President Steenkamp's video message: Thursday, April 9

April 9, 2020
Philip Steenkamp, PhD

Hello everybody.

We are coming to the end of another extraordinarily busy week and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for your continued focus and your hard work.

You might have noticed I’ve gotten a tripod for my iPhone so that these videos don’t need to be too up close and personal. I hope to perfect my technique in the weeks ahead.

The other thing you might notice is that I am growing a beard.  This is my equivalent of a playoff beard. I’m not going to shave until it’s clear that we are winning this battle against COVID. My partner tells me this look is distinguished. But looking at all the grey I think what he really means is that it makes me look old.

It’s been about three weeks since the government declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID crisis. In that time we've seen a drastic change in the way we live our lives. We’ve all learned the importance of staying at home as much as possible and the importance of physical distancing when we are outside.

Through all this I’ve been incredibly impressed with our leaders. Our provincial and our federal leaders have been decisive, they’ve been empathetic, and they’ve been highly responsible to the challenges of this crisis. Public health officers both here and around the world have been extraordinary.

In particular I would like to sing the praises of Dr. Bonnie Henry, our provincial health officer. 

A lot has been said about Dr. Henry during this crisis. She’s emerged as a sort of folk hero. In fact, there is even a song about her called “The Ballad of Dr. Bonnie Henry.” 

What makes her so compelling?  I think there are a few things.

First, she exudes a remarkable sense of calm. During the press briefings she is soft spoken. She’s calm. She’s confident. She’s firm. And we have the confidence that her steady hand will steer us through this particular storm.

She is also transparent, she’s honest and she’s balanced. During the COVID briefings, which occur six times a week, she gives us all the facts we need. She treats us like adults. She gives us good advice so we can make smart decisions. She doesn’t sugar coat the truth, but she doesn’t sensationalize the news either. And she walks a very fine line between balancing the privacy rights of individuals and protecting the broader community. 

She is also authentic and caring. A few weeks ago at a news briefing she briefly broke down and cried. She apologized and said she was tired. 

But for me that was a remarkable sign.

That vulnerability was a remarkable sign of her courage and strength. That moment, in fact, she became one of us.

This is what leadership looks like in a crisis. It is calm. It is empathetic. It is evidence based. And it is resolute.

It hasn’t been more obvious to me than now, about the importance of expertise at times like this. 

So this weekend — this sunny weekend — when you’re feeling a little stir crazy at home and you want to get outside and maybe bend the rules a bit, please remember Dr. Bonnie Henry and her colleagues. These are extraordinary leaders who are giving us good advice and they are going to lead us through this.

So please have a relaxing weekend and stay safe, and I look forward to talking with you again next week.