Public Health twice told government to delay 'get back out there' campaign

·3 min read
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang and deputy health and wellness minister Jeannine Lagassé arrive at Province House Tuesday to appear before the legislature’s standing committee on health. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang and deputy health and wellness minister Jeannine Lagassé arrive at Province House Tuesday to appear before the legislature’s standing committee on health. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)

It took three tries to convince Public Health officials to approve the launch of a provincial campaign urging Nova Scotians "to get back out there."

It was designed to spur Nova Scotians to resume pre-pandemic activities such as dining out, going to concerts and attending sports competitions — despite the ongoing pandemic.

Nova Scotia's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Robert Strang, told members of the Nova Scotia legislature's standing committee on health Tuesday that his office twice recommended that campaign be delayed.

"That campaign actually came to us three times," said Strang in response to a question from Liberal Leader Zach Churchill. "The first two times we said it's too early and we were listened to and the campaign didn't go ahead."

He offered a timeline to reporters following the meeting.

"I believe the first time was last fall and then they came to us … earlier in 2022," said Strang. "Both times when we talked about it said our recommendation is it's premature to do that, and we were listened to."

"So I think that that shows that there's lots of discussion, with a clear understanding [that this government is] listening to Public Health."

Khalehla Perrault, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness, said in an email that "stakeholder engagement" on the campaign began in July 2021 under the former Liberal government. She said Strang was first briefed on Aug. 10, 2021, which is before the Progressive Conservatives won a majority government in last summer's provincial election.

Launch came as health restrictions lifted

Another spokesperson for the province told CBC News in an email the consumer confidence campaign was a joint initiative between the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage.

"The two departments first reached out to public health early in the fall of 2021 to advise of the consumer confidence campaign they were working on. The campaign was brought forward to public health for consideration in early November, however once Omicron cases started to rise in Nova Scotia, public health advised it was not the right time to go forward with it," reads the email from Jenna McQueen.

"As part of regular ongoing conversations between the two departments and public health, the consumer confidence campaign was brought forward early in 2022 to identify the best time to launch during Nova Scotia's phased reopening plan. The campaign was formally brought forward again to public health for consideration in March of 2022 to align with the lifting of Nova Scotia's public health restrictions."

The $113,300 "consumer confidence campaign" was eventually launched in March to coincide with the lifting of almost all public health restrictions in Nova Scotia.

"This is for every measure we took to be safe today," said one government ad still available online. "Let's get back out there."

Last Friday, during a news conference, Strang said he was worried that many Nova Scotians have grown complacent about the dangers posed by the COVID 19 virus.

"We need to re-engage with the serious nature of COVID collectively as Nova Scotians," Strang told reporters.

Some Nova Scotians took to social media to blame the province and Public Health for the complacency, accusing the government of sending out mixed signals about the gravity of the Omicron wave of the virus, but Strang defended his office when asked about that criticism.

"Certainly from Public Health we've continued to be … very clear that we no longer need the restrictions, but as we open things up people need to make sure that they continue to use preventative measures," Strang said.

MORE TOP STORIES