Canada’s lead­ers have learned the high price of not be­ing fully pre­pared for the worst

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Opin­ion - Ge­of­frey Stevens Cam­bridge res­i­dent Ge­of­frey Stevens, an au­thor and for­mer Ot­tawa columnist and man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of the Globe and Mail, teaches po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Guelph. His col­umn ap­pears Mon­days. He wel­comes com­ments at ge­off­stevens4

Some day the coro­n­avirus cri­sis will play it­self out — and when that day comes, the world will be not be same, or so we are told.

There will be a “new nor­mal.” Ev­ery­thing will change, pre­sum­ably for the good.

As an optimist, I would love to be­lieve these seers.

As a skep­tic, I won­der. Will the COVID-19 pan­demic, hor­ri­ble as it is, re­ally change hu­man na­ture or be­hav­iour?

Or will to­day’s op­ti­mistic as­sump­tions prove to be to­mor­row’s false hope, just as ear­lier gen­er­a­tions dis­cov­ered that the “Great War,” as the First World War was known, did not pan out the way ide­al­ists had pre­dicted? It did not be­come their hoped-for “war to end all wars.”

My guess is that change, when it comes, will be more in­cre­men­tal than sweep­ing. More small steps than gi­ant leaps, but im­por­tant, none­the­less.

Lessons have been learned. It seems rea­son­able to ex­pect that po­lit­i­cal lead­ers will pay more at­ten­tion to their sci­en­tists in fu­ture global health emer­gen­cies, that they will act more quickly, and that they will not try to hide the warn­ing signs, as China did with COVID-19, or ig­nore the signs, as many coun­tries did.

Canada has surely learned the high price — in hu­man lives, eco­nomic dis­rup­tion and public ex­pen­di­ture — of not be­ing pre­pared for the worst.

The need for more re­search into com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases and vac­cines to con­trol them is ob­vi­ous. So is the need to lay in enough med­i­cal sup­plies now to weather the next pan­demic.

I can­not be­lieve our politi­cians will come away from COVID-19 with­out hav­ing burned into their mem­o­ries and con­sciences the fail­ure to pro­tect our aged and in­firm.

It’s a scan­dal, and there is no rea­son for gov­ern­ments at all lev­els to wait for the pan­demic to wind down be­fore ini­ti­at­ing ur­gent re­me­dial ac­tion.

Un­safe long-term care fa­cil­i­ties will have to be torn down and re­placed with places specif­i­cally de­signed to pro­tect pa­tients and res­i­dents from the spread of dis­ease.

Pub­licly op­er­ated fa­cil­i­ties will need more govern­ment money and more trained staff. Pri­vate fa­cil­i­ties will re­quire far tighter reg­u­la­tion and in­spec­tion, and it might make sense for pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments to take over the man­age­ment of all pri­vate nurs­ing homes.

And, if COVID-19 taught us noth­ing else, it is that front-line work­ers in hos­pi­tals, nurs­ing homes, se­niors’ res­i­dences and other high­risk venues must be paid a wage com­men­su­rate with the es­sen­tial work they do. Go­ing cheap is not the way to con­trol a pan­demic — we have learned that.

No one knows when the coro­n­avirus may wind down.

The emer­gency mea­sures that the fed­eral govern­ment has in­tro­duced to sup­port fam­i­lies and busi­nesses sug­gest Ot­tawa is look­ing to June as the time when we might be­gin to emerge from our pro­tec­tive co­coon.

A thought: Per­haps when the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive party comes out of its co­coon, it will do what it

“It might make sense for pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments to take over the man­age­ment of all pri­vate nurs­ing homes.”

should have done ear­lier and can­cel its ab­surd (now sus­pended) lead­er­ship con­test. Tear up the nom­i­na­tions of its four can­di­dates, re­fund their $300,000 de­posits, wait un­til the pan­demic is de­feated, then launch a new race with rea­son­able en­trance re­quire­ments to at­tract fresh tal­ent to the lead­er­ship.

Of the four can­di­dates whom the party has per­mit­ted to run, two — Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole — are for­mer min­is­ters whose bold­est am­bi­tion seems to be to re­boot the party of Stephen Harper. There is no rea­son to be­lieve ei­ther would be an im­prove­ment on Andrew Scheer.

The other two — Derek Sloan, a rookie back­bencher, and Les­lyn Lewis, an un­suc­cess­ful 2015 elec­tion can­di­date — both hew to the right and would de­liver the party to the anti-abor­tion move­ment.

The Con­ser­va­tive party can do bet­ter. It needs to do bet­ter.

It needs to build a big­ger tent, ap­peal to younger vot­ers and make it­self at­trac­tive to peo­ple who live in big cities as well as small towns. And it needs a leader who can carry it there.

Re­treads and right-wing un­knowns won’t cut it in the “new nor­mal” — what­ever that may be in Cana­dian pol­i­tics.

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