By Sondra Read
We have heard many apologies lately from politicians and hospital CEOs who in their bubble of entitlement thought it would be okay for them to travel during the height of a pandemic, ignoring their own leadership pleas to their constituents or staff to stay home.
One of the latest is from a London hospital CEO, Dr. Paul Woods, who ironically had been criticised for shaming staff for not taking COVID precautions seriously enough. Yet between March and Christmas, Woods travelled five times to see family in the U.S.
His actions were bad enough but his apology is really telling. It begins by saying, “hindsight will always be 20/20” but that he fully apologizes. (Apparently there are degrees of apologies.) Huh? Is he trying to say that he was unaware it was a bad idea to completely contravene the advice he was preaching, or rather that he lacked the hindsight to know he’d get caught?
One of the most disappointing stories for me, and the guy that kicked things off, was the inexplicable actions of now-former Finance Minister Rod Phillips, who had a reputation for being intelligent, ethical, and a good person to have at the cabinet table. But somehow Phillips convinced himself that it was okay for him to vacation outside Canada, in mid-December, days before his premier announced a province-wide lockdown, something as a Minister he must have known was coming.
It would seem Phillips had a little more foresight that his travels might be a problem because he apparently did not call in his whereabouts until he was already in St. Barts. His well-thought-out media posts, vague on dates and intentionally misleading constituents about where he was at Christmas, make his actions seem even more manipulative and deceitful.
I could not help but think about his staff who may have had to participate in this charade.
And then there was more. More stories about more officials and politicians who had travelled over Christmas—some with better excuses than others but excuses just the same. It became clear that entitlement and disconnect exist across all positions of authority, partisan lines, and jurisdictions. What were they thinking? ‘I am who I am and I do what I do’ is not permission to expect less from themselves—just the opposite. As a politician, the responsibility borne by their position can be heavy and sometimes overwhelming—but they have a pretty good idea of that going in and make that choice when they put their name on a ballot. So many Canadians are rightfully angry. I am angry when I hear excuses, by more than one politician, that the trip was “previously planned”. What does that mean, that you had already booked your trip and could not be expected to take a financial hit on a vacation that many of your constituents would never be able to afford, even in the best of times?
There are a lot of Canadians who had “previous plans” before this pandemic hit. Nothing as important as a vacation or dealing with property issues—just things like cancer screenings, surgeries, or an in-person check-up with their doctor about unexplained symptoms. An article in The Globe and Mail (July 14, 2020) reported that according to the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network more than 50 per cent of cancer patients had tests or treatments delayed during the pandemic. As someone who was diagnosed last Christmas with breast cancer, I know how it feels to have a tumour in your body—knowing every duplication of a cell is growing the disease within you and potentially worsening your prognosis. I was fortunate enough to have surgery, in Huntsville, at the end of last January but at one point there was no certainty if and when I was going to get treatments at Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie. I eventually did but the care was modified and the feeling of a team behind you unavoidably lost. My heart goes out to those still waiting.
And what about the undiagnosed? Cancer diagnoses have decreased across the country, in some areas by almost 40 per cent. Every cancer expert knows that’s not because of a decrease in cancer, but because it isn’t being diagnosed. The head of radiation oncology at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto described people living unknowingly with cancer as “missing” and they can’t find them (The Globe and Mail, Oct. 30, 2020). And that is just cancer, other serious diseases (heart) are being missed or only discovered in advanced stages. For some of those people, it will be some time before the statistical outcomes of those delays can be measured but the mental damage is very real and happening right now.
Do I believe leaders who travelled during the pandemic are terrible people? I don’t know any of them personally but I doubt it. More likely they are decent people who began their careers with honourable intentions.
But as they ponder how to salvage those careers I hope they think about the “previous plans” of the people who honoured them with their trust.
People who planned to live a full life, to watch their grandchildren grow up, have adventures, find joy even if it was not on an island in Hawaii but in their own backyard. But they didn’t get to see their doctor or get that mammogram and their tumour did not wait for a more appropriate time to grow. They previously planned to live—some of them may not.
Sondra Read is a Huntsville resident. She has a Bachelor of Journalism with Honours in political science from Carleton University and is the former constituency manager for the former MP of Parry Sound-Muskoka
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