcomes just to Saskatchewan levels – never mind other provinces – the benefits could be substantial. We might save lives, better handle our current healthcare crisis and be more prepared for the next pandemic.

And I am not only pointing at our provincial government and our healthcare system. Any investigation of our COVID performance should evaluate the role of the populace. How well are we ordinary folks doing: living healthily, obeying health orders, following health recommendations, getting vaccinated?

But I am afraid that we won’t be openly discussing our response to COVID. Governments are reluctant to admit their own shortcomings. Also, our social atmosphere is now contaminated by conspiracy theories.

Right now we would be cautious about opening up a public discussion of COVID-related concerns, like lifestyle correlations, treatments, public health measures and – especially – vaccines.

Wait a minute, go back. Is belief in conspiracy theories a big problem in Canada? Yes. Public opinion polls are now asking about conspiracies; the results are shocking. An Abacus Data poll conducted earlier this year found that 44% of Canadians believe that “big events like wars, recessions and the outcomes of elections are controlled by small groups of people working in secret against us.”

Wow! And the poll has more. How about this question: Is Bill Gates using microchips to track us and change our behaviour? One third of Canadians either aren’t sure, think this is possible or think this is definitely true.

No wonder so many of our fellow citizens distrust “experts,” governments, “Big Pharma” and the mainstream media. No wonder so many people are distrustful of COVID measures like vaccines. But countering harmful conspiracy theories is difficult.

So, we could do better in responding to COVID. But in today’s environment, even discussing how we might improve is a challenge. And addressing problems like the flu and new respiratory illnesses will be that much more difficult.

Interestingly, Alberta is now trying out a public discussion about COVID, but from the opposite direction. Their new premier, Danielle Smith, appears to be a sympathizer – if not a believer – in conspiracy theories. We will see how that turns out.

* * * *
See also: 

The Pandemic: Do Better This Time, Prepare for Next Time

Our Leaders Must Tell Us the Truth About the Pandemic

Telling the Truth Today

More Than Ever, Words and Ideas Matter

“Everything Feels Broken” with Pierre Poilievre

Enlightenment Values Are Needed Now More Than Ever



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now


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Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
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Extraordinary Canadians:
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The Greatest Show on Earth:
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