The Fates of the Pandemic and our Politics Are Now Inseparable

  • National Newswatch

“In politics, nothing happens by accident, and if it happens, you can bet it was planned that way,” noted Franklin Roosevelt.  Well, maybe not this time.  Just as political jurisdictions across Canada and around the world believed they could see the end of the COVID tunnel and get their programs and economies back to a workable level, fate has struck again.Welcome to the politics of stages.  First, there was the era of the Coronavirus. Just as it appeared that our political and healthcare leaders were getting it under control, the Delta variant appeared seemingly out of nowhere to send us back to masks, social distancing and a tightening of public policy.  But by October, there was the sense that Canada had finally got on top of that as well, leaving us to be informed that a world without masks was possible as early as March.  Good thing, too, since the anti-vaxxer movement seemed to be getting entrenched.  In some locations in Europe, the rebellion seemed to be gaining the upper hand.  Yet, overall, there was this sense that the health crisis had perhaps peaked.All this has proved to be a nightmare for politicians of all stripes and the political class in general.  There was always this quiet despair they harboured that the virus might not be contained.  For all their dedicated efforts at supporting their citizens and organizations, an outburst of the Delta variant would burst on the scene in the west, the east, the north and the prairie provinces.And now the next stage: Omicron.  While the cases are few in Canada, we have been through this before – twice – and on both of those occasions, our politics, economy, and social order were disrupted once again.  Though not admitting to it in public, numerous MPs, MPPs, and civic representatives wonder if society is about to be restricted once more, should Omicron upend the bulk of the advances made during the Delta stage.For those wondering what the extent of a virus is in our politics, think of America.  Presently, ten states have less than 50 percent of their citizens vaccinated.  In this past election, Donald Trump won nine of those states, and the tenth – Georgia – he lost by a slim margin.  Covid-19 and Delta split the country just as clearly as the Democrats and the Republicans.  One Republican politician brazenly said months ago,“No one cares about the Delta Variant or any other variant.  They are over COVID, and there is no amount of fear-based screaming from the media that will ever force Americans to shut down again.  Forced masks and vaccines will cause Dems to lose big.  All voters are over COVID.”Why should we expect anything different when Omicron makes its appearance?  The consequences are enormous.  Millions are reaching the breaking point and can easily be persuaded to push back, perhaps violently.  While it's true that the portion of the population set against vaccinations is smaller in Canada than in the U.S., we learned in the last federal election that it appears to be growing.  And while the federal election is now ended, the provinces, territories and cities are soon to face their own contests.What can politicians and parties do with this new threat?The first is just to acknowledge it and what the costs might be.  We've been through this on two occasions and understand that the odds are that Omicron will create its damage.  Numerous health researchers and experts have informed us that COVID would likely be the first of many mutations to crash upon our shores, and so it is turning out.The second is to understand that not all the research is in regarding Omicron, but that should make us more vigilant about what's next rather than skeptical.  We weren't fully prepared for COVID or the Delta variant, and we shouldn't make that mistake a third time.Third, our economic vibrancy will depend on our preparation.  Should a sizeable portion of Canadians refuse their boosters or the next round of vaccines designed to fight Omicron, then a new round of shutdowns will inevitably prove – schools, businesses, family reunions, vacations, public gatherings.  We are well acquainted with such responses and are growing to detest them.  But should we relax or guard now, our most recent past will become our immediate future.Alpha Beta, Delta, and now Omicron.  Though sounding like something from a Greek dictionary, they are, in fact, effectively arrayed against the Canadian future, and only a combined political effort against their potential can make our politics meaningful and effective enough.  We are divided enough as a country, and only a unified front can get us out of this seemingly endless virus cycle.Finally, our experience and understanding of the Alpha and Delta variants make it clear that early action is far better than late response. It may turn out that this variant is not a significant threat, but the consequences of not acting soon enough could be devastating.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 35 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.