News Release

One year of data shows Canada’s provinces and territories took very different approaches to fighting COVID-19

March 18, 2021 Print

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, a new paper from the Institute for Research on Public Policy and the University of Oxford makes clear the stark differences among the policy responses of Canada’s provinces and territories.

The culmination of twelve months of tracking by the IRPP’s Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation and Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, the paper provides a snapshot of the relative severity of policies to combat the pandemic, including restrictions on gathering sizes, mask mandates, school closures, stay at home orders and travel restrictions.

It shows that the territories as well as the smaller, less populous provinces created the conditions for greater freedom of movement and “normalcy,” such as the Atlantic bubble, whereas the larger provinces restricted movements with curfews and stay-at-home orders. With the creation of regional zones and different policy measures triggered by changes in health care capacity, most regions have adopted policies and restrictions reactively, often too late, and frequently creating confusion in the public.

The paper makes clear that the benefits of federalism have been unevenly leveraged across Canada. The data provided here is intended to assist in improving future pandemic planning and communication among the provinces and territories.

To read the study in full and to download freely sharable high-resolution graphs that demonstrate the data individually by province and by territory, visit

This paper accompanies the publication of the Canadian subnational dataset of the  Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker. This database is continuously updated and publicly available to the public and to support the work of journalists, researchers and policy-makers as the pandemic continues to evolve.

The working paper, Variation in the Canadian Provincial and Territorial Responses to COVID-19, by Emily Cameron-Blake, Charles Breton, Paisley Sim, Helen Tatlow, Thomas Hale, Andrew Wood, Jonathan Smith, Julia Sawatsky, Zachary Parsons, and Katherine Tyson, was published by the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, and the Institute for Research on Public Policy’s Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation.

The Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation is a permanent research body within the Institute for Research on Public Policy. Its mission is to build a deeper understanding of Canada as a federal community.

The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford exists to inspire and support better government and public policy around the world.

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