By Pauline Kerr
A lot of Canadians watched the recent – and apparently ongoing – American presidential election.
First, it provided an entertaining alternative to COVID-19, and second, the result of that election does affect us. Pierre Elliott Trudeau said it best, telling our closest neighbours, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
An updated version, attributed to the late Robin Williams, likened Canada to “a really nice apartment over a meth lab.” That one has been bounced around a lot on Twitter in recent weeks.
The fact is, the warm relationship we once shared with our neighbour to the south cooled considerably under an American president who was openly contemptuous of our prime minister, tightened restrictions on Canadians crossing the border, and tried to start trade wars with us.
We remain unsure what a lot of the punitive tariffs on Canadian goods were all about. Some of us suspect Donald Trump was just showing disrespect because he could. That is somewhat preferable to the notion that he acted on impulse, without listening to advice.
Unless something truly earth-shattering happens and Trump figures out a way to stay in power (in which case, we will feel like we are living above an exploding meth lab, with a fireworks factory in the basement), there will be a new president come mid-January.
We do not know how Joe Biden’s policies will affect us. However, we do know from when he was Barack Obama’s second-in-command that he is not a loose cannon. He understands how international trade works, and is unlikely to do things like insult friends and allies while cozying up to ruthless dictators.
A good many of us north of the 49th hope this translates into a coordinated effort between our two nations at controlling COVID-19. The American president-elect has already stated COVID-19 will be his priority. He has gone on record as saying science will dictate his pandemic policies – a marked change from his predecessor.
A consistent plan of action and messaging are desperately needed as the reality of the devastating second wave sinks in.
Although numbers in this country are nowhere near as out-of-control as they are south of the border, they are quickly heading in that direction.
One suspects conflicting messaging has played a role in that. On one hand, we are getting science-based information from our political and health authorities. On the other, newscasts have been showing us crowds of people frolicking on American beaches and displaying a casual attitude to COVID-19. When an American bride can have her dream wedding with hundreds of guests, while her Canadian cousin has to make do with a masked officiant and a few relatives, also in masks, of course it will cause frustration.
We wonder why we have to obey the rules while others do not. And maybe we leave the mask swinging from the rear-view mirror the next time we pop into the grocery store, or throw that birthday party and invite a lot more people than we are supposed to.
We have been hearing a lot about COVID-19 fatigue – resistance to wearing masks and washing our hands all the time, maintaining distancing and following the little arrows on the floor at the local grocery store. Perhaps the frustration level will diminish if we start seeing others taking the pandemic seriously.
At least, we hope so. The option is throwing caution to the winds and letting the pandemic run out of control. We know how well that worked out a hundred years ago with the Spanish flu. Public resistance to protective measures was so intense that officials stopped trying, and the disease went unchecked, killing a huge number of people.
For those who are of the opinion that would be better than destroying the economy, perhaps a reminder is in order about what happened a mere decade after the Spanish flu – the stock market crash of 1929.