OTTAWA — The mild-mannered city council in Ottawa is not the sort of confrontational group to lead the resistance against heavy-handed provincial authority.
But after Premier Doug Ford shut down indoor restaurants, gyms, sports and theatre venues as coronavirus feeding centres in the red-zoned national capital region, Ottawa councillors retorted with a unanimous challenge on Wednesday: Prove it.
And the authorities can’t. Or won’t.
The city’s public health officer says eight per cent of positive cases mentioned a restaurant or gym as a pitstop in their recent travels, but she gulped on further details.
After all, it’s impossible for her to clarify causes when her overwhelmed operation has given up on contact tracing, leaving ‘no information’ and ‘no known source’ listed as two of the top three sources of infection.
This sort of mess is unfolding across the country as federal and provincial leaders put on a public face of unity designed primarily to protect their butts from blame as the widely-predicted second pandemic wave hits governments which act like they were caught by surprise.
This general failure to anticipate and take timely preventative precautions is driving a rebellion in the real world that wasn’t there last spring.
There was a ghostly apocalypse-like emptiness to major Ontario highways over the Easter holiday. Last weekend saw normal holiday traffic jams as Canadians flipped the Thanksgiving bird at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s declaration that family get-togethers had to be cancelled to try and save Christmas.
It’s no wonder Canadians are voting with their cars. The second pandemic verse is becoming worse than the first, so it would fit the definition of insanity to expect last spring’s precautions to have any different impact in the fall.
As a doctor friend of mine observed, hitting the brakes, hitting the gas and then hitting the brakes again as lockdowns are started and stopped is not a sustainable option for a pandemic expected to drag well into next year.
Without the data to show how, where and why infections spots are going hot, hitting hospitality, sports and fitness sectors with widespread clampdowns are a lazy, ineffective and irresponsible response.
For example, to close hundreds of safety-enhanced gyms and other indoor venues in Toronto and Ottawa because one spin class in Hamilton triggered an outbreak is over-reaching madness.
To shutter all indoor dining, even those which have taken costly precautions to make it safe, punishes an entire industry for the careless sins of a few, if indeed any are an actual source of transmission.
And just try to find an official clearing house for school coronavirus outbreaks, which would help identify trends and comfort parents trying to decipher the risks to their children.
It doesn’t exist and the one set up by volunteers in a commendable push for greater transparency across Canada has more blank entries than infection information for many schools with outbreaks.
The surrender on contact-tracing and failure to facilitate rapid at-home testing (80 per cent reliability is better than no testing at all) is an abdication of political and public health leadership.
Perhaps it’s time for a shakeup at the top, such as promoting B.C.’s chief public health officer Bonnie Henry or Alberta’s Deena Hinshaw, who both speak with clear eyes and common sense about the best ways to tackle the second wave without forsaking an active lifestyle or your mental health.
They see blanket lockdowns as needlessly heavy-handed when selective precautions would be just as effective. Their reassuring input is needed at the national level.
But regardless of how it’s fixed, there’s a failure of smart leadership on too many levels at a time when it’s needed the most.
Let this be the time for the timid to push back on politicians and public health officials who decree harsh actions in a vacuum of supportive data.
Without transparency on causes, there can be no effective decision-making.
Without contact-tracing there can be no containment strategy.
Without rapid testing, there can be no return to normal.
And until normal is in sight, the collateral damage to physical and mental health is just a high cost being deferred until a vaccine kills off the virus.
That’s the bottom line.