#onpoli newsletter: The new normal, whatever that is

Podcast hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath discuss how Ontario is trying to find its way forward while keeping COVID-19 in check
By Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath - Published on May 05, 2020
Doug Ford answers questions during the daily briefing at Queen's Park last Thursday (Frank Gunn/CP)

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Hello, #onpoli people:

It’s been seven weeks since COVID-19 changed life as we know it, closing schools, daycares and businesses across the province. Now the conversation is turning to what the “new normal” will look like as Ontario tries to find its way forward while keeping the virus in check. Podcast hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath discuss some of the anomalies as this conversation plays out. 

A grim milestone

Steve Paikin: This past week offered us two very different developments on the COVID-19 story — one quite solemn and the other somewhat encouraging. We regretted to have to share the news that the 1,000th death from this pandemic in Ontario transpired last week. And while that's thankfully a much smaller number than the public health modelling a few weeks ago initially suggested Ontario could experience, that's still 1,000 premature tragedies for many families. On the plus side, officials announced the gradual reopening of the province could start this week. One hopes that's the first of many signs that we're getting a handle on this pandemic, and we could start to move towards whatever our "new normal" is going to be.

John Michael McGrath: There’s going to be a long time yet where we don’t really know what the new normal is, as frustrating as that’s going to be (and has already been). The government has announced the first types of measures — allowing a very minimal amount of reopening for businesses that can mostly conduct their affairs outside, including curbside pickup for garden centres, starting yesterday. But we aren’t even at the Stage One reopening the government laid out in its plans last week, and we don’t really know when we might get to Stage Two, where things actually start to approach a little more normalcy with more shops being allowed to do more kinds of business. And, as we keep saying, real “normal” isn’t going to be possible until there’s a vaccine and COVID-19 becomes just another kind of illness that modern medicine allows us to be blissfully unaware of.

We’re all in this together… sort of 

Store sign that says "closed."
Small business with closed sign (iStock)

Steve: Now that the economy is reopening, there are a lot of anomalies being brought to our attention. For example, Walmart is open (because it sells food) but we all know you can get a million other products there, as well. Some of those same items are for sale in smaller mom-and-pop stores, but those stores are obligated to be closed. They're understandably crying foul. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says 81% of small business owners report that COVID-19 has had an adverse effect on their operations and fully a third worry about their viability over the next year. Some better consistency in the way the rules are applied would be welcome news for them.

John Michael: We’re all in this together, but we aren’t exactly all in this the same way. Just as closing schools and daycares puts a heavier burden on women — who still, in 2020, do more than their share of the child-rearing in Canada — the pandemic is illuminating all sorts of ways that the burden of keeping people safe isn’t being shared equally. It’s pretty obvious that grocery stores were never going to shut down — people need food, after all — but Costco gets to sell a lot more than just groceries in its aisles. (I could probably go pick up a big-screen TV there today, if I were so inclined.) Just another example of government probably needing to think about some of the secondary effects of its policies. Obviously, we hope that COVID-19 can be wrestled to the ground and kept there, but with the possibility of a second wave of infection in the fall, the government should definitely be thinking hard about what it’ll do differently if it has to order another round of shutdowns later this year.

Steve: Well, if this weekend was any indication, it's going to be tougher and tougher to get people to shelter at home. The weather on Sunday was gorgeous. I got out of the house for the first time in a week and went for a walk on the Beltine, which is a lovely rustic trail right through the middle of the country's biggest city. It was packed. Very hard to practise physical distancing. And made worse by virtue of the fact that the beautiful Mount Pleasant Cemetery right next to the trail was locked tight. People weren't able to disperse into the cemetery as they once could, so they were all packed into the Beltline. Does that make any sense? I asked people on Twitter. The strong consensus: ummmm … NO!

Just a reminder...

Want to know more? Check out the latest episode of #onpoli for more analysis on the framework for reopening the province.

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