Canadians are done with COVID-19. At least, that’s been the consistent message coming from Conservative premiers and politicians, who seem to be in some sort of race to see who can trigger a fifth wave of the virus first.
It has also been the go-to line for federal Conservatives looking to justify their support of the anti-democracy convoy in Ottawa, which seems poised to take an even more illiberal turn.
There’s just one problem: it’s a load of crap.
According to a new survey from Abacus Data, nearly two-thirds of Canadians support the continued existence of vaccine mandates “for at least the next year or two,” while that figure jumps to 74 per cent among those 60 and over. And when it comes to those most directly exposed to the occupation of our national capital, more than two-thirds of Ottawa residents believe restrictions should be kept in place to prevent the health-care system from getting overwhelmed.
But it’s that one-third of the population that seems to be driving the public discourse right now — and making policy in provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario. On Monday, Doug Ford announced he’d be eliminating his province’s vaccine passport system as of March 1, making Ontario the latest province with a Conservative government to surrender to the demands of an increasingly vocal minority.
Earlier this month, after a group of rural protesters blockaded Alberta’s southern border and insisted the province lift all public health restrictions, Premier Jason Kenney capitulated to their demands and moved up the timetable on his “Back to Normal” plan. Not to be outdone, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe released a statement aimed at the people planning to blockade his province’s border that openly acknowledged he’d lifted COVID-19 health restrictions in their name.
The idea of going “back to normal” is understandably attractive to most people given that we’ve all endured more than two years of a pandemic. But while it’s not quite as nakedly reckless as Kenney’s “best summer ever” strategy of a year ago, it still represents an attempt to ignore the reality of a highly infectious virus — and the lessons we should have learned from it so far.
As Dr. Isaac Bogoch told Peter Mansbridge in a recent episode of his podcast, “You can’t just assume that this is the last wave or that all is well after this because there’s going to be more variants and more waves. This isn’t over.”
We might be done with the virus, in other words, but it’s not necessarily done with us.
The latest surge of cases in the United States, where the number of COVID deaths is rapidly approaching one million, speaks to that unpleasant reality. So, too, do the COVID-19 hospitalization figures in Alberta and Saskatchewan, which remain at or near record highs.
Opinion: One-third of the population seems to be driving the public discourse right now, making policy in provinces like #Alberta, Saskatchewan, and #Ontario. @maxfawcett writes for @natobserver #abpoli #onpoli #COVID #Convoys
All the politically motivated wishful thinking in the world can’t change the basic realities of math and biology, and it can’t protect people from a virus that is still rampaging through the population.
Let’s be clear: When politicians like Kenney say we should “learn to live with” the virus, what they really mean is we should surrender to its inevitability. It’s the 21st-century equivalent of a British political leader advising Londoners to “learn to live” with the Blitz of 1940-41 by practising their German.
It’s cowardice, not strength. That’s been a running theme over the last two years, as Conservative politicians and pundits consistently undermine efforts to build social solidarity and stiffen our collective upper lip.
Rather than going “back to normal,” we need to find ways to create a new normal. We need a normal where we can trust police officers to enforce the law evenly and equitably. We need a normal where one-half of our political universe isn’t so eager to undermine institutions or embrace those who attack them. And we need a normal where the needs of the many take clear precedence over the demands of the few.
Because make no mistake: this isn’t our last pandemic.
The last two years have weakened the body politic and left us less prepared to handle future crises. They’ve made the prospect of taking decisive collective action even more unlikely than it was two years ago. And they’ve empowered individuals who seem determined to vandalize our shared social infrastructure and undermine public trust for personal or political profit.
We have a lot of work to do to repair that damage. We’d better get started on it as soon as possible.