Back in 1972, in another era altogether, CBC Radio held a contest asking listeners to complete the phrase, “As Canadian as…”. It was meant to be a lighthearted search for our version of “As American as apple pie.”
The undisputed winner was, “As Canadian as possible, under the circumstances.”
We are now through our fifth week of business and school closings, self-isolation at home, and physical distancing when we venture outdoors. We are mired in the most demanding part of our national response to the coronavirus pandemic. Are we closer to the end than beginning? Or have we barely begun to fight?
No one knows enough to answer that yet. Under these peculiar circumstances, we are simply being asked to be as Canadian as possible: trusting of government; tolerant of that which nature has imposed on us; stoic in meeting hardship; frustrated with the measures involved, but on the whole willing to put up with them for the greater good.
We could, at this point, recite the epidemiological justifications for the restrictions Ottawa and the provinces have imposed. We support them, and understand why, for now, they are necessary. So do most Canadians.
We could also point out that the measures are beginning to turn the tide in our favour. The rate of increase in new cases is slowing. The worry that hospitals would be overwhelmed is fading. There is hope.
And we could reiterate the need to continue the self-isolating and physical distancing demanded by the moment. Again, most Canadians understand this, and they know that we’ve come too far and paid too high a price to stop now and risk losing all the gains we’ve made.
But what we want to instead focus on is Canadians themselves. Because this isn’t easy, not even for those who have it the easiest.
There are the nurses, doctors, orderlies and cleaners who are treating the sick and keeping hospitals open and safe, and who expose themselves to the risk of COVID-19 every minute they are on the job.
Just as critical in the fight against the coronavirus are the people employed in essential services who make it possible for the rest of us to self-isolate: the grocery store workers, drug store clerks, delivery people and others who keep us in supplies, and the municipal employees who keep our towns and cities operating. They, too, are putting their health at risk to make it easier for the rest of us to protect our own, and many are doing it for the minimum wage.
There are the millions of self-isolating Canadians who have been laid off. And the thousands of small business owners and gig workers whose revenues are drying up.
There are politicians and bureaucrats working to rapidly roll out financial programs to rescue the hardest hit.
There are those caring for the homeless and other marginalized people, such as abused women or the mentally ill.
Basically, there is an entire country out there taking care of the rest of us: those who are still employed or financially stable enough to stay home, work from a desk in the living room, and break the chain of infection in relative comfort.
But even that isn’t always a walk in the park. For every person able to use the time to rediscover the joys of breadmaking, there are overburdened parents of restless children, and single people cut off from loved ones.
In spite of all the difficulties, Canadians are doing well in a way they might overlook.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown us that small island nations like New Zealand, Iceland and Taiwan, and city-states like Singapore and Hong Kong, have been better able to manage deadly outbreaks than most large countries.
Canada is a very large, diverse and open country, and yet our rates of infection and death from COVID-19 remain far below those in Europe and the United States.
Then again, our performance is much worse than that of South Korea. Our governments have not been perfect. Many things could have been done better, and sooner, as this page has said more than once. And there is so much that remains to be done.
But the success we have had so far is owed directly to the people of this country, and the selfless way they have responded to the crisis. We should just keep right on being as Canadian as possible, under the circumstances.