Yesterday was hard. It was hard to see the premier and other politicians elected to represent and protect Ontario’s citizens, presented the opportunity to finally — if far too late — do the right thing in the face of skyrocketing (but entirely predictable) COVID case numbers…and then bungle it so spectacularly. Instead of reinstating paid sick days, or any other protection of Ontario’s most vulnerable workers, Doug Ford chose to ignore science-based medical advice, and impose largely unhelpful restrictions on Ontarians. He denied them outdoor spaces, like playgrounds or campsites, even though the risk of outdoor transmission is very low and a generally-agreed-to-be-worthwhile risk given the physical and mental health benefits. He gave the police more power — likely unconstitutional power, mind you — to stop and question anyone they see on the street. Many municipal police forces have said they won’t use it, but if I were a Black person in this province, I would be very afraid indeed.
The Toronto Star’s front page today neatly sums up the frustration, shock, and rage at these latest moves. Not from people on the street, or on Twitter, but from medical and civil liberties experts.
Also yesterday, in an overtly political move, Ford declined an offer of Red Cross support from the federal government, saying “We do not have a capacity issue, we have a supply issue.” Both parts of that statement are false; on the same day his office issued that statement, Ford asked other provinces for help with capacity, equipment, and expertise. Meanwhile, vaccine doses go unused and appointments remain bafflingly difficult to book. Further: questions continue to swirl about why some postal codes were declared hotspots over others, when the data did not bear out such prioritization, and the aberrant data has some damning correlations to Tory minister ridings.
The province’s haphazard response a year ago could be blamed on confusion, the initial scramble of COVID panic and uncharted waters. Now, a year later, the premier and cabinet’s response can only be seen as inept and petty at best, dangerous and negligent at worst. Or, put another way:
To be clear, I feel all this frustration and rage out of empathy for my fellow Ontarians. I interact with this clusterfuck of an administration from the privileged vantage point of an affluent white man. I own my own house, with my own backyard, in a nice neighbourhood. I am not an essential worker, and I can work effectively from home 100% of the time. (Also, my employer provides paid sick days.) I have no kids climbing the walls, or other dependents. I have no pre-existing health conditions and, now that I’ve had COVID, I probably have some antibodies stored up. In the unlikely event that some cop stops me on my way to the pharmacy, my skin color will almost certainly keep anything bad from happening to me.
So if I feel all this, and I’m in quite possibly the most privileged state possible for an Ontarian, imagine how a front-line worker living in a poor or racialized neighbourhood feels. Imagine living at Jane & Finch, where you’re 9x more likely to be hospitalized but 4x less likely to be vaccinated than someone living in wealthy Moor Park (source) and FAR more likely to be targeted by police for the colour of your skin. Imagine the terror, and helplessness, felt by the most vulnerable Ontarians, as this doctor eloquently describes.
Of course, everyone I know with a brain in their head and a shred of empathy is already sickened by this, and feels something must be done. Unfortunately, both brains and empathy seem to be in short supply at Queen’s Park. Our outmatched premier has unnecessarily consigned hundreds of Ontarians to death at the hands of this virus, deaths which could have been avoided but for his incompetence and indifference.
In Macleans yesterday, Justin Ling got at why this is happening not just in Ontario, but effectively everywhere west of New Brunswick:
Scaremongering about outdoor transmission, and instituting curfews is a feat of social engineering. This an effort to ignore the data, withhold information, and twist the facts to scare us.
The conspiracy-minded will see that as an exercise in population control: Politicians getting their jollies off by playing dictator.
The reality is more mundane—governments are doing this because they are frozen with indecision. Actually acknowledging the reality of the data means acknowledging this catastrophe was caused by governments’ idiotic reopening plans: Plans that were warned against by public officials at the time. Doing that means taking action that will hurt employment numbers, which could hurt our politicians fragile egos. Confronting this data and science also means admitting that all of our advice about washing your hands and not touching your face has been useless. And accepting that reality means provinces requiring sick leave, so people can go home if they’re ill.
Governments are loath to do any of that. They would rather shower us in meaningless pablum about how we, as citizens, need to do our part. The implication, of course, is that we are to blame for this crisis. That it’s us wayward youth who are driving this pandemic. Our lack of personal responsibility means they have to ground us to our rooms. Stay home, for god’s sake!
If our politicians stop blaming us for outbreaks, we may start blaming them.