“Keep calm and carry on.”
It was the slogan, and mindset, that helped get the British people through the hardships, setbacks and tragedies of the Second World War. But the reaction in some circles to the Omicron variant shows that this shared sense of resolve and determination appears to have been replaced with a bottomless appetite for whining and victimhood among many Canadians.
The stiff upper lip that characterized the conservative mindset in Great Britain has been replaced in contemporary Canada by a perpetually quivering bottom one.
In response to the reality that booster shots are going to be required, perhaps for years to come, National Post reporter Tyler Dawson captured this new mood when he tweeted: “We were given a lot of certainty, and the football has been yanked away. The upset might not be *right* but it’s entirely understandable.”
Dawson had it wrong. We were never promised two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine would bestow us with immunity for the rest of our lives. And the very fact they work as well as they do, or did, is practically a miracle unto itself.
The response from some Conservative MPs to guidance from the federal government urging people to reduce unnecessary travel during the holiday season was even more overwrought. Melissa Lantsman, the MP for Thornhill and a rising star in her caucus, wrote, “Asking Canadians, who have done everything governments told them to for almost two years, to keep disrupting their lives and livelihoods because the government failed to plan is ludicrous.”
What’s actually ludicrous here is the notion the government could have anticipated the development of a new variant that has caught the scientists and researchers studying COVID-19 off-guard, much less prevented its arrival in Canada. It’s especially ludicrous coming from a party that can’t even convince all of its own elected members to get vaccinated, much less its most ardent supporters.
This conservative pushback against common sense is no laughing matter, though, and in some parts of their universe, it's taken a much uglier form. This week, far-right provocateur Ezra Levant put a $5,000 bounty — his words — on the head of Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and front-line health-care worker in Toronto.
Why? Because Dosani, one of the more outspoken critics of the Doug Ford government’s handling of COVID-19, had the temerity to suggest people should cancel their holiday plans in order to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant. That makes him a target for the likes of Levant, who tweeted that he would provide a “$5,000 bounty to anyone who sends video of this fear-mongering TV doctor breaking COVID rules.”
Said “fear-mongering TV doctor” is actually the founder and lead physician with Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless (PEACH) and a past recipient of the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross for Humanitarianism.
Opinion: The stiff upper lip that characterized the conservative mindset in Great Britain has been replaced in contemporary Canada by a perpetually quivering bottom one, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #COVID19 #Omicron #CDNpoli
But Levant was hardly the only person outraged by the idea that doctors would encourage people to stay home, avoid large gatherings and generally err on the side of caution in the face of a massive surge of COVID cases and hospitalizations. Jenni Byrne, a former senior adviser to Stephen Harper and Ford and a regular on the popular Curse of Politics podcast, joined the Dr. Dosani pile-on by tweeting “the online shaming, esp from health care professionals is disgusting.”
Then there’s the Toronto Sun’s Brian Lilley, who wrote in his recent column that “instead of listening to the Science Table and the never-ending contradictory positions of the TV and Twitter doctors, the government should find people with a better track record.” His target of choice was Dr. Amit Arya, whom he accused of having a “whiplash-inducing change of heart on booster doses.”
Lilley’s beef here revolves around a pair of tweets — one from Dec. 2, in which Arya pointed out the lack of global vaccine equity, and one on Dec. 13, in which he pointed out the curious lack of urgency on the part of the Ford government (one with which Lilley has a complicated relationship) in distributing booster doses. It’s fair to assume that Lilley is also trying to punish him for another tweet earlier this year in which Dr. Arya called out Lilley for, you guessed it, “attacking doctors and science.”
This isn’t so much a “change of heart” as it is an attempt to create the impression of one. But here’s the thing: if Dr. Arya had changed his mind, it would be because of new data about the Omicron variant and the risk it posed, not some sort of desire to confuse the public and attract attention. And if there’s one thing you want from your experts, it’s a willingness to update their priors based on new information, not double down on their pre-existing beliefs in the name of consistency.
People like Lilley and Byrne don’t actually want experts, though, much less those who are willing to criticize the government’s policies or challenge their decisions. They want people who will toe their line, which has already put far more people in the line of COVID-19’s fire than was necessary. But the way out of this pandemic isn’t by threatening doctors or attacking experts who dare speak the truth. It’s in finally, seriously, listening to them — and then doing what’s required, as hard and unpleasant as it might be.
That’s what those who endured hardships like the Blitz would have done.
In many important ways, whether it’s our embrace of diversity or our attitude towards gender and sexual equality, we act and think in ways that are an obvious improvement on previous generations. But when it comes to meeting society-wide challenges, and making the necessary sacrifices, we fall well short of the example they set.
If we can’t find a way to stiffen our collective upper lip soon, we risk losing the gains we’ve made against COVID-19 — and maybe even the war itself.