I am 78 years old.
One of my friends, a neighbour, a bit older than me, was just put into “care,” not COVID-19 related. She’s terrified … not of substandard care, she (and her family) can afford first-rate care; she’s afraid of the implications of being in “care.” Broadly, it means she is being shunted aside; she’s useless; suddenly unable to be productive and contribute ~ just weeks ago she was, even at age 80, a “productive” member of society ~ unable, she’s been told, even to care for herself. She’ll be warehoused … in safety and comfort, I think. In the current situation, during a global pandemic, she worries about the focus of her “care.”
The lessons, all across Canada, of long term care facilities, will not be easily forgotten, even if we do not learn all the right lessons. Already old battle-lines are being reformed to protect special interests,* to protect everyone except those for whom the “care” is being provided.
But fixing long term care is just one of many things that will fall out of the coronavirus pandemic experience.
Think about climate change. It is intuitively obvious that reduced personal transportation has cut carbon emissions, but the pandemic gave a new lease on life to single-use plastics ~ sorry Prime Minister Trudeau and Environment Minister Wilkinson, but force majeure and all that. Will people use public transit or will they return to the privacy and relative safety of their cars?
Will we see …
… THIS ↑, which governments want, or THIS ↑ which seems, to me, to be the public’s reaction?
I see evidence that cities ~ Ottawa, at least ~ want to reduce road use and increase pedestrian space … can that last? If people abandon crowded buses and trains and want to drive their own cars again, climate change be damned, then they need the roads for cars, not restaurant patios.
And, is this the future of dining in a restaurant?
There will be a lot of changes, some gradual, some sudden as Canada and the world reopens. Some of the safe assumptions of 2019 will not survive to 2021.
All that to get to my point: Justin Trudeau is Irrelevant.
We are all accustomed to seeing politics as a sort of pyramid:
That is the conventional view. It is, certainly, how the Laurentian Elites and the CBC and The Star and NewsTalkRadio see it.
But as we decide how to cope with the results of the pandemic it is also upside down.
The right way to see things ~ using my home, here in downtown Ottawa as an example ~ is that right at the top, the most important level, is the web of community organizations and often small, local, independent business that make my day-to-day existence work. Just below them in importance is Catherine McKenny, my local (Somerset Ward) City Councilor and her colleagues in town and city councils all across Canada. Nearly equal in importance to her is Jim Watson, Ottawa’s ineffectual but popular mayor, and the people ~ the police, fire department, public transit, water and sewage, street maintenance, and, and, and ~ who kept our city working and who make decisions to e.g. allow sidewalk patios to expand and make roads less ‘car-friendly.’ Right up there with him are Premier Doug Ford and his ministers and officials who are, to some extent, ruling by decree in this pandemic. Less visible, but still vital, is my local Member of the Provincial Parliament, Joel Harden. They, of course, are backed up by legions of officials in those all-important provincial departments like health and transportation. Whose at the bottom of the list? Who doesn’t do anything that really matters? Why, it’s my local Member of Parliament, Catherine McKenna and her boss, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It’s not that they didn’t have some important work to do … they did, and they failed, for example, to close our borders in a timely manner (as Australia did, thereby saving thousands of lives) but now, in the recovery phase, they are essentially irrelevant. But, hey, they march in gay pride parades so who cares if a few thousand Canadians died because they dithered? We need to turn the old, conventional pyramid upside down and understand that, except for a few vital things like the currency, foreign and trade policies, national defence and our criminal code, the national government doesn’t do much that really matters. The really important orders of government are much closer to us: just down the street at City Hall and, for many, not too far away at the provincial legislature. Ottawa doesn’t do much and shouldn’t occupy too much of our attention. Our provincial and municipal governments are much more important … but, for some reason, less “newsworthy.”
As we look to rebuild our society, from the ground up, after this global pandemic we need to focus our political attention where it really matters: on our local and provincial representatives and, to some degree, ignore the lightweights in Ottawa.
* For the record, I suspect that Doris Grinspun, the Chief Executive Officer of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, is probably correct. We probably don’t need an expensive commission to tell us what’s needed to provide better ~ at least adequate ~ “care.” More staff: mainly more nurses and some more cleaners and support workers to help the nurses. But we also know that means higher costs and we know that costs are what caused this crisis. People can only afford so much, the government can only pay so much without raising taxes, again, nursing home operators are corporations with a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, they are not charities … perhaps they should be.