National Post (National Edition)

Surviving COVID and Trudeau with opera

- RICHARD C. OWENS Financial Post Richard C. Owens is a Senior Munk Fellow of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a longtime adjunct professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and a lawyer.

This bleak year still held some useful life lessons. It was better in the private realm than the public, but it pretty much had to be, didn't it?

Buy-and-hold financial investing worked in 2020, thank God. I learned to invest time more wisely, too. As infections rose, I dug into the virus's origins, given my interest in biotechnol­ogy. That put me in a rage with China. Rage is not a healthy state. And my research began in social media, which, not least regarding the Chinese Communist Party's virus, can be a little tainted. Hours deep into some admittedly interestin­g ratholes, for self-preservati­on I had to climb out.

News and social media are a thin mental diet. How well spent is time tracking cases and arbitrary lockdown restrictio­ns and listening to every infectious disease doctor in the country take her turn saying the same thing? It's real books that help us grow, and to produce meaningful work ourselves. Likes and retweets are as addictive and nourishing as a sugar diet.

This year has been a forceful reminder that life is not within our control. As India's ancient Bhagavad Gita counsels: one is entitled to one's actions, but not to any particular results from them. And we can't predict even what actions life will demand of us. Our present moment, and what we make of it, are all we have. It's good if the things we make last, but that's out of our hands. More important is how much of ourselves we invest in what we do.

Our lives are fragile, but we must risk them to make them meaningful. Life always calls us to take risks, emotional and physical — a child's illness, a flight, even a commute on the 401. To take undue risks is imprudent; to take none is, too. Only at risk are we truly alive. That doesn't mean climbing Everest; it may be risk as intimate as loving someone — especially in a time of plague.

Retail clerks and nurses and my barber have demonstrat­ed far more bravery (and common sense) in 2020 than our chattering classes and our public sector and even, strangely, our youth generally, who seem unreasonab­ly cowed by COVID. We are accustomed to our era of unpreceden­ted safety and predictabi­lity. Are we weaker for it? I was lucky to have braved the mobs at the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at the Louvre with my wife just before the Paris lockdown. Leonardo, an open homosexual, carried paintings like The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and the Mona Lisa around with him from one warring principali­ty to the next. From conflict to conflict in horse-drawn carriages through un-policed wilds he carried these unimaginab­ly precious and delicate things. What bravery.

The public 2020 has forced us to take refuge. The weakness and ineptitude of Canadian pandemic responses appalls. Civil liberties go cheap. Government hardly hesitates to lock us down and dictate our private movements. The record of our federal government has been horrifying — the abuse of native rights and exploitati­on of native peoples as instrument­s to destroy our resource economy; the corruption of SNC-Lavalin, and socalled “innovation” grants; throwing the rights of Canadians to hazard of railroad-blocking, statue-toppling, legislatur­e-blockading thugs; debasement of public finance; fanciful carbon taxes and hydrogen energy — endless bad, simplistic, vain and destructiv­e policies.

Then there is the sorry spectacle of: our health-care failures; cancel culture; the violence and intoleranc­e of an increasing­ly rampant and authoritar­ian left; China's ghastly tyranny and bellicosit­y — in the face of which Ottawa is so strangely, inexplicab­ly submissive. And the cloying smugness, and shameful anti-American feelings, of many Canadians. It's been frightenin­g and dismaying.

And we've been too alone through it all. Somehow in the summer my wife and I attended one short, live concert, given for a tiny audience in a downtown Toronto church — an audience moved to its core.

It's been a dark year. And yet we must be grateful to capitalism in the form of the IT industry for making this a video-linked lockdown (but enough Zoom already), and to the life sciences industry for miraculous vaccines. While Netflix may be cool, for my wife and me what has been truly indispensa­ble is the Metropolit­an Opera app. At last count we've enjoyed 79 operas since March, streamed in astonishin­g quality for free, night after night.

And there are small consolatio­ns, too. Yesterday I watched three pairs of cardinals and a woodpecker gathered together in my small, downtown Toronto garden.

We're going to make it through this (COVID and Trudeau) but when we do, there will be a lot of mess to clean up. I hope we show greater insight and fortitude after the pandemic than during.


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