Good Sunday Morning!
In the time line I set for myself of COVID19 (March 9th being the first day), we are heading into Week 7 of pandemic world.
Last Saturday, when I was in parliament to pass legislation to expand the wage subsidy, I was quite sure that we would not reconvene on April 20. The March 13 adjournment motion picked April 20 as the day we would return. Now, that feels unthinkable. That same motion created an easy mechanism to extend the adjournment. All it takes is a letter to the Speaker from the House from the house leaders of the 4 large parties.
No one can think it makes sense for parliament to reconvene as public health officers urge everyone to stay home and practice social distancing.
But the Conservatives have a different game plan. I should have figured it out when I watched the nearly endless parade of suitcases loaded onto our flight last Friday when we stopped in Regina. The Scheer family was making a big move. They were moving back for the foreseeable future. (Apologies for not saying “no” to giving up my social distancing to do them a favour. I know many of you were disappointed in my actions.)
So this week Paul Manly will represent our caucus in the House. Without any agreement as I write this, Parliament may resume tomorrow morning, or there may be an attempt to sit several times a week with smaller numbers of MPs. Our Green caucus will put public health first. Without any compelling reason to meet physically, we will continue to press for Parliament to meet virtually. We will hold the government to account, but we do not need to put peoples’ health at risk to do it. Even one voice saying “no” can stop a unanimous consent motion. And unless he thinks the motion on offer is grounded in solid public health advice, Paul will say “no.”
Canadians are, by and large, far more persuaded by solid science than other governments. From the far right - Bolsonaro of Brazil- to the far left - Ortega of Nicaragua, some heads of government have flouted WHO advice. This week, Bolsonaro fired his health minister. The social distancing, stay at home orders from the health minister were, from Bolsonaro’s point of view unnecessarily hurting the economy.
President Trump this week attacked the World Health Organization and cut U.S. funding to the global agency. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer also attacked the WHO:
“We’ve seen examples of how the communist, autocratic, human rights-abusing government of China has had an inordinate effect on the WHO. There’s evidence of suppressing information, not being open and transparent about the number of cases. Those are very concerning,” Scheer said.
The World Health Organization was created with the United Nations back in 1948. April 7 was its birthday – observed as World Health Day. The first head of the WHO was a Canadian, Dr. Brock Chisolm. Talk about Canadian roots, Dr. Chisolm was named for his great-great-grandfather, Sir Isaac Brock.
It was Brock Chisolm who created the WHO definition of health: “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
One of my heroes, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister and medical doctor, headed the WHO from 1998-2003. The current director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is the first non-medical doctor to head the WHO and the first African. He is a microbiologist and malaria expert.
The politicization of the WHO is a new low. Editor of The Lancet Richard Horton slammed Trump’s cancelation of funding to the WHO as a “crime against humanity.” The Irish and German governments condemned the move- at a time when the world needs health advice, support and expertise, cutting funding to the WHO is “indefensible,” (in the words of the Irish foreign minister.)
There are legitimate questions to be asked about how transparent was the Peoples’ Republic of China’s initial disclosure about COVID19. No doubt, former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler’s slamming of China has merit.
But conflating criticism of the PRC with an attack on the WHO is wildly off the mark. An excellent piece in The Guardian takes us behind the scenes to the complex diplomatic workings of WHO decision-making.
True, the agency could have moved faster, but its warnings when they were given were ignored by the US President: “… the WHO had warned of person-to-person transmission as early as 23 January. Six days later, his (Trump’s) economic adviser warned of the possibility of hundreds of thousands of American deaths. Trump ignored them both.”
So in our timeline of COVID19 lockdown, mark now as the moment when partisanship is beginning to surface. Watch as south of the border the calls for human sacrifice to re-start the economy are ramped up by a president willing to lose lives to save either the economy - or his political fortunes.
We must ensure that Canada remains a bastion of common sense as we stay home, stay safe and take care of each other.
Love and thanks,
P.S. If you are a Green Party member, be sure you have received your ballot to vote before May 1 in the critical elections of the next federal council. And stay tuned for an exciting announcement any day of our new Executive Director!