Canadian provinces and territories took highly divergent approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker indicators and aggregate stringency indices, this paper explores variation in the timing and relative stringency of government responses across 13 Canadian provinces and territories.

Canada is a decentralised federation where provinces and territories develop policies to fit local epidemiological and political contexts. The authors find that many smaller, less populous provinces and territories created the conditions for greater freedom of movement and ‘normalcy’ as compared to larger provinces. With the creation of regional zones and tiered policy triggers, most regions have adopted reactive policies and restrictions, often too late, and not without unintended confusion. To date, the authors find that the benefits of federalism have been unevenly leveraged, a lack of coordination in planning and communication between the provinces and territories is an area of opportunity for improved future pandemic planning.

This paper is a collaboration of the Blavatnik School with the Institute for Research on Public Policy and its Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation.