By Bruce Cameron
Decades ago, Bob Dylan sang, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Yet as COVID-19 weariness gives way again to resignation among British Columbians at increased social restrictions, it’s difficult to envision envisioning a path beyond the pandemic.
History and science both show that this pandemic will pass, perhaps sooner than we imagine. The swift rise in cases prompted by Omicron is likely to be followed by an equally spectacular drop in cases, if the experience in South Africa is any indication. While the sheer volume of cases has the potential to severely stress the health care system, vaccinations and booster shots seem to be working as planned: reducing the severity of the illness and the number of hospitalizations and deaths.
This year should see a sudden shift from dealing with exponential growth of the disease (a pandemic) to a persistent yet predictable level of spread (an endemic). Recently developed treatment protocols like the new drug Paxlovid give cause for hope. Yet, with hope comes fear, an understandable reaction to the upheaval over the past two years.
Will 2022 be remembered as the year we started to move beyond COVID-19? Will it be the start of an era of substantial societal change? According to some of the brightest minds monitoring digital trends, the answer is a resounding yes on both counts.
According to Falcon.io in their Digital Marketing Trends 2022 Report, “History has always been cyclic. And if we’ve learned anything from our past, it’s that pandemics change society. The Bubonic Plague led to the Renaissance. The Spanish Flu led to the Roaring ‘20s. The COVID-19 pandemic has parallels with the plagues of our past. It wouldn’t be a stretch to predict that much like our past pandemics, our tumultuous present will lead to a great societal change in 2022.”
To picture what those societal changes may look like in B.C., we examine First Nations, forestry and finances, for clues about what 2022 holds.
First Nations’ empowerment will become the defining feature of our political culture. From Fairy Creek to the Wet’suwet’en blockades, that power of change will reverberate throughout B..C.’s critical resource sector. Equally important are the more symbolic aspects of reconciliation, such as reclamation of land in the form of place names. Naming is an important first step in land reclamation, and it will become a barometer of changing political power in 2022.
B.C.’s “war in the woods” in 1993 upended the forestry industry at the time, capturing international attention and forcing major policy changes. That fight has been rekindled by a new generation, taking up the cause their parents fought for in the Clayquot Sound and beyond. The tension between priorities of the declining extraction economy (‘harvesting’ trees) and a growing experience-based economy (highlighted by rising eco-tourism) will severely test the mettle of the governing New Democrats.
At the heart of the NDP’s approach is a deferral program that tries to respect First Nation’s sovereignty over forests, the importance of forest sector jobs in many BC communities, and the crusade to protect ancient old growth forests. Satisfying so many competing interests will prove impossible.
Financially, the pandemic has upended many long-standing economic assumptions. Subsidies and supports for people thrown out of work by COVID-19 have made the idea of establishing a guaranteed income more appealing across the political spectrum. The stress of COVID-19 closures and restrictions has disrupted many industries, but none more than hospitality, where there are now more job openings than candidates. Inevitably, that will mean pressure for restaurants, hotels, and tourism operators to increase wages and benefits. Cue inflation—bogeyman that has not reared its head in many young workers’ lifetimes.
In B.C. there are several political milestone moments coming, from the B.C. Liberal leadership contest February 5 to a new provincial budget in the spring and local elections throughout B.C. in October. If even some of the predictions for a tumultuous 2022 come true, navigating those political milestones will be more treacherous than ever. As Bob Dylan once said,“Get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand, cause the times they are a changing”.
Bruce Cameron has been a pollster and strategist for over 35 years, working initially for Gallup Polls, Decima Research and the Angus Reid Group before founding his own consultancy, Return On Insight.