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Politicians flouting COVID-19 rules damage trust and compliance: U.K. study

Last Updated Jan 4, 2021 at 8:09 am PDT

FILE - Signage urging people to avoid non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ryan Lidemark, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Some people may have trouble trusting leaders after several politicians were caught ignoring public health advice

Research finds there’s marked decrease in compliance with public health orders when politicians break the rules

Several Canadian politicians spent time outside of the country over the holidays, despite urgings not to travel

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – COVID-19 rules are supposed to be for everyone — no excuses, no exceptions. However, compliance with those rules could decline after several Canadian politicians were caught flouting them over the holidays.

According to data out of University College London in the United Kingdom, there’s been a marked decrease in compliance with public health orders when politicians and others in power have been caught breaking the rules.

In recent days, it’s come to light that not one, but several, politicians in Canada spent time outside of the country in December, despite public health guidance to avoid non-essential travel due to the pandemic.

Among them is now-former Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips, who travelled to the Caribbean in mid December. Phillips resigned as finance minister on Dec. 31 after he returned from the two-week trip to St. Barts but continues to sit as an Ontario MLA.

Meanwhile, the federal NDP stripped veteran MP Niki Ashton of her cabinet critic positions after she revealed she travelled to Greece to visit her seriously ill grandmother.

The party released a statement on Jan. 1 saying Greek officials, who currently only permit visitors to enter the country if they can prove their trip is essential, approved Ashton’s visit but party leader Jagmeet Singh was apparently not made aware of Ashton’s plans.

The statement also said party members sympathize with Ashton’s situation, but noted millions of Canadians adhered to public health guidelines under similarly pressing circumstances.

The U.K. researchers say when people witnessed federal politicians working loopholes or sneaking around despite travel restrictions, personal sacrifices seemed less necessary and goodwill turned to anger.

Related video: Politicians travelling abroad receiving backlash

The study’s researchers say that people start to see the rules, not the virus, as the enemy.

Researchers crunched the data from March to November and concluded that trust declined steeply after powerful people were seen exploiting their privileges.

In B.C., the province says no members of cabinet have left the country since March, but it’s not certain if MLAs outside of the provincial cabinet or if all of B.C.’s federal MPs can say the same.

The BC NDP has confirmed that all caucus members have been in Canada since March 18, while the provincial Ministry of Health has also confirmed no NDP cabinet ministers has left the country since that.

NEWS 1130 has reached out to the BC Liberals and Green Party on the subject.