A lot of us are getting cabin fever these days and that is understandable. Very few people like to be in lockdown, or anything close to it. Human beings are basically social animals. We generally like to be around other people, especially family, friends, and colleagues at work.
When that is not possible for a prolonged period of time, such as we face in current circumstances, we become sorely tested.
Top that off with the reality that the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that go with it cause serious financial difficulties to many people and a threatening calamity to our economy in general, it is no wonder that some of us tend toward crankiness.
But there is a limit.
Almost everyone and almost everywhere, people are on edge right now. We see it most graphically these days in the United States where things are clearly out of control. But we should not wrap ourselves in a cloak of self-righteousness, believing it can’t happen here, because it can—not to the same degree hopefully—but the signs of growing unrest are here, if you look for them.
I first began thinking about this not because of an issue at the provincial or federal level, although there are plenty of those, but rather because of something I saw online here in Muskoka. Nothing earth-shattering but disturbing nonetheless.
Our Member of Parliament, Scott Aitchison, along with Anthony Housefather, a Liberal colleague from Quebec, coauthored a bi-partisan op-ed article in the National Post, calling on civility in public discourse and emphasising the importance of this, especially in the times we are presently living through. It was a timely and important article, pointing out that people can disagree without being disagreeable and warning about hyped up rhetoric bringing us closer to what is happening south of the border. Aitchison also spoke of this in his monthly column on Huntsville Doppler. He has found his niche in Parliament and at the national level as a peacemaker, and I applaud him for that.
One response to this on social media was nothing short of disgusting. It was a personal attack on Scott Aitchison. It was vulgar, it was disrespectful, it was untruthful, and it was uncalled for. I will not dignify the author by naming her, but she does appear to enjoy the limelight on Facebook.
Scott Aitchison shrugged the comment off, but I do not. It is exactly the type of rhetoric that stirs people up, especially during stressful times, and has the potential of sowing the seeds of civic unrest. I hate to see it creeping in here.
Obviously, it is equally important to keep public discourse at the provincial and federal levels from becoming inflammatory and getting out of hand. That it is not currently happening is precisely why Scott Aitchison and Anthony Housefather wrote the article they did in the National Post. When respectful disagreement, criticism and debate are superseded by anger, hatred and nastiness, civil disobedience, and a breakdown in society cannot be far behind. It is for this reason that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a serious issue, as nerves become more frayed and as frustrations reach new highs, it is important to watch carefully what we do and what we say.
In recent days we have seen signs that people are getting tired of COVID-19 restrictions. One member of the Conservative Caucus in Ontario has been turfed out because he publicly disagreed with the government’s restrictive approach to managing the pandemic. That will undoubtedly embolden others who want to jump the fence, rip off their masks—if they wore them in the first place—and get back to a normal life.
In his latest column in the Toronto Star, Martin Regg Cohn wrote, “And yet throughout this pandemic there has been a peculiar crusade against the credentials and abilities of the scientific experts contributing to the provincial consensus on combating COVID-19. Often the criticism is directed against one politician, demonizing and personalizing the premier’s performance as if he were single-handedly standing in the way of an otherwise clear path to a COVID-free Ontario (never mind our status as a large jurisdiction with the least [my emphasis] COVID-19 fallout on the continent).”
Of course, mistakes have been made in the management of the pandemic by leaders at both the provincial and federal levels of government. It is fair ball to ask the hard questions.
For instance, in Ontario, how is it fair to allow super-stores like Costco and Walmart to stay open and sell their multitude of products just because they also sell groceries, when other smaller, mostly local businesses selling similar products are forced to close down? Or why is the LCBO considered an essential service with adequate restrictions in place, when places of worship are not?
At the federal level, why did the Trudeau Government turn down 16 million COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna? We have not had a real explanation of this. And why was there not a contingency plan for a glitch in vaccine production, which has now occurred with Pfizer? It is hard to blame the provinces for a lack of vaccinations when there is a serious lack of product.
These are all fair questions but they do not rise to the level of incompetency and statistics back that up. For example, the death toll in France from COVID-19 on a per capita basis is three-and-a-half times greater than in Ontario, and in New York State the death rate from COVID-19 is almost six times greater than COVID deaths in Ontario.
All of this is to say that, on balance, there is no reason for outrage over the management of the COVID-19 pandemic here. It is what it is. Nor should this be a time to use this pandemic as a catalyst to air other grievances or grudges, not against government, not against society, and not against democracy. This is no time for civic disobedience. There is a real risk of that at the moment. But let’s be Canadian.
Let’s just stay cool.
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