The trouble with living next to the United States in 2020 is that no matter how many things Canada botches in its pandemic response – and a lot is being botched, again – the dumpster fire raging next door is always there to distract us from our own failures.
They have a President who has gone from being the world’s leading superspreader of COVID-19 disinformation to a superspreader of the actual virus. No Canadian elected official is in Donald Trump’s league. Not even close.
So when graded on the North American curve, Canada is head of the class. Oh sure, Canada is struggling in some courses and failed this week’s pop quiz, but we know we’re going to be the valedictorian. The only other kid in the class still hasn’t learned how to read.
The U.S. response to COVID-19 has been shambolic, with the rejection of basic public health precautions such as physical distancing and mask wearing urged on by the denialist-in-chief, Mr. Trump. As a result, it is hard to pinpoint when Mr. Trump contracted the virus that put him in hospital, but it was likely the Sept. 26 event where he announced Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the Supreme Court. A couple of hundred people sat shoulder to shoulder at an outdoor ceremony, mostly without masks, after which a select group mingled indoors, also without masks.
Among at least a dozen people close to the President who have tested positive for the virus are two Republicans on the Senate committee that was supposed to rush through Ms. Barrett’s confirmation. It means that Mr. Trump may have denied himself his shot at creating an enduring conservative majority on America’s highest court.
It feels like a biblical chastisement, or a Greek myth about hubris, or as Saturday Night Live joked, karma and science ganging up to teach us a lesson.
On Sunday, Mr. Trump tweeted a video in which he said he had “learned a lot” from being hospitalized with COVID-19. “I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school.” He said that as a result of his experience, which he did not mention included being pumped full of multiple drugs and at least twice being put on oxygen, “I get it, and I understand it.”
So what has Mr. Trump learned? Spoiler alert: Not much. “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” he tweeted on Monday. “I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” Yes, his time in hospital was like a spa weekend – a rejuvenating coronavirus staycation. Better than golf!
The good news is that no Canadian leader can hold a candle to Mr. Trump. None has politicized mask wearing or encouraged people to treat science as science fiction.
But if Canadians can mute CNN for a moment, the situation in our country is rather far from rosy. A second wave of the virus is not a surprise; the lack of preparation is.
In Quebec, where the outbreak was so bad this spring that the COVID-19 death rate is higher than that of the U.S., the province has closed sit-down restaurants in several regions, including Montreal, and people have been told to stop socializing. It’s blunt action, but necessary at this point because more surgical measures were not ready.
And in Ontario, the public health agency in the country’s largest city has suspended most contact tracing, saying it is overwhelmed. If you test positive, it won’t be tracking down the people you were in contact with, and telling them to isolate and get tested.
The decision may be necessary, but it’s also an admission of defeat. Once your army is surrounded at Dunkirk, it’s pointless to think about the victory that might have been. Face reality, evacuate and plan to do better next time. But planning to do better next time was what Canadian governments were supposed to have done this past summer.
Instead, Ontario’s Doug Ford government, which should have ramped up testing and contact tracing months ago, is aiming to do so in the months to come, after testing centres couldn’t handle the demand. On Monday, multiple members of the Ford government were unable to give a clear answer on whether people should avoid gathering with family on Thanksgiving.
Mr. Trump’s failure has been huge and spectacular; American-sized all the way. The failures of some governments here have been quintessentially Canadian – marked by good intentions, quiet timidity and severe, crippling mediocrity.
Not great. Again.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.