It is perhaps ironic that after all the criticism from teacher unions that the provincial government’s back to school plan would be a disaster, the first school closure because of a COVID outbreak was caused by a teacher with COVID symptoms who came to work and mingled with colleagues who were not wearing masks. Over 700 secondary students in Pembroke are now out of school.
Ironic, but very sad and hopefully, as our educators like to say – a teachable moment. Because no government plan will work if people refuse to follow the COVID rules – wash your hands, keep your distance, wear a mask, stay home if you are feeling unwell.
It doesn’t matter what the plan is or how much funding there is if people give in to our natural human tendency to think, “it can’t happen to me.” We all know and we can well remember our feelings of invincibility when we were young. And the current COVID caseload with victims predominantly below the age of 40 is proving this point everyday.
And with COVID hot spots in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa, it is also easy to see how someone in Pembroke might think their community was safe. In defense of the teacher, it must be noted that the “it can’t happen here” attitude was the characteristic response of too many political and public health leaders in the early days of the pandemic.
But bad things can happen anywhere as this virus is proving and it can happen to any of us regardless of government plans, rules or funding unless we also do our own part, unless we are prepared to take some responsibility for our own behaviour, to be accountable for our own actions to the best of our ability.
That doesn’t let our federal and political leaders off the hook – far from it. But they are not accountable if we don’t exercise our own responsibility to be the adults in the room – to learn the facts, not pay attention to the latest social media scare story, to listen to the experts (and yes, they have been far from perfect but they’re all we’ve got), to rationally weigh the risks and behave responsibly.
Luck may be with us and the virus may burn out on its own as has happened in the past. But the much more likely scenario is that we are going to have to learn how to live with this virus for many months, if not years to come.
It was this fact, that we must learn to live with the virus by adopting policies and behaviours that are sustainable over time, that heavily influenced Sweden’s controversial decision not to completely lock down their economy and society as so many other countries did.
And with what looks like the dreaded “second wave” now upon us, it is worth contemplating that fact. The fear this is creating is understandable, particularly for parents and for those with elderly relatives. But the human race has survived worse so we can get through this too. But only if we behave like the rational, intelligent creatures we were created to be and follow the rules.
No course of action is risk-free. But another full lock down cannot be the answer.
Janet Ecker is a former Ontario Finance Minister, Minister of Education, Minister of Community and Social Services and Government House Leader in the governments of Premier Mike Harris and Premier Ernie Eves. After her political career, she served as the founding CEO of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance, a public-private partnership dedicated to building Toronto region into an international financial centre. She currently sits on a number of corporate and non-profit boards, agencies and advisory committees.
Ms. Ecker received the Order of Canada for her public service contributions and was recognized as one of the “Most Influential People in the World’s Financial Centres” by Financial Centres International. She also received a “Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award” from the Women’s Executive Network and the Richard Ivey School of Business, among other awards. She is also one of the founders of Equal Voice, a national, multi-partisan organization working to elect more women.