Some windfalls come with being a politician in a crisis.
It is certainly not enviable to have to deal with difficult decisions during a pandemic. But, as long as leaders do the logical thing, of listening to health experts, they can at least enjoy a surge in poll numbers, a public disinterested in partisan bickering, and media preoccupied with writing about the crisis.
Canadians generally have faith in government and are willing to give them a lot of leeway amidst COVID-19. However, as we progress through this, we must be mindful and willing to hold our officials to account.
Both provincial and federal leaders have seen their approval ratings soar. According to the Toronto Star, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was at a 65 per cent approval rating at the start of May, up from 31 per cent last October. Premier Doug Ford has had an even bigger swing, going from a 20 per cent approval rating in July to 76 per cent in May.
Though not all of that is pandemic-related, their handling of the situation has earned them marks. Though such polling does not exist for our municipal leaders, they have at least had headaches stalled by the crisis. Issues such as a controversial shoreline bylaw or the budgetary woes of the Minden arena cannot stand out as prominently when people are just trying to figure out how to get by. The biggest controversy in two months locally has been the return of seasonal residents, but most of the ire was not towards governments, but individuals sniping at each other and a generalized “other.”
Activism is harder, too. For instance, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation effectively caved in their attempts to stop class size increases or mandatory online credits. They acknowledged that, but recognized the need for some stability given the pandemic. It is hard to pick a fight with the government when no one has much energy to spare.
Media, including The Highlander, has also been preoccupied. Though there is plenty of questioning of government, our plates are filled with pandemic coverage taking priority over anything else.
But as the country begins to open, we must be ready and welcoming of efforts to hold people in power accountable.
Our leaders are still making vital decisions that will impact us. More and more, local council agendas are shifting from crisis management to regular business. All those issues that got sidelined before the pandemic are still there and will have to be dealt with. That also goes for our venerated health care sector, rightfully applauded for weathering this storm.
That should continue, but some attention will need to be paid to how this pandemic was handled, and what flaws it exposed in our health care system. Long-term care needs scrutiny especially after the failure of Highland Wood’s roof last year.
If we do our jobs well, you will see more of that accountability in our pages this summer than in recent weeks. We may risk coming off as unkind in a difficult time, but we cannot hold back forever.
COVID-19 is not going anywhere anytime soon. It will not be easy, but our media and public must get back to government scrutiny. It is good we have faith in our governments, but even in a long-term crisis, it cannot be boundless.