What do Seinfeld and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s primetime address to the nation have in common? They were both about nothing. Both made me laugh, too, albeit for vastly different reasons.
Trudeau seized some valuable network television time Wednesday evening to talk about… something. It’s not quite clear what. The practice normally reserved for times of crisis or emergency was instead used for reasons entirely catered to the vanity of the speaker.
The address came just a few hours after Governor General Julie Payette delivered the latest speech from the throne. The throne speech is traditionally the opportunity for a government to lay out its agenda for a parliamentary session, recognizing the authority of the Crown above any individual politician. Yet for Trudeau, that tradition was inconsequential compared to his desire to have the last word.
There’s an argument that Trudeau could have taken such an opportunity earlier in the coronavirus pandemic to assuage people’s concerns when uncertainty and the virus themselves were unleashed on Canadians. Announcing a second wave – one day after his chief public health advisor, Theresa Tam, said it’s not clear we are in one – came across as a desperate quest to find something to say that makes doing a speech justifiable.
For a leader who says he defers to “the experts” at every turn, it was a bold departure from what the top expert herself was saying.
National Post columnist Matt Gurney asked Tam’s office whether she agrees with Trudeau’s characterization of Canada being in the midst of a second COVID-19 wave.
A statement provided in response gave no clear answer.
“Over recent weeks, there has been a resurgence of COVID-19 cases nationally,” it read. “The epidemic looks different in different provinces and territories. The resurgence has been most prominent in Ontario and Quebec. Case counts are also elevated in the other provinces west of the Atlantic region.”
“Canada is at crossroads,” the statement conceded, with the obligatory nod to how no one can “do this alone,” and so on.
Whether we’re at a crossroads or a second wave or simply a resurgence may seem like an exercise in semantics, but the answer is quite significant. If those responsible for answering these very questions for the Canadian government don’t think we’re seeing a second wave, Trudeau either lied or was grossly misinformed when he told Canadians that we are.
“The second wave isn’t just starting, it’s already underway. The numbers are clear,” he said. “I know this isn’t the news that any of us wanted to hear. We can’t change today’s numbers or even tomorrow’s. Those were already decided by what we did or didn’t do two weeks ago. But what we can change is where we are in October and into the winter. It’s all too likely we won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving, but we still have a shot at Christmas.”
Comments like these are designed to stoke fear.
Canadians who have struggled to get through March to September are now being told there’s merely “a shot at Christmas.”
By painting a picture so dire, Canadians may well return to March and April ways of thinking – mainly that we should unite behind our government’s actions, listen to the experts and go along with whatever is asked of us because we just need a couple of weeks to “flatten the curve.”
Despite the recent increases in cases – which have not been accompanied by an increase in deaths – we can’t put ourselves in the same place we were in six months ago because we know a lot more about the virus compared to then, when we had to assume the worst in the absence of other data.
More than 80 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care homes, which is almost double the average for other OECD countries. Nearly one in five cases were in long-term care homes. Simply put, Canada failed at protecting its most vulnerable.
This happened on the watch of the government that tells us to continue listening to it, even when the advice from one day to the next (quite literally) varies.
We must remain vigilant and protect the vulnerable, but we can’t let the government play us for fools in the process, primetime or not.
Photo Credit: CBC News
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