One of the more notable effects the pandemic had in this country, at least in its early stages, was on our politics.
It was rather remarkable: For months, politicians of all stripes were playing on the same team. The lack of partisan attacks produced an eerie silence across the land. Many of us acknowledged that it felt … kind of nice. That peace then begat fantasies of productive policy-making, done out of a sense of solidarity and real leadership and without the petty insults.
We knew it couldn’t last. And now, with the return of the vitriol on which our political system seems to thrive, we are reminded of just how pleasantly still those partisan sabres were in those first few months.
On Monday, the Conservative Party of Canada sent out a tweet mocking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement last week that we’d have enough doses of vaccine for a “one-dose summer, setting us up for a two-dose fall.” In its tweet, the party said a one-dose summer wasn’t good enough. It then showed a picture of a group of people partying without masks under the heading “two-dose summer”; below it, beneath the words “Trudeau Summer,” was the image of a man in a hospital bed on oxygen.
It was an ugly, rancid message, and the public reaction was swift and merciless. The party eventually deleted the tweet, but the damage was done.
Just last weekend, Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu wrote a Facebook post suggesting that the provincial NDP, the federal Liberals and the news media wanted to see the province’s health care system collapse under the weight of the pandemic, with people gasping for air and dying in intensive care units. Mr. Madu vowed that Premier Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party government would not let this happen. The whole tirade, I guess, was supposed to be a justification for the COVID-19 restrictions that the government introduced.
The suggestion that anyone wants people in Alberta to die from COVID-19 is beyond offensive. While the Minister’s office initially tried to defend the post, public reaction was so harsh that Mr. Madu took it down and apologized.
Meanwhile, in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives put together an ad attacking Mr. Trudeau for failing to take tougher action at our borders. Mr. Ford also tweeted out a statement condemning Ottawa for allowing variants to enter the country by means of international travellers, appending an image of the arrivals board at Pearson International Airport showing flights from Abu Dhabi, Frankfurt and Panama.
That same board, however, also showed five flights touching down from Alberta, one of the worst COVID-19 hot spots in the world. But Mr. Ford would never suggest stopping flights from Alberta from landing in Toronto; that might offend his buddy, Mr. Kenney. No, the whole point was to take aim at Mr. Trudeau, even though statistics have shown that flights delivering COVID-19-infected passengers into Canadian airports have come from predominantly domestic locations, not international ones.
In politics, the facts don’t matter.
Any pandemic-related reprieve that Mr. Trudeau might have enjoyed with his political enemies is over. Conservatives at both the federal and provincial level can see some form of normalcy returning and attention is turning to more mundane matters, such as elections. A federal one could happen this year. (And it should be noted here that Mr. Trudeau hasn’t been beyond flinging the odd partisan barb himself.) Ontarians will go to the polls next year. All this has ramped up the rhetoric.
It’s why Mr. Kenney seldom misses an opportunity to deflect attention from his own dismal handling of the pandemic by trying to shift the blame to Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals for the slow pace of the vaccine rollout – a charge that becomes harder to make by the day as Canada shoots to the top of most world charts for per-capita vaccinations delivered.
But Mr. Kenney has to go before the voters next year, and attacking the “Laurentian elites” who run Canada is a tried-and-true tactic for shoring up support among the home crowd. And the Premier, riding lower in the polls than few Alberta premiers ever have, can use all the help he can get.
All of this is to say that while the pandemic will leave an indelible mark on many aspects of our life, and will have altered things that will never be the same, politics does not appear to be one of them.
While life hasn’t returned to normal for most of us, it has for our political leaders. The bitterness and contempt that has become a hallmark of our modern politics is back. I never thought I could miss any aspect of the early days of the pandemic – but in this one case, I’m finding myself a bit nostalgic.
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