'Learn how to live with' COVID-19 is a cruelly ironic public policy

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Dr. Deena Hinshaw speaks at a press conference on August 13, 2021. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Thanks, Alberta. Every collective endeavour should include one member who so oversimplifies everything that issues become brilliantly clear. "No," emailed Alberta to Global News when asked if it planned vaccine passports. Others employed full sentences or even offered reasons.

Alberta's chief doctor Deena Hinshaw said that since it's impossible to eliminate COVID, "we need to learn how to live with it." Sounds commonsensical, but what's it mean? There'll be no tests you don't buy yourself. No guidance on school openings. Masking orders are gone, plus most isolation and quarantine. It's close to a do-nothing herd immunity nonstrategy.

True, they say vaccination's good and everyone should get it. But what will they do with refuseniks? Such as? Such as what France did and Quebec is doing. Don't hold them down to inject them but do withhold fun stuff, like bars, restaurants and hockey games -- as in Manitoba. Learning to live with COVID needn't be restricted to learning to die with it. You can act!

Ontario has a subtler form of doing nothing. They say bars, universities etc. can demand vaxxing if they want. But it's a heavy role that'd go down more smoothly if government ordered it. Post-secondary has been an instructive case. Only Seneca College mandated vaccination early on, joined later by the U of Ottawa. The big-name schools are strikingly specific when outlining where they rank in global university surveys, but were vague on whether students and teachers would be in class beside the unvaxxed. Now everyone finally seems in.

Were they trying not to offend Doug Ford? Was it congenital academic impenetrability? And why Seneca! My guess is that its president, David Agnew, who was central to Ontario's NDP government in the early '90s, learned things there, positive and negative, about politics and leadership. He got out front.

Governments require us to do many things. I mean, they do have govern in their ID. As I was writing this, the mail came with a "mandatory jury eligibility form" for me to fill out. I love it when a column comes together.

Indulge me a moment to rail about the inflation of that awesome word, "freedom," to where it now largely refers to not getting vaccinated or masking. Historically, freedom was an intrinsically collective, political term. It meant democratically participating in a society with rights and obligations.

In ancient Greece, freedom was equivalent to citizenship. Slaves -- the vast majority, along with women -- were denied it. The Persian Empire destroyed the freedom of Greek city states by running them itself.

In the modern era, revolutions in the Western Hemisphere overthrew European control (while eradicating Indigenous freedom). After France's revolution, people called each other Citizen. Following the U.S. Civil War, emancipation expressed itself largely in voting rights and political participation, which got rolled back for almost a century there and remains precarious.

So it rots my socks, whatever that once meant, to hear the word debased by protesters denying a society's freedom to ensure its collective and individual health. The gaseous inflation of that word bothers me far more than the monetary inflation that's now stressing out the great minds of our time.

Bad Bill Davis. The late Bill Davis -- the former Ontario premier who called himself bland -- was a different kind of Conservative: one who did great things, especially in public and post-secondary education.

He could also be tough and mean. I learned of that through my friend and teacher Jack Seeley, a guiding mind during York University's first years. When students and profs learned they'd been grossly misled by York president Murray Ross about his and Davis's grandiose plans for York, they started the first student protest of the 1960s. Seeley supported them. He broke with Ross and left for the U.S. Though he always wanted to return, (he came from Britain as a "home child" in 1930), Ross and Davis stopped it, even when he had job offers.

I despise Davis's role in that -- but it also seems to me it's hard to survive, let alone do great things in our political system, without ruthlessness. Education was Davis's legacy. You set red lines and crush those who cross them. I don't think that demeans or diminishes him, but it chips away at his immaculate nature.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image credit: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

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