Skip to main content

Lauren Dobson-Hughes is a consultant specializing in gender equality and health.

With the release of alarming projections, provincial governments are bringing in increased restrictions to address coronavirus spread, including sweeping new lockdown rules coming into place in Toronto and Peel Region. But let’s be clear – these measures are an admission of failure. With the exception of the Atlantic provinces, provincial governments have failed to keep community transmission low, and failed to act early and decisively to tackle the rising numbers we’ve seen since September.

In the early days of the pandemic, we were reeling. We didn’t know how to handle this virus, so we locked down, not just to avoid swamping health systems but, crucially, to buy provincial leaders – politicians and senior public-health officials – time to develop a plan.

Story continues below advertisement

Buying our leaders time came at great expense, to mental health, jobs and children’s education. To livelihoods and to life dreams. But leaders took our sacrifice and squandered it. And did so in entirely pedestrian, predictable ways.

Across the country, governments failed to invest enough resources in test, trace and isolate systems. In most provinces, they did not make timely investments in school ventilation or hire more teachers, or prepare the restaurant industry for prolonged winter closing, or shut down workplaces that exposed minimum-wage workers to infection, or hire more long-term care home workers. They issued conflicting, byzantine communications to individual people that boiled down to ‘don’t do any activities unless you’re paying a private company to host them’.

Provincial governments did not come up with compassionate policies that addressed structural barriers to people staying safe. They came up with “personal responsibility,” telling citizens to knock it off or they’ll turn the car around right now. The only realm of life governments seemed willing to regulate was our social lives. It does no good being scolded to stay home if you live in a tiny, cold apartment and have to take public transit to your low-paid, unsafe workplace because you need the income.

We knew in the spring that the coronavirus exacerbates existing inequalities. We knew Black, Indigenous and people of colour were disproportionately affected by not just COVID-19, but secondary effects such as food insecurity, school closings and poor mental health. We knew long-term care homes incubated deadly outbreaks, especially those run by for-profit companies, and that scenes in care homes were so bad, Canadian soldiers needed counselling after working there. We knew industrial workplaces staffed primarily by immigrant populations earning minimum wage were under-inspected and exploitative. We knew the lack of childcare set back women’s economic participation to 1980s levels. We knew all of this. And our leaders did virtually nothing about it. Now we’re watching it unfold again.

And now to schools. Groundhog Day again. Maybe they will close, maybe they won’t. I don’t say this because I’m blasé, but because protest feels futile and I’m tired. So tired. Once again, it will be mainly mothers who bear the brunt. Many parents break out in cold sweat at the thought of going through that again. I will note that of the 10 provincial premiers, all are men and only two have school-aged children. Absent a broader plan, closing schools seems like a knee-jerk response because governments aren’t willing to lead, and so parents and children suffer because education isn’t an immediately economically productive activity.

More than anything, where we are right now represents a shattering of trust. Trust in politicians and senior officials to have done the right thing. To have risen to the challenge in front of them with courage and a plan. Instead, most leaders simply dusted off their old playbooks and gave us the most mediocre, dragged-to-it-kicking-and-screaming, too-late-to-be-effective efforts. I feel crushing disappointment in my bones that it’s turned out this way.

We were not supposed to get to this point. While nobody could predict the exact path of this disease, a large second wave in the fall was one of the likeliest scenarios. It was something governments should have spent those precious months both preventing and planning for. We know that the steeper the exponential growth of the coronavirus and the longer it goes unchecked, the harder the path is back. It takes enormous cost and effort to put the toothpaste back in the tube. I’m no epidemiologist, but every scenario now seems to involve, once again, sacrifice on the part of those who can afford it least, because our leaders have forced us into this corner again.

Story continues below advertisement

There is hope in the form of vaccines on the horizon. But the broken trust is permanent. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for leaders to rise to a challenge. And they failed at nearly every juncture.

The Manitoba government increased restrictions on stores and social gatherings Thursday in another attempt to bring down the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in Canada. The Canadian Press

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies