One of our letters this week, from a long-lost regular, raises some questions and concerns about how government in this country is using the covid-19 lockdown and restrictions to bring in laws and procedures that might, in ordinary times, create quite a nasty backlash. This is not a phenomenon unique to Ontario, or Canada as a whole. Across the world, there have been signs of a dangerous tendency to exploit the pandemic by making changes in legislation and structures that will have far-reaching consequences.
It is, it seems, an opportunity for the democratic regimes to steal a few lessons from the more autocratic ones, and it requires serious attention from all of us. You will remember that, when Trudeau’s government first went to introduce financial supports for those laid off by the coronavirus, the Liberals tried to sneak in, with the enabling legislation, a few clauses that would grant them extraordinary powers in financial and governance matters far beyond the limits of the emergency.
That kind of temptation must be quite attractive to many governments who could use the cover of this pandemic to make changes favourable to their political future. And there is clearly a resistance among the general public to anything which smacks of unfair advantage in times of trial. But, in general, there is a willingness among citizens to accept restrictive measures in the name of society’s health and wellbeing, and that must not be misused by political leaders.
There are a number of really challenging, yet exciting, opportunities before us. We have a opening, a very rare and completely unpredictable opening, to reset how we live, work and structure our societies around the world. We have learned, I think to our surprise, that the changes we need to make to reverse climate change may not be as difficult or long-term as we thought. Things are changing in that regard much faster than we could have imagined.
We may also see fundamental changes in how we live: will more people choose to work from home after all this is over? Will people continue to walk, run, bike, rather than drive everywhere? Will we continue to talk to neighbours, find new ways to interact and entertain ourselves? What bricks will we use to build a wall; and will that be a dividing wall, or the walls of a new cultural and social structure for us all?
There are some, possibly many, who are very concerned at the extent to which our individual freedoms have been restricted in these times. They believe that such measures are unnecessary. Others think they are sinister: signs of a conspiracy to permanently remove basic freedoms of movement, of speech, of assembly. It is claimed that these restrictions are something evil and new and are being imposed on us. Yet, in the Before Times, we accepted many restrictions in the name of society’s welfare: driving licences, speed limits on roads, age limits for everything from alcohol consumption to sex, to voting.
We recognise the need for these restrictions on our liberties: they are for the common good, and we are part of the commonweal, so they are good for us. I do worry when I see, over the border, men with large guns and semi-military dress threatening legislators and demanding their own rights, regardless of the effect on more vulnerable friends and neighbours. Here is one of the most basic considerations we must make as a community: how far can we be free without infringing on the freedom of others? Whose rights should prevail?
Yes, this unusual time through which we’re living has tremendous potential, and grave dangers. Our next door neighbour has been bitterly, and almost evenly divided, and covid-19 has only exacerbated those divisions. November looms large for everyone, not just in the U.S.
There’s a place in Scripture that talks about how we build our lives: some with wood, hay and straw; others with gold and silver and precious stones. “Their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.”
The future will reveal how well we’ve built on the foundations laid during this pandemic. Will it survive what’s coming next? Will we have the wisdom, the integrity and the willingness to build something of which we can be proud. Will 2020 hindsight have a positive or negative connotation? We have it in us to do right. One day, we will return to regular life, politically led by the elected, and not by Emergency Teams.
The challenge we face is to build well and emerge from this crisis with a better attitude to each other, to our potential and to our dreams. These days won’t last forever, and we must be aware and ready. This, too, will pass. We shall overcome.