By Jim Poling Sr.
Canada is a much lesser country than it used to be.
COVID-19 has done that. We Canadians have allowed COVID-19 to reduce our country to a third-world type player barely able to look after itself.
We have stood by and watched the politicians fumble and stumble through the greatest medical crisis of modern times. They decided to play a compromise game with the virus and they lost.
They tried negotiating a deal that would see the fewest number of Canadians sickened and killed by the virus with the least amount of harm to the economy. We stood by and watched.
Viruses don’t negotiate. They need to be killed before they get into the game.
To be fair to the politicians, they had an unenviable task. An unenviable task made impossible by a hyper-partisan political climate that puts election, power and re-election above all else.
They allowed politics into a place it should never be – a widespread medical emergency.
Job one of our elected representatives in a national medical emergency is to pull people together to understand what has to be done, accept what has to be done and join the effort to get it done. To pull the general public on side, politicians need to have their trust.
The public gives its trust to those who show strong knowledge and command of the problem that needs fixing. Neither Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, nor Ontario Premier Doug Ford, showed any strong knowledge of the COVID-19 virus and its pandemic potential.
In the 14 months since the pandemic was declared, neither man has done one thing to stop COVID-19’s spread. Trudeau has done nothing but tell us about the millions of vaccine doses he has ordered. Ford has done nothing but tell us what a poor job Trudeau has done in getting vaccines distributed.
The fact that Canadian politicians were so unprepared for this national emergency is inexcusable because Canada had a wealth of virus knowledge gathered during the SARS pandemic of 2003. The SARS outbreak was small compared to COVID-19, sickening a known 8,000 people worldwide, killing close to 800. However, it left us important lessons on how to prepare for and battle the much-predicted next killer virus outbreak.
Canadians and their politicians choose to forget, or simply ignore, the lessons of SARS.
The Ontario SARS Commission, appointed to investigate the outbreak and make recommendations for the future, found that the most important lesson of SARS was about the precautionary principle.
Here’s what the commission wrote in its final report:
“Perhaps the most important lesson of SARS is the importance of the precautionary principle. SARS demonstrated over and over the importance of the principle that we cannot wait for scientific certainty before we take reasonable steps to reduce risk. This principle should be adopted as a guiding principle throughout Ontario’s health, public health and worker safety systems.
“If we do not learn this and other lessons of SARS . . . we will pay a terrible price in the face of future outbreaks of virulent disease, whether in the form of foreseen outbreaks like flu pandemics or unforeseen ones, as SARS was.”
This was not the first time that Canadians and their politicians had heard this. The same warning was issued by the Krever Commission into Canada’s tainted blood supply in the early 1990s.
The message was clear: when public health is seriously threatened, do not wait for all the evidence before taking action. Hitting fast and hard with stringent lockdowns and other unpopular tools would have lessened the virus’ spread.
Following the precautionary principle more than one year ago would have been unpopular. Businesses would have been shut down, jobs lost. There would have been pain, but we probably would not have suffered the way we are suffering now with one million-plus cases, 24,000 deaths and a completely shattered economy.
Yes, we are a lesser country now and we will continue to be until we begin to choose leaders who have the knowledge and strength needed to build the trust needed to bring us all together in solving our problems. Leaders for whom re-election is a lesser goal than getting done what needs to be done.