It’s already been a year. 365 days of worry, frustration, and real disruption to our lives. Twelve months of mostly awful news stories interspersed with awe at what science can do, and major gratitude that we didn’t have Donald Trump running things up here in Canada.
And, as you might expect, COVID has brought out the best and worst in us. So, in the dubious honour of the first anniversary of COVID, here’s an admittedly subjective accounting of where Canadians have shone, and where we haven’t (and where we really haven’t):
Health Care Workers: Canada’s nurses, physicians, technicians, researchers, and support and administrative staff in our medical and health related institutions have done an outstanding job in incredibly difficult conditions. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
Compliance: Our inherent Canadian reasonableness has been our greatest strength. Our natural deference to authority has meant that, with some exceptions, we’ve listened to the experts and done what needed to be done to cut down on viral transmission. With so much of this pandemic out of our control, this isn’t and we’re better off as a result.
Flexibility: It’s fair to say that Canadians aren’t exactly known for our ability to pivot. Call it the legacy of being “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” Nevertheless, from restaurants switching to bottle service, to storefront mask-making, to online shopping (however basic), and working from home, the pandemic has shown an admirable ability among Canadians to adapt to quickly changing circumstances.
Sociability: Canadians are naturally polite, but not overly nice (except for Newfoundland and Labrador). In fact, our politeness may actually mask an unsociable disposition. However, stories of neighbours and strangers alike helping each other out this year has revealed the best in many of us.
Family: Tens of thousands of us have had to parent way more than anticipated over the last year. That’s a major strain on people, especially low-income and single-parent families. However, increased parental presence, unless it comes at a high psychological or material cost, has undoubtedly had benefits for families across the country.
Maskless morons: “You can’t reason with unreasonable people” a friend of mine likes to say. He’s absolutely right. Dealing with idiots who refuse to wear masks in public (I’m not talking about the microscopic percentage who, for medical reasons, can’t) is an unnecessary, unwelcome, and additional stress that business owners, employees, and others really don’t need right now. It’s also pointless since their arguments are plain dumb. Anti-maskers who kick it up a notch and protest their right to infect others betray a deep misunderstanding of liberal ideals and deserve all of our scorn.
Price Gouging: It’s not surprising that some people would take advantage of the pandemic to enrich themselves at the expense of others but it’s still awful. Even if legal sanctions are rare, consumers will continue to shame those who do it and support those who don’t.
Political Apathy: I’m not saying Canadians should join the ranks of countries with explosions of populist anger but there have been major failures of government during this pandemic (see below) and Canadians — myself included — don’t seem able to do anything about it beyond a vague “I’ll remember this at the next election.” Perhaps that’s the way it should be. But, in the meantime, our elected officials are free to make a mess of things because they have a sense that Canadians will not hold their feet to the fire, or that we’ll forgive them by the time we next go to the polls.
Government Transparency and Accountability: Governments are spending massive amounts of money to help Canadians cope with a once-in-a-century disaster. That’s a good thing. Giving us very little line-of-sight into how this money is being spent is the worst kind of political paternalism and is short-sighted, too: other WE-type scandals are sure to emerge and the consequences will be cumulative.
The Long-Term Care Debacle: Maybe COVID-19 was going to decimate the most vulnerable among us no matter what we did. But, after the first wave, we were told that our LTC institutions would fare better during the second wave, which we all knew was coming. Despite months to plan, our LTC homes were devastated again when it came. What went wrong?
The Vaccine Procurement Disaster: I’m sure this is complicated. But we don’t hire our politicians just to do the easy things. Whether it’s the weasel word of having “secured” vaccine supply (as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, possessing it), buying new syringes to squeeze out every drop from the vial, raiding the COVAX supply, or establishing arbitrary dates as success markers, the federal government’s most important file is an inexcusable public policy catastrophe that would be funny were it not so deadly serious.
I hope there will not be a second anniversary post.