Elected city and provincial politicians have been working together, not competitively, to meet the challenge this epidemic presents. They have shared their data, ideas and program in daily broadcasts so everyone can be informed. Each has used the best medical advice available and made that expertise a matter of public record.
Nationally, provinces put aside individual grievances and shared information, resources and strategies. When Ontario was running low on PPEs, Alberta sent its surplus because, well, “We’re all in this together.”
Even more extraordinary, federal and provincial leaders who, until COVID-19, were barely civil to each other, engaged in daily conference calls to create policies and programs to the benefit us all. The prime minister and opposition party leaders seemed to work together, for once, to make a reduced Parliament function.
COVID-19, in short, reminded everyone why we have governments and how they can serve us all. Should the new normal be like the old, politics again will be a blood sport of self-interest dominated by meaningless, self-serving sound bites. Press conferences will be no more than carefully crafted exercises in ministerial vagueness.
The virus has opened a window on fundamental change, on how we can be better. Thanks to it, we relearned the lesson that Canadian industry is flexible and innovative. As international supply chains broke down, scores of Canadian companies retooled to provide not car parts or underwear but medical gowns, masks and other needed equipment.
Normalcy will mean the companies that have retooled to provide necessary goods will be sent back to business as usual. Canadians will again be just another way point in the global corporate supply line. That is what happened after the Second World War, Linda McQuaig argues in her most recent book, The Sport & Prey of Capitalists, when governments sold off or closed vibrant, military-era industries to favour corporate ownership programs.
This pandemic has reminded us that public health is not a business opportunity but a duty in which profit should be, at very best, a secondary concern. COVID-19 showed the failure of relying on for-profit corporations in the field of assisted care. They’ll always use the minimum of workers, at a low rate of pay, in service of the fragile arranged in ward-like beds.
Suddenly, provinces found facilities to house the homeless; Ontario opened 1,000 new acute care beds in preparation for an epidemic influx. All that would be forgotten in a return to normal. The beds will close and the queue for necessary medical procedures will get ever longer.
What we need is a “next normal” in which the measure of the nation is not it’s GDP but, first, the health of its citizens, and second, the support of its producers. Care and mutuality will be the by-words, with corporate satisfaction second to public need. Businesses will prosper but under different rules and with stricter guidelines.
Thank the virus for this opportunity. As every epidemiologist knows, this will not be the last pandemic we face in the next decade. The World Health Organization calls it “Disease X.” Without a better, next normal, we will go through all this again.
Tom Koch is a medical geographer and ethicist at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Ethics in Everyday Places and Cartographies of Disease.
Forget “normal.” If getting back to normal is the goal, we will have learned nothing from COVID-19. The pandemic has been a test, showing what we need to change and how to do it.
If the new normal is like the old, the current sense of solidarity, mutual support and shared purpose will disappear as businesses ramp up to recoup lost revenue and individuals scramble to make good their losses. Today’s “everyday heroes” again will be just drudges, anonymous workers we ignore except, of course, to complain about their slow service.
Neighbours will just be half-strangers who live nearby, not folks to call for help. Current concerns over the most fragile among us will disappear as new budgets focus on regaining lost revenues. It will be, literally, business as usual and that would be a waste.
Thanks to COVID-19, Canadians have rediscovered a sense of national unity in an emergency. Hair salons, dentists and veterinarians donated personal supplies of needed medical masks and gloves to hospitals where they were in short supply. Asked to “step up,” everyday Canadians provided spontaneous help in any way they could.