National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

It was becoming clear late last year that something as vast as our current pandemic had the power to reorder Canadian society in significant ways.  Though Covid-19 was global in scope, our worlds grew increasingly smaller and confined the longer the pandemic endured.  Big things were still going on in China, Russia, Ukraine, Myanmar, Britain and the Middle East, but they failed to capture our attention, as we fretted over social distancing, the loss of employment, school closures and public health guidelines.

The one clear exception was our fascination with political events south of the border.  Whether you were of the political centre, left, right, or no political ideology at all, the constant barrage of political mania leading up to the American election, and even following, almost served as something of a bromide for our domestic squabbles.

How Canadians feel about their country and one another has subtly transformed how we view our politics, political parties and elected representatives themselves.  Though citizens don’t use the word much in modern times, our “patriotism” has carved new channels in our public mindset and what we now expect of our politics.  A few examples.

We are fed up with the blind partisanship of our political system.  The parties understood this from COVID’s outset, opting to bury their naked ambitions in a country infused with a sense of mortality and fear of a virus they could neither see nor comprehend.  We require political parties, policy debates and competing ideas for Canadian democracy to function effectively, but not when it becomes ideology without intelligence, conviction without compromise, or partisanship without principle.  There has been too much of these in recent years and any sense of patriotism has been undermined by a win-at-all-costs political methodology.  Canadians wouldn’t stand for it when their health was on the line and politicians should take serious note of this reality as we emerge from our season of confinement.

Science matters.  Evidence matters.  Research matters.  All of these played out in the past year, especially in comparison to the extensive fabrications that accosted Americans in an election year.  Canadians continued to count on health experts across the country over the public utterances of politicians.  We have a public health system that much of the world envies and we know it.  And when the pandemic became fatal, we turned to it and trusted as best we could what researchers were discovering on an ongoing basis.

This harmonized with how Canadians grew to respect the frontline workers in the health facilities in each of our communities.  If the patriotism of the past largely centred around our military personnel in conflict areas, its modern equivalent were those fighting an unseen enemy directly where it appeared and left it carnage.  It transcended the banging of pots and pans in the early months to an even deeper understanding that our national health system and its provincial funding have been under-resourced for decades and that it had to be remedied. The new patriotism doesn’t only recognize valour in its health personnel but the requirement to ensure they are properly outfitted for the future health battles surely lurking on the horizon.

We learned of the true potential of social media.  Online tools became essential to how we functioned during a health scare – not just in helping us keep connected, but continue to learn, to keep our business functioning, to deliberate as groups, learning where to get vaccines, and finding ways to live out our collective culture, our patriotism, through digital amenities.  True, the trolls, personal attacks, fanatical opinions, and ongoing hacking endured, but most of us parked such outliers and got on with the business of functioning in a time of global dysfunction.  We utilized our social media tools more effectively in the past year than we have in the last decade.  There are lessons to be learned here.

Business matters and small to medium-sized enterprises matter most.  Capitalism’s essence has always been found in its local connections.  While thousands of Canadian businesses could be forgiven for feeling forgotten in an age of giant corporations, they were front of mind during COVID.  Canadians yearned for their coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, workout facilities, movies, clubs, sports venues and beauty shops.  Various pandemic phases left local establishments low on capital and devoid of patrons.  Through all of it, Canadians learned once more that their lives, individually and collectively, move in and through these businesses and it’s likely they will support them in the future.  Governments would do well to invest in these business sectors as a means of revitalizing communities – not to mention paying off debt.

Local matters.  It’s true that this pandemic period has been an era of big government, as stimulus and rescue packages emerged from Ottawa and provincial capitals to keep our collective heads from going under, but before we ever heard of Covid-19, we were repeatedly informed that our global prosperity and connection depended on the success of our cities and local communities.  That hasn’t changed and any post-pandemic future that doesn’t see significant investments in those places where people live, serve, work and do business is destined to fail.

We have changed and our sense of patriotism has transformed along with it.

Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 32 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson. 
The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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