I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek about a week ago when asked: “Have we gone mad?” I was surprised to find that many, Many, MANY Canadians agreed with me when I said: “I think so.“
For the record, it’s a good thing to be against racism. Racism is stupid and destructive to our society, too. I don’t need to keep repeating myself on that point.
Justin Trudeau decided to try to milk the angst that many people around the world feel about the seemingly endless problems that wrack our American friends for his own partisan political benefit. He thereby encouraged people, especially young people, to get out on the streets and demonstrate. He joined them …
… on Parliament Hill, in a move which was roundly criticized by many on social media as little more than a cheap photo-op by a guy who went around in blackface. But he did so in direct contravention of the rules which he and his colleagues and public health officials everywhere had told us all to follow.
In fact, public health officials almost all seemed to change their tune where demonstrations were concerned. Gone was, “stay home,” or “stay two metres apart.” I suspect that Premier Ford and public health agencies were acting on the good advice of public safety experts who told them “People are going to demonstrate no matter what you say. Groups like ‘Black Lives Matter‘ are going to try to stir up trouble. If you tell people to NOT go then they will disobey and they will be more inclined to listen to the provocateurs and then a peaceful demonstration, no matter how ill-advised, will turn into a riot which hurts everyone … except for that tiny minority that wants to destroy our society. Please tell people that’s it’s OK to demonstrate but to be safe and calm.” And that’s the message we all got. From a public safety point of view, it was good advice. I have little doubt that it helped to keep a few potentially tense situations calm.
It didn’t work everywhere. We saw in the USA and in the UK that crowds were whipped into a frenzy and went on rampages of looting and destruction. Some people were smiling … not just the leaders of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ who have their own agenda; the biggest smiles were in Beijing and Moscow because the enemies of the US-led West couldn’t have orchestrated this on their own. Some witless American police officers had to do it for them, and then young people had to be allowed to roam the streets looting and burning to express their rage against the state.
But something else happened, too. People, ordinary people like you and I, lost faith in our political leaders. People who didn’t like what Premiers Horgan and Moe and Ford had done had, still, accepted the restrictions because our leaders told us that it was the best scientific advice and it was what we needed to do in order to keep ourselves and our families safe. Then they changed their tunes. Suddenly the rules applied to everyone for everything … unless you were protesting the sad death of a man in Minneapolis or the beating of another man in Fort McMurray. People are right to feel anger about both incidents. Protests are natural and. normal … except, perhaps, when they pose a serious public health hazard? What’s more dangerous: rioting or spreading disease? Was the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre worse than the Black Plague? Apparently, in political terms, it was.
What I’m seeing, on social media and, to a lesser extent, what I’m hearing from friends is that people are choosing, now, to ignore many of the rules. It seems that if politicians and senior public health officials can bend or even break the rules when it suits their purposes that we should be able to use our own judgement and do it too.
Why, for example, can there not be six of us sharing my (78th) birthday dinner tomorrow? Why do we all have to observe strict limits but Justin Trudeau can wade into a crowd for a photo op? Why can Premier Ford’s daughters visit him but my son cannot visit me? Why can they judge that they are safe but you and I cannot? One of the key elements of good combat leadership is that the all the rules apply to all of us, equally. Canadian (and American and British and so on) political leaders have been breaking that rules since about the first day of this pandemic. It has cost them a lot of their moral authority … which they need, right now, as the restrictions get wearisome and as people. begin to question why they are still necessary.
Why are the smallest of small businesses (little, ‘Mom ‘n’ Pop‘ independent restaurants and small retailers and neighbourhood barbershops) closing for good at an astonishing rate? The technical (financial) answers seem obvious enough but there seems to be a disconnect between the macro policy level and the micro, storefront level. In at least one case a local entrepreneur said something like “I was thinking about retiring in a couple of years anyway, this just made me see how hard I worked for how little.” Will someone else take his place? Probably, eventually, yes. If there’s a market then someone will serve it. In 25 or 50 years we may remark on the beneficial socio-economic changes that the coronavirus pandemic forced upon us … but, for now, it looks like a disaster is unfolding.
My sense is that Canadians, in a very clear majority, accepted and supported the “lockdown” as a needed response that is based on the best available scientific advice. My sense is, also, that Canadians forgave Premier Ford for the visit by his daughters and they understood why Prime Ministre Trudeau wanted to make a visit to the cottage ~ the lakeside mansion, really ~ that was forbidden to ordinary mortals, but I also sense that a double standard ~ one for you and me, and another for potential rioters ~ is, as the saying goes, “a bridge too far.”
I believe that Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Ford and many other leaders have “lost” the Canadian people. Leadership requires consistency ~ right is right and wrong is wrong as much on Thursday as it was on Tuesday. When you try and tell people that “rules are rules except when I say they’re not,” then they will stop respecting and believing you. I think that’s what happened in Canada last week.
I agree with Conservative leadership candidate, Dr Leslyn Lewis when she says that “As a whole, Canadians have followed our political leaders and health officials throughout this crisis and its devastation on our economy … [and] … Anyone who broke guidelines was swiftly and publicly shamed, if not fined or threatened with legal actions .. [but] … Over the past week we saw the same health officials and political leaders that wouldn’t allow churches to meet in parked cars expressing that mass gatherings and protests should not just be allowed, but encouraged …[and] … The Prime Minister himself ignored social distancing guidelines to take a knee at a demonstration in Ottawa, surrounded by thousands of protesters … [thus] …Watching health officials and politicians reverse course so swiftly this week leads us to conclude: Either their recommendations and guidelines were heavy handed and unnecessary, OR they were so eager to gain the approval of a large electoral block of voters, many of whom are people of colour, that they were dishonest with them about the health risks of the protests and demonstrations.” I suspect it is the latter.
I see that an Ottawa restaurant has been fined for allowing its customers to eat their take out orders on the patio. I observed, on my daily walk, that other restaurants and pubs are getting their patios ready for business. I suspect that at least one or two will want to allow customers to both eat and drink on patios where tables are two metres apart. I guess they will be ticketed, too, but I think the by-law enforcement people are on the wrong side … I believe that, here in Ontario, at any rate, our archaic laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol will not, as they should not survive the reopening. Ottawa is amongst the regions being allowed to enter Phase 2 of the reopening; I’m not sure it will be enough for many … not after last week when so much trust was lost, or thrown away.
I believe that Premier Ford, for example, believes that he is doing the right thing by continuing the lockdown of Ontario. I think his public safety advisors convinced him to put political expediency ahead of public health. I suspect they gave that advice because they believed, sincerely, that anything else would lead to riots and injuries and even deaths. But, by so doing I believe that Premier Ford and many others, including Prime Minister Trudeau lost the trust of Canadians. They will find it hard to get it back.