The Trudeau Liberals are a lucky bunch. Calling an unnecessary election during a pandemic that was gaining in intensity could have turned out very badly. Now that the numbers are in, the last five weeks may one day be described by chroniclers of this political moment as “disaster averted.” The Liberals came back with a minority government and the pandemic remained under control in most of the country.

As reported here when the election was called on August 15, active cases totaled 17,025, up 65 percent from the previous week. Had cases continued to grow at that rate for five weeks, Canada would have been looking at over 200,000 active cases by election day.

Fortunately for everyone, the rate of increase levelled off at mid-campaign, leaving only 45,819 active cases on Sept. 20. And the increase in new cases was highest in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the widely reported mishandling of the pandemic by conservative governments gave the Liberal leader guilt-by-association darts to throw at his main opponent.

All told, there were 129,941 new cases reported between August 15 and September 20. Forty two per cent of those cases were in Alberta and Saskatchewan, provinces making up only 15 percent of the country’s population. Canada reported 733 deaths from COVID-19 over the six weeks of the campaign – with Alberta and Saskatchewan accounting for 37 per cent.

The alarming numbers in those provinces were given visual expression through the daily news reports of over-burdened hospitals and stressed-out health care workers in the two Prairie Provinces. On September 22, Alberta and Saskatchewan accounted for 55 per cent of COVID hospitalizations in the country, up from 47 per cent two weeks earlier. Add British Columbia and 70 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations were in the three westernmost provinces.

Table 1: Hospitalization by province, Sept. 22

In hospital In ICU
Canada 2,279 739
Alberta    996 222
Saskatchewan    265 54
B.C.    332 155
Ontario    299 187
Quebec    280 91
New Brunswick      24 15
Nova Scotia[i]      11    1

Source: COVID-19 Tracker Canada


International Comparisons

Even though the country’s ruling party was preoccupied with the election campaign, Canada continued to compare favourably with fellow members of the G7 club. The 129,941 new cases and 733 deaths reported over the course of the election campaign were far below rates reported by the U.S., the U.K and France where the fourth wave is hitting much harder. Only Italy had a case rate per million lower than Canada’s 3,414, while Germany and Japan were the only G7 members with lower deaths per million population.

Table 2: Cases and deaths per million Aug. 15-Sept. 20 G7 countries  

Cases/million Deaths/million
U.S. 16,311 157.3
U.K. 17,567    63.0
France 7,428    51.0
Japan 4,363    14.3
Germany 3,915    15.0
Canada 3,414    19.3
Italy 3,276    31.5

Source: Worldometer

Now that Trump has been replaced by Biden we tend to pay less attention to COVID case numbers coming out of the U.S. But the contrast between Canada and the U.S. and U.K. is stark, especially in light of the head start those two countries had on vaccines. Before freedom of choice became paramount, it will be recalled that for the first few months of this year the O’Toole Conservatives tried for political advantage by fanning the flames of vaccine nationalism, accusing the Liberals of bungling vaccine acquisition. Perhaps the Conservatives should have been more careful about what they wished for.

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia

As reported here, New Brunswick provided Nova Scotia with an example of what not to do when that province removed public health restrictions effective July 30, leading to a rapid increase in case numbers. When population size is taken into account, New Brunswick’s increase in cases in August was four times higher than Nova Scotia’s – 452 new cases in New Brunswick to 113 in Nova Scotia.

September has not been nearly so kind to Nova Scotia – 414 new cases from Sept. 1 to Sept, 23, 158 of those in the past week. But New Brunswick continues to fare much worse. After recording 855 cases over the same period, the government did an about face this week imposing stricter regulations, requiring masking and proof of vaccination for many activities. As of September 23, New Brunswick had 557 active cases to 147 for Nova Scotia, continuing to demonstrate either the wisdom of the Nova Scotia approach or the folly of New Brunswick’s.


[i] Nova Scotia total includes Sept. 23