From my perspective, the only good thing about the last week was the weather, and even that I could only look out at. COVID has finally caught up with us and raised its ugly head in our household.
I find it somewhat ironic that we spent the month of March in Florida, on a cruise ship, in Spain, and in England, thankfully without a hitch when it came to the virus, and then it hits us a month after we return home, while still being careful and wearing masks in public. I actually thought we had dodged the bullet.
While the experience has been far from pleasant, it has provided me with an opportunity to reassess my views on this whole pandemic thing and how it has morphed into a much larger discussion about our personal freedoms and collective responsibilities. And to those of the anti-vaxxer mode who will think, “Aha, he has seen the light”, sorry about that. Because, in fact, I have doubled down.
If there is one thing I have been incredibly thankful for this week, it is that my wife and I are both double vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19. Had we not been, I truly believe we would have been much sicker than we were. I simply disagree with those who argue that COVID vaccines are ineffective or unnecessary. This is a pandemic that has so far claimed 14.9 million lives worldwide. I can only imagine what it would have been if there were not vaccines developed to mute its effect.
Because I have been pretty well housebound this week, I have been able to observe the political scene a little more closely than usual.
I agree with Conservative leadership candidate Scott Aitchison that the unofficial leadership debate in Ottawa last week was nothing short of an embarrassment. Aitchison, and to a degree Roman Baber, were the only ones on the stage that rose above the furor and Aitchison was the only one that called them out for their childish behavior.
Pierre Poilievre came across like a bully in the schoolyard, and he and Leslyn Lewis tried to out alt-right each other in shouting matches to prove who was the greater supporter of the so-called freedom movement. If the circumstances were not so sad, their performance might actually have been entertaining.
Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne, when talking about the Conservative leadership debate, put it this way: “To watch this debate, you’d come way thinking the Conservatives are a party that has been taken over by vaccine refuseniks, conspiracy theorists, and illegal blockade supporters. And you wouldn’t be far wrong.”
A sad indictment indeed.
I found it interesting during the debate to notice the “vaccine mandate” was hurled around by some as a reason for supporting the so-called freedom movement. But wait a minute. During the COVID-19 pandemic, was there an actual full-scale vaccine mandate? Or is that a well-played myth? There was a vaccine requirement for participation in certain public activities to protect public safety. But did we have the freedom to refuse to be vaccinated? I believe the answer to that question is yes.
I for one support the notion that no person, certainly no adult, should be forced to put something in their body they do not want. People have a right to control their own bodies.
I happen to believe that based on the vast preponderance of scientific evidence during the pandemic that the choice of getting a vaccine was a pretty obvious one. But other than frontline workers who chose to work in the health field, where being vaccinated was a necessary precaution, was there a vaccination mandate for the general public?
As far as I can see, with very limited exceptions, we were free to make our own decision about vaccines. While it was highly recommended and there were obvious consequences in the public interest where it was refused, there was no mandate or requirement for the general public that I could find in any province or territory. We still had the freedom to make the choice that we believed was best for us.
I did find myself wishing I could have asked some of the candidates at that leadership debate a question or two.
As an example, now that the abortion issue appears to be once again raising its ugly head, I would have loved to hear the social conservative leadership candidates explain why they should have the freedom to control their bodies, but women should not. Of course, most of them will duck this issue by saying legislation on abortion is in place and they would not change it. But only Jean Charest and Scott Aitchison have been clear that their personal views are that women have the right to choose when it comes to abortion and to have control of their own body. While some may not agree, the clarity is important and there are millions of conservative women across Canada who would support not only that clarity, but also that particular point of view.
It would be also interesting to ask those leadership candidates who oppose mask mandates and lockdowns during global pandemics, or indeed national epidemics, what they would do as an alternative to protect public safety. Or do they believe that freedom includes the right of individuals to infect and consequently harm others during a public health crisis? If those who lead governments don’t believe it is their primary responsibility to protect the safety and health of its citizens in times of crisis, one has to wonder what they do believe in.
There are more than three months before the Conservatives elect their next national leader. That party has played an important role in the success of Canada since Confederation. The balance between the left and right in this country has been an important part of who we are and what we have accomplished both domestically and internationally.
But right now, the pendulum is swinging too far in both directions. Federal Conservatives have to stop their bellyaching, their divisiveness, their extremism, and, as Scott Aitchison says, their screaming. They need to get their act together and show that they are a reasonable alternative to the current government.
Canadians deserve no less, but again, as Aitchison said at the debate last week, Canadians have no reason to trust that the Conservative Party in its current state is capable of doing that.
That, to me, is their great and important challenge.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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