Well, here we go again. Another lockdown, this one for at least four weeks. Let the blame game begin. Again.
On Friday, I happened to tune in to a talk show on a Toronto radio station. The topic of the day was the decision of the Ontario Government to impose an “emergency brake” on the province in another effort to lower the curve of COVID-19 infections and the stress on our healthcare system. These kinds of programs can often result in some pretty blunt conversations.
This time they were over the top, like I have never heard before. The anger was palpable, deep, uncompromising, promoting lack of compliance and bordering on civil disobedience. It was denial in its fiercest form.
Earlier in the week, I had a call from a Huntsville resident whom I did not know, who was basically accusing all media of covering up the fact that this pandemic wasn’t real, but rather a plot by world governments to grab more power. Really! As if there was a snowball’s chance in Hell that many governments could agree on the time of day, let alone organize a global fake pandemic.
Yesterday, I saw a Zoom picture of many hundreds of anti-maskers, demonstrating on University Avenue in Toronto. That same day, I talked to someone I know and respect in Huntsville who said that while he knew the pandemic was real, he questioned whether many of the restrictions were necessary, effective, or fairly distributed.
And then there is Randy Hillier, an Ontario MPP from the Kingston area and a far right-wing zealot. Kingston has many things to be proud of, but this guy is not one of them. A couple of years ago he was thrown out of the Conservative caucus for his outrageous statements and behaviour. Now he is loudly comparing the Ontario Government’s actions to control the third wave of the pandemic to the Third Reich of Nazi Germany.
The Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, said this about Hillier’s diatribe: “There is—and should be—a vibrant debate about how best to deal with the pandemic. But equating the public health measures of democratically elected and accountable governments to the genocidal antisemitism of the Nazi Third Reich is odious. And bonkers.”
I agree with Kenney and in my view if they have the power to do it, Hillier should be thrown completely out of the Ontario Legislature. Hate speech is not free speech.
However, we should not be fooling ourselves. With a third shutdown in this province, there is a lot of frustration, anger, and hostility out there, and an increasing number of agitators stirring it up for their own purposes, causing many good people to second-guess what is really going on. I fear we are sitting on a tinderbox of resentment, resistance, and civil unrest.
This third wave of the pandemic is not just an Ontario problem. To blame that on Trudeau or Ford is just wrong. It is occurring in many parts of the world and in other parts of Canada, especially where there is a higher density of population. Canada’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Theresa Tam, has said very recently that stronger measures are needed across the country to supress the resurgence of COVID-19 and its variants.
We can and we have second-guessed the actions of all levels of government at various stages of this pandemic. And there are unquestionably real examples of insufficient vaccine availability from the Federal Government, and of unfairness in the manner pandemic restrictions have been applied by the province. Nevertheless, as we enter this third wave, when frustration levels are high, nerves are frayed, patience exhausted, and resources to survive strained, it is time to ratchet things down a notch or two before things get out of hand.
In the course of this pandemic, we are at a crossroads now; a place where the curve of the virus meets the effectiveness of the vaccine. When you break it all down, there are only three elements that must occur for the vaccine to be effective and win the day.
First, the vaccine must be available. There has been much debate about this. The Province of Ontario blames the Federal Government for a lack of supply, citing a shortfall in March of 850,000 doses which were promised and not delivered. The Federal Government takes issue with this, saying Ontario has been supplied with more vaccines than they need. Frankly, who knows who is right? Sadly, most of us will make up our minds based on who we support politically, and that does absolutely nothing to resolve the issue of supply.
One Conservative insider has told me that the decision has been made by the provincial government to stop the blame game going forward, as it accomplishes nothing. I hope that actually happens at both levels of government. It will tone down the rhetoric and be a good step forward. All signs now point to an increased availability of vaccines and that should be the top priority for everyone.
Second, we must get vaccines in people’s arms. Once they have the vaccines, that responsibility lies with the provincial government. In my view, the jury is still out on how effective a job the Ford Government is doing on this. As I mentioned in a previous article, the experience my wife and I had in receiving our vaccines was flawless. However, I have also heard a number of tales of confusion, frustration, and delay from those whose experience in getting the vaccine did not go as smoothly as ours.
I am told by someone with many years’ experience at Queen’s Park, through Liberal and Conservative governments, that their distribution system is now capable of handling as many vaccines as they receive as well as a future increase in supply. The proof of that will be in the pudding but it is an essential part of ending this pandemic.
In terms of getting vaccines in people’s arms, it is also important for the government to deal with vaccine hesitancy, which is a growing issue, especially since efficacy issues have been raised with one of the vaccines. Herd immunity, which will bring the COVID-19 virus to its knees—if not eliminate it—cannot occur unless the vast majority of people are vaccinated.
I do not agree with those who suggest that COVID-19 vaccines should be mandatory. People have the right to make their own decisions about their body. But I also support the ability of airlines, cruise ships, other businesses and organizations to refuse service to those who make the decision not to be immunized. That, too, is their right and it protects the majority of our population.
Third and finally, we need to remember that governments, Liberal or Conservative, do not spread the COVID-19 virus. We do. At the end of the day, only we can spread it and only we can prevent it or greatly reduce its efficacy. It is our behaviour that determines the curve.
That means when it is your turn to get the vaccination, go for it. It means wearing masks, vaccinated or not, when out in public. It means avoiding crowds and maintaining social distancing. I acknowledge that to many this is a major pain in the rear end, and to others it presents serious financial implications. But the reality is that the choice is ours. Governments can manage this pandemic, but they cannot end it. Only we can.
There was no playbook for this pandemic—although it will certainly provide one for the future—and so, of course, there have been mistakes. In these most stressful of times, it is easy to point fingers, to find that fall guy, and refuse to play by the rules. There is always a threshold for that, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t solve the problem.
Most people now know who Dr. Anthony Fauci is: a prominent American medical expert when it comes to infectious diseases. In a recent interview he reiterated that COVID-19 “is our common enemy.” He went on to lament, “Instead of fighting it, we are fighting each other.” He was speaking about the United States, but the same applies here and the danger of it increasing is real.
Criticism and accountability when warranted are fair game. Obstruction, misinformation, character assassination, conspiracy theories, and outright disobedience are not. The phrase, “We are all in this together” is really getting tired (just like the rest of us) but it remains true. If we really want to beat this pandemic, each of us has an important role to play.
Let’s just buckle up and get the job done.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc. and enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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