At times of great strife, politicians can either rise to the occasion and inspire, or use the occasion to try and gain partisan advantage, and in doing so, disappoint and make things worse.
I believe what we are currently witnessing in Ottawa represents just such a moment of discord. Canadians are looking to their political leaders to inspire and unite, not disappoint.
After two years of disruption, of restrictions, of separation, of lost wages, of lost businesses, of lost friendships, of lost loved ones, many people are reaching their limits.
While each of our experiences of living through the pandemic so far has been unique, none of us has escaped some really difficult impacts and stresses along the way. Because of this, I think we can understand how some people may have reached a breaking point.
When we hear Islanders and Canadians say “it’s time for restrictions to be lifted and our lives to return to normal”, or versions of that, what I really think many are saying is “I wish it was time for restrictions to be lifted, and for our lives to return to normal.”
While I 100% agree with the wish that it was time for us to put COVID behind us, I also know what a rash and potentially deadly mistake that would be. Places that lifted restrictions prematurely often created unnecessary suffering and just ended up having to reimpose them soon afterward. That sort of lurching back and forth is bad for our economy, it is bad for our individual well-being, and for our collective resilience as a society.
I believe we find ourselves at a pivotal moment in our country’s history. While the protests in Ottawa will end, the sentiment that sparked it will not. I feel our country is changing and I fear it may not be in a good way.
For example, the racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Indigenous acts committed during the protest have nothing at all to do with the pandemic, and certainly have nothing to do with freedom. They are disgusting, despicable acts of violence and hatred that are focused on denying freedom and equality to others. Those acts and behaviors have no place anywhere in our country and I unequivocally condemn them.
Freedom is a word that is getting a lot of play recently. But freedom in the absence of responsibilities to the collective is not really freedom for all. It fails to acknowledge the connections we all have to each other, and that what we choose to do independently often has an impact on others.
Recently in a conversation where I was trying to describe a complex and divisive topic, I used the following metaphor:
When you sail into New York you come face to face with the Statue of Liberty. It is a shame that they did not construct a sister monument right beside it, and call that one the Statue of Responsibility. Citizenship is equally about freedoms and responsibilities.
The kind of community and society we choose to build together is an expression of our shared values. There is no denying this pandemic has changed us, and our world, forever. But as we think about who we want to be as we come out the other side, I choose a country characterized by kindness, equity, and mutual respect. I choose a country where we disagree well and look at differences of opinion as opportunities to learn and grow. I choose a country that pulls together when we are in danger of being pulled apart.