National Post (National Edition)

Maori official unties dress code


On Tuesday, Rawiri Waititi, the head of New Zealand's Maori Party, donned what he dubbed Maori business attire — a necklace with a large ornament,

called a hei tiki — and went about his day. That act set him on a collision course with parliament­ary rules and ultimately led to his expulsion from the

chamber. New Zealand — until Wednesday — required male legislator­s to wear ties in parliament. After Waititi rose multiple times to speak without the requisite neckwear, House Speaker Trevor Mallard ejected him, local media outlets reported. “It's not about ties. It's about cultural identity, mate,” Waititi said as he walked out of the chamber. By Wednesday, Mallard announced that following further consultati­on, he was officially scrapping the rule.

The Maori people are indigenous to New Zealand and make up

about 15 per cent of the population of five million.

Canadians should not be surprised that the country is slipping further and further in internatio­nal rankings of vaccinatio­ns (adjusted for population, of course). They can be angry, if they want. But the anger should be directed as much inward as it is outward at the federal government. We are an unserious country struggling to confront a serious challenge. What were you all expecting?

Procuremen­t Minister Anita Anand had a recent meeting with the Toronto Star editorial board and her comments seemed mostly fair — of particular note was her insistence that she can't simply reveal the contracts with vaccine providers due to confidenti­ality clauses. (I'm enough of a cynic on Canadian government transparen­cy to have briefly wondered which side in the negotiatio­ns insisted on said clauses, but I digress.) In any case, as I noted here in a recent column, it's still very possible that the coming months will see our procuremen­t issues ease, and with new vaccine candidates hopefully close to approval, three months from now, the memory of these early struggles may be largely erased by the accumulati­ng good news of a successful vaccinatio­n campaign.

But that would be a bad thing. We should remember the stress and fear of right now, and also the embarrassm­ent of seeing much smaller, poorer countries outperform­ing us. Because it is embarrassi­ng. The smart thing to do would be to decide that we don't like this feeling — the fear of further death and the shame of humiliatio­n — and have a frank national self-assessment that will leave us better off to face the next crisis. But if we were capable of that kind of self-assessment, we probably wouldn't be here in the first place.

There is something important about Canada that most Canadians too often forget. We're rich. We get distracted by the enormity of our land mass or overly focused on the size of our population, relative to our larger southern neighbour. What we don't spend enough time focusing on is the size of our economy. It's rich. We are rich. Canada is a rich country. But we don't act like one.

Our official residences fall into disrepair, our military is too small and chronicall­y underfunde­d, and we have enormous infrastruc­ture deficits all across the country. We aren't even good at taking proper care of what previous generation­s already built, which crumbles as replacemen­t projects get stuck in political limbo forever.

We spend more than almost anyone in the world on health care (per capita) for a system that produces decidedly mediocre results compared to internatio­nal peers — just imagine how much better we'd have done during this pandemic if so much of our policy wasn't driven by panic-inducing realizatio­n that our hospitals are overflowin­g with patients at the best of times.

As for the catastroph­es in our long-term-care homes, the only people surprised by this are the people who haven't been paying attention to the disaster our longterm-care system has become. Sadly, that's just about all of us.

All of these problems, and many more, get blamed on whatever political party you don't usually vote for. But the real issue is complacenc­y and a fundamenta­lly cheap streak to the national psyche. Our enviable geographic (and geopolitic­al) situation, for generation­s, has imposed almost no cost on politician­s for failures. 24 Sussex is crumbling into dust? Who cares? Military constantly short of basic equipment? Hey, I'm not in the military. Transit project running years behind and billions overbudget? Whatever, I drive to work anyway.

Most astonishin­g, we've even found a way to rationaliz­e, to ourselves, our mehwith-bells-on health-care system — if ever confronted with evidence of its manifest deficienci­es, Canadians simply remind themselves that hey, could be worse. We could be Americans! The warm glow of our moral superiorit­y dampens the throb of that hip that urgently needs replacemen­t, and has for months.

Other countries are better at this than we are. Some of them because they have to be — is it any surprise that Israel, a country that lives under constant threat of annihilati­on, performed better than Canada, which, ahem, does not?

But there's simply no reason we have to be this bad at procuremen­t and preparedne­ss. As said above, we are rich. We could fix health care, fund the military, repair or replace 24 Sussex and even have vaccinate production capacity sit idle for when it's needed, and all it would cost us is money. And not even huge sums of money. A few points of GDP, efficientl­y spent, would leave us a stronger country, with greater reserves of technical capacity and know-how to fall back on.

But just imagine the fate of a politician — any politician, from any party — who'd proposed two years ago that we should construct, or pay to have constructe­d, a vaccine facility. It would look a lot like what the reaction is whenever a politician proposes making some necessary investment in the armed forces. Millions of Canadians look at you funny and ask, gee, who are you planning on going to war with? In the context of vaccines, it would have been something more like, “What, are you thinking some coronaviru­s is going to mutate and kill tens of thousands of Canadians or something? How paranoid are you?”

Yet here we are. We don't have to be here. We could choose to never be here again. We'd have saved lives and spared ourselves embarrassm­ent. But we didn't, and we have only ourselves to blame.

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