#onpoli newsletter: Finding gratitute in scary times

Thanksgiving is a great time of year when we can be grateful for some things. (Yes, even during a global pandemic.)
By Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath - Published on Oct 13, 2020
A medical worker checks appointment information of a woman at a COVID-19 assessment center in Toronto (Zou Zheng/Xinhua via ZUMA Press)

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Hello, #onpoli people: 

On Friday, Ontario reported a record 939 new COVID-19 cases — just in time for the Thanksgiving weekend. The numbers are scary, and many Ontarians missed their families over the holiday.  

To balance out the bad, Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath look at some bright spots, including increased cooperation between our politicians.   

Battling the bad

John Michael McGrath: If I had to sum up the last week in one word, it would probably be “oof.” More than 900 new cases in Ontario last Friday? Oof. More people proven sick than at the worst period of the spring outbreak? Oof. New public health measures for Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa, including closing bars and restaurants to indoor dining? Oof. Losing any hope that we could get the second wave under control with gentler, more targeted measures? Oof.  

That said, it’s a new week and we’ll see if the latest measures work to control the pandemic’s revival in Ontario — especially in the GTA and Ottawa. But we shouldn’t just breeze past the reason for the long weekend. It was Thanksgiving, and if for no other reason than our own mental health, let’s take a break from all the grimness and talk about gratitude instead. What are you thankful for this year, Steve? 

Steve Paikin: I think for starters I'm grateful there are no more "oofs" on your list. That was a pretty grim summation. But seriously folks, let me suggest that Thanksgiving is a great time of year when we can be grateful for some things. (Yes, even during a global pandemic.) And why not start with some gratitude at how well our various levels of government are working together to manage this crisis? Fifty weeks ago, Justin Trudeau was barely re-elected with a minority government and earned fewer votes than his Conservative opponents. He campaigned as ferociously against Premier Doug Ford as he did against his federal opponents, and Ford was so unpopular that his federal cousins didn't want him anywhere near the hustings. Nearly a year later, Trudeau and Ford have proven they can put petty partisan politics behind them and work together for the good of the province and country. Not surprisingly, both men have seen their popularity rise accordingly — Ford's by an astonishing amount. Besides their work behind the scenes, the prime minister and premier have held several press conferences together, including last week's important announcement in which they jointly agreed to subsidize electric vehicle production at the Ford plant in Oakville. You need only look south of the border at the exhausting and constant dumpster fires that break out between the White House and various governors to know we should give thanks that we're north of the border and not experiencing that.  

Navigating a crisis together

John Michael: To your point, I could also add that even some of the traditional provincial parochialism seems to be dissolving somewhat in the face of a second wave of the pandemic. Quebec has finally relented and adopted the COVID Alert app, which is now available to download in seven provinces. Nova Scotia is expected to join soon which leaves just British Columbia and Alberta as holdouts. (If you haven’t downloaded the app yet, please do it!) Since you’ve covered the benefits of Canadian federalism when it works passably, I’ll say I’m grateful for Canadian parliamentary democracy this year. You mentioned the infighting between the president and governors, but the fighting between the president and congress is at least as bad. Meanwhile in Canada, we’ve seen numerous examples of premiers (and the prime minister) working with opposition parties. Trudeau has of course had to deal with the nuances of a minority parliament, and despite a fumble early where I think the government overreached, the Liberals have navigated the crisis reasonably well. In Ontario, Doug Ford has had a lower bar to clear —he commands a majority in the legislature and can get what he wants, in the final account — but if the Tories haven’t been perfect, they’ve made more room for the opposition to do its job than I would’ve expected this time last year.  

Steve: Since we've offered some thanks to those decision-makers who seem to be (mostly) rowing in the same direction, maybe we could also spare a generous thought for opposition politicians of all stripes who also have a job to do at this time. No, they're not the "deciders." But they do have a role to play in a parliamentary democracy — and their constructive criticism and championing of various causes can force governments to focus on issues they'd rather ignore. Whether you agree or disagree with the NDP's push for eliminating privately-run/owned long term care homes, you can't deny that they've put a spotlight on the issue and captured the public's attention for it as never before. Same for the Green Party's leader Mike Schreiner, who continues to be a thoughtful, constructive voice on so many issues — including saving small businesses, the main streets of smaller municipalities, and of course, the environment. The Liberals under Stephen Del Duca have also said some useful things about how they'd approach reopening schools in a way that may have been more effective than the government's approach. Anyway, I'm not being a total Pollyanna here and saying the opposition parties have never played politics or said dumb things. But on a day when we're looking for things to be thankful for, I'm happy to point to the constructive contributions they've made over the past seven months.

And don’t forget about family… 

John Michael:  Well we’ve done all the political stuff, but before anyone we know starts Googling “divorce lawyers for spouses of journalists,” I’m going to make sure I get a big ol’ thank you to my wife for all her support and help this year. I am most assuredly very thankful for my family this year as I know you are for yours. The next little while is going to be tougher than the summer was in Ontario, and there’s going to be real hardship and yes, deaths, as we move into the winter. At a time when we again need to stay apart from the people we care about to stay safe, I am incredibly grateful for the people I’m able to keep close to me. Maybe if we’re lucky the big turkey dinners can make a return in time for Christmas. 

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