Wednesday May 6, 2020
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday May 6, 2020
Science vs Politics; Lives vs Livelihoods
This accursed pandemic has brought us a range of new expressions. Flattening the curve. Social distancing — or physical distancing if you prefer. Self isolation. Stay home, stay safe.
And then there’s this one. Lives over livelihoods.
Where, exactly, this originated in the COVID-19 context, we do not know. But it’s one of the better descriptors and we can expect to hear a lot more of it now that most jurisdictions are beginning to talk and act on reopening society and the economy. It works either way, too. Livelihoods over lives.
That’s the philosophy driving decision-making in jurisdictions where reopening the economy and relaxing pandemic societal rules are judged more important than minimizing the human toll of the virus. This would include the many states in the U.S. where governments are rushing to normalize life and working. In many of these states, they haven’t yet begun the flatten the curve. They still report many new cases and new deaths every day.
And yet the governors in those states, with full and urgent support from the Trump administration, are moving faster and faster to throw their economies wide open. Hair salons, tattoo parlours, beaches, restaurants — you name it.
Health and medical voices in America are warning of dire consequences. The most respected disease projections in that country now predict that previous death estimates will double, largely become of reduced distancing, more openness and increased mobility. By the end of May, the models say, daily reported cases will double. Up until recently, these models were regularly cited by the Trump White House as being gold standard. Now they are inaccurate, the president has decided.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie is a loathesome character by any reasonable definition. But at least he is honest about America’s frenzied reopening. He says yes, more people will die, but that’s the price of renewed economic prosperity, and Americans just need to get used to it. Livelihoods over lives rules the day in Donald Trump’s America.
Thankfully, not so here in Canada and Ontario. Our political leaders still adhere to the lives over livelihoods mantra. But it’s getting increasingly difficult, as you can see by the growing agitation among people of a certain political stripe to get back to business. Not every Canadian who needs the emergency benefit (CERB) has received it yet, but already Andrew Scheer wants to talk about cutting it back so as not to be a “disincentive” to get people back to work.
You can certainly see the stress on Ontario Premier Doug Ford. This week, he is once again holding out optimism for some normalcy over the Victoria Day weekend. Just a week or so ago he did the same thing and then had to walk back his optimism because it wasn’t supported by health data.
Anyone with empathy has to feel for Ford. He’s a business-first politician in an environment that won’t allow him to be business-first. He desperately wants to hold out a light at the end of the tunnel, but he has to be careful. If he overpromises again, his credibility takes a hit. If he presides over a government that moves too quickly, he knows he will wear the increased fatality counts, just like Quebec Premier Francois Legault will if his overly-aggressive approach to reopening backfires (he has already had to delay his reopening by two weeks).
But Ford, like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is unwavering. He will not put the economy first at the expense of more dead people. Trudeau and Ford will not put livelihoods ahead of lives. Even though not doing so will cost more money and inflict more economic devastation. We don’t know about you, but we’re happy to be governed by people with their priorities in the right order. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)