“For the first time in history, all peoples on earth have a common present. In the age of globalization, every country has become almost the immediate neighbour of every other country, and every person feels the shock of events which take place at the other end of the globe.”
So wrote Hannah Arendt in her own turbulent era over a half-century ago. It’s very likely that nobody back then would have included the idea of a global virus in such a prediction, and yet that is what we now have. The consequences have been remarkable – economies struggle, billions isolate, fear and insecurity have mushroomed. And of all things, politics has been somewhat muted. Prior to COVID-19, the world seemed bent on political dysfunction, but now we watch with mild interest as governments find ways of cooperating against a challenge they know they can’t overcome singlehandedly – with the exception of places like America and Britain, that is, who appear hell-bent on using a public health emergency to feather their political ambitions.
Like other nations, Canada endured six months of pandemic in the hope that by the time school began we would be in a workable enough condition that we could reopen again. We are in the midst of that experiment right now, with an unknown outcome.
Unfortunately, most of us have been lulled into thinking that the worst is over and we can begin the process of rebuilding. Political leaders are focusing more on their agendas and citizens themselves grow increasingly distracted from the great challenge before them. We are now in our most dangerous collective mindset since the pandemic began.
Nowhere is this more true than in our pining for a vaccine, which some hope for by the end of the year. It’s a viable wish, but its effectiveness probably won’t be what we prayed for. Even at the time of this writing, fears of a second wave of COVID are stretching across every province. Throughout Europe, including Britain, the same dread is spreading.
Really, we have no other effective strategy other than hanging in there until a vaccine hits the market. Everyone is in the same boat as this – every company, citizen and political capital. South of the border, the panic to win the national election is playing havoc with news of the vaccine. Since most Canadians watch American news coverage in its many forms, talk of an imminent vaccine is increasing in this country.
Health experts warn us that the first generation of vaccine(s) will likely have problems due to the rush to get them to market. Already across the globe, news is emerging of wealthier countries perhaps “hoarding” whatever vaccine supplies are available to distribute to their own domestic populations. What should be “humanity’s vaccine” could become a vicious, and deadly, fight for resource supplies.
The first vaccines will be welcome but not fully effective. For that to occur, more time for peer testing would be required. Few, however, are in the mood to wait.
And what is the greatest asset in any public health system? The answer is simple: trust. Fewer countries excel in such confidence as Canada. But rush the cure, build false expectations, use it for political or economic ends, and that national trust which stood us so well during the first wave of this crisis, will deteriorate. In America, trust has been shattered by political opportunism in a way that, rather than healing a nation, actually divides it, not just between Republican and Democrat, but life and death.
Our public health system, one of the great accomplishments of Canadian policy, remains too essential to our survival to play politics with. And, unlike our neighbour to the south, this country still desires to remain a global partner in those virtues and activities requiring collective cooperation. In other words, there is no Canadian solution, Canadian vaccine, our Canadian way out of this. Recovery will be in fits and starts, openings and closings, hopes and disappointments, but it will be global in scope. It will be a long slog. Increased transmission will be inevitable in this next while, as the second wave and colder weather drive Canadians indoors.
Now is not the time for playing politics. The temptation to use the pandemic to drive a partisan agenda could ultimately bring untimely damage to a great nation. Or, as Ernest Benn put it: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.”
We have done remarkably well as a nation facing an invisible foe. Our politics can take some of the credit for that. We can entertain a prorogation, Throne Speech or a new sitting of Parliament, but never the deviousness of our political estate prior to the pandemic. Our politics must stay the course, put the public estate first, and chain any divisive political designs for a safer era.