Opinion-Policy Nexus

Some day the coronavirus crisis will play itself out – and when that day comes, the world will be not be same, or so we are told. There will be a “new normal.” Everything will change, presumably for the good.

As an optimist, I would love to believe these seers. As a skeptic, I wonder. Will the COVID-19 pandemic, horrible as it is, really change human nature or behaviour?

Or will today’s optimistic assumptions prove to be tomorrow’s false hope, just as earlier generations discovered that the “Great War,” as the First World War was known, did not pan out the way idealists had predicted? It did not become their hoped-for “war to end all wars.”

My guess is that change, when it comes, will be more incremental than sweeping. More small steps than giant leaps, but important, nonetheless. Lessons have been learned. It seems reasonable to expect that political leaders will pay more attention to their scientists in future global health emergencies, that they will act more quickly, and that they will not try to hide the warning signs, as China did with COVID-19, or ignore the signs, as many countries did.

Canada has surely learned the high price – in human lives, economic disruption and public expenditure – of not being prepared for the worst. The need for more research into communicable diseases and vaccines to control them is obvious. So is the need to lay in enough medical supplies now to weather the next pandemic.

I cannot believe our politicians will come away from COVID-19 without having burned into their memories and consciences the failure to protect our aged and infirm.

It’s a scandal, and there is no reason for governments at all levels to wait for the pandemic to wind down before initiating urgent remedial action. Unsafe long-term care facilities will have to be torn down and replaced with places specifically designed to protect patients and residents from the spread of disease.

Publicly operated facilities will need more government money and more trained staff. Private facilities will require far tighter regulation, oversight and inspection. It might make sense for provincial governments to take over the management of all private nursing homes. Is there any reason why the levels of care and sanitation expected of hospitals should not also be demanded of nursing homes?

And, if COVID-19 taught us nothing else, it is that front-line workers in hospitals, nursing homes, seniors’ residences and other high-risk venues must be paid a wage commensurate with the essential work they do. Going cheap is not the way to control a pandemic – we have learned that.

No one knows when the coronavirus may wind down. The emergency measures that the federal government has introduced to support families and businesses suggest Ottawa is looking to June as the time when we might begin to emerge from our protective cocoon.

A thought. Perhaps when the federal Conservative party comes out of its cocoon, it will do what it should have done earlier: cancel its absurd (now suspended) leadership contest. Tear up the nominations of its four candidates, refund their $300,000 deposits, wait until the pandemic is defeated, then launch a new race with reasonable entrance requirements to attract fresh talent to the leadership.

Of the four candidates whom the party has permitted to run, two – Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole – are former ministers whose boldest ambition seems to be to reboot the party of Stephen Harper. There is no reason to believe either would be an improvement on the hapless Andrew Scheer.

The other two – Derek Sloan, a rookie backbencher, and Leslyn Lewis, an unsuccessful 2015 election candidate – both hew to the right and would deliver the party to the Campaign Life Coalition and the anti-abortion movement.

The Conservative party can do better. It needs to do better. It needs to build a bigger tent, appeal to younger voters and make itself attractive to people who live in big cities as well as small towns. And it needs a leader who can carry it there.

Retreads and untested right-wingers won’t cut it in the “new normal” – whatever that may be in Canadian politics.


Monday, April 20, 2020 - 08:06