Governing versus politics - Keith Roulston editorial
It was when I heard Major-General Dany Fortin discussing the intricacies of delivering vaccines for COVID-19 across Canada that I grasped the difference between governing and politics.
It was only a couple of weeks ago but things were so much different then. Major-General Fortin and his team from the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as officials from Public Health Canada, were planning a dry run to test their plans to get vaccines to 14 different regional sites across 10 provinces that had facilities capable of storing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine which must be kept at -80°C to prevent spoilage.
Fortin was explaining how his team must try to anticipate anything that could go wrong from security for the precious cargo to a breakdown of one of the 26 freezers to store ultra-low temperature vaccines, to a flat tire on a delivery truck.
As I contemplated the enormity of the team’s task, I couldn’t help but think about an opposition party bill over in the House
of Commons that wanted something oh so simple: a schedule of when and where all Canadians would expect to receive their vaccines.
I realized that “governing” means all the hard work of making government work for the people. Politics is less complicated – promising people simple solutions to problematic issues.
It wasn’t just in Ottawa that opposition parties were offering easy answers to hard problems. Nearly every provincial government came under fire from opposition parties that think their purpose is to oppose – to the point they finally undermine the government and replace it in the next election.
Pointing out flaws in government planning or programs that should be introduced, even if it’s not on the government agenda, is an important part of democracy. Still, when opposition parties get too negative, I can’t help thinking they must wish someone would destroy Hansard, the recording of parliamentary debate.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted Canadians might not be first in line to receive vaccines because we have no facilities to produce them, opposition politicians had a ball in Question Period suggesting all sorts of Third World countries that might get vaccines ahead of Canadians.
When the government talked about having signed deals for enough of the various vaccines to vaccinate every Canadian, one wag suggested this didn’t matter if we didn’t get any delivered until the year 2030.
The critics wanted firm answers to a situation that was very much in flux. As he spoke that day, Major-General Fortin was a perfect illustration of how unpredictable things were. When he took the job in November, the expectation was that the first approvals of the new vaccines might happen in December.
Everything changed, Monday, Dec. 7 when Prime Minister Trudeau held an early-morning press conference to announce that as soon as Health Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine, 290,000 injections would be on the way to Canada before the end of 2020. Later last week, Health Canada gave permission for the drug to be used – just the third country to approve the vaccine – and ahead of the U.S.
By last weekend, the first vaccines were on the way to Canada. Far from being at the back of the line, Canada was expected to be a leader. As of Monday when this was written, the first vaccinations were to be administered this week.
As Major-General Fortin was speculating way back in the conversation that spurred these thoughts, there are plenty of things that can go wrong. There will probably be setbacks to slow the process of getting enough Canadians vaccinated so that this deadly, frightening pandemic will go away. But thanks to Major-General Fortin and thousands of others, governing is working as it should be, giving us hope for a return to normalcy.
But until there has been enough time to manufacture enough vaccine, ship it, distribute it and inject it, the responsibility for safety of the population rests on the rest of us. We like to blame government but the current crisis comes right down to the behaviour of ordinary Canadians.
Thousands of Canadians are likely to die because too many families think that maintaining family traditions is worth the risk of bringing together larger-than-recommended gatherings for the holidays. It’s sad that these misjudgements will mean there won’t be people at the table at Christmas 2021 who would have been if we’d simply disciplined our activities a few more months – but a reality of governing is that you can’t help people who won’t help themselves. Keep your family safe this upcoming holiday.