If there is anything we can say with certainty about our times is that they are very uncertain. Covid-19 has turned a lot of things on its head and we’ve been doing our best to respond to this challenge, the likes of which we haven’t faced for generations. While we’ve been dealing with that it’s felt like we’ve been forced to have a lot of our thoughts bounce between dealing with the immediate concerns in front of us and more longer-term ones. This whole pandemic has forced a lot of re-thinks about what we’ve done, been doing and will do in the future.
That bouncing around is something you can see in an issue that’s been firing around our country for the past couple days; our border with the United States. The immediate issue in front of us is what to do with it and how long to keep it closed. As we saw yesterday, that answer to that question for now seems to be to keep it closed a bit longer, which is wise in my view. But the longer-term question that keeps coming up is our relationship with the United States, our strong economic connections to our neighbours to the south, the positions that is putting us in now & do we change that going forward.
It’s as existential a question for Canada as there is but one that is starting to seem more impossible to ignore. Just during this pandemic alone, we had the spectacle of the American President trying to stop us from getting PPE from American companies in an ugly moment that’s hard to find a comparison to. For many observers in Canada, there have been a lot of thoughts written on this topic and I’m sure that this will be a conversation that will go on for a while. But while such conversations take place, it’s rare to see a consensus come from both sides of the border on this, or at least on the problem. That’s what came to mind to me this morning when I had the time to read two pieces, one from the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson, the other from Haley Sweetland Edwards of Time Magazine. Two separate pieces that somehow came to an eerie consensus that speaks to that existential question in their own ways:
First off, that new Time Magazine cover is a picture that says a thousand words. It’s also a good representation of the Time piece I read, basically pointing out that the United States is managing this pandemic and it’s re-opening in a bad way. It’s disjointed, uncoordinated, contradictory and in many states seems to be ignoring science, data, and most best practices. That’s part of the reason why you’re seeing Covid-19 cases rising in many American states, sending Covid-19 models soaring. But we’ll come back to that in a moment.
Ibbitson’s piece is based on one very sobering but inescapable truth about our situation, one that’s been true for over a hundred years; Canada’s economic recovery from Covid-19 is tied to the United States and their economy. “Like it or not”, as he put it, it’s true. As an aside, “Like it or not” about become the nickname for 2020, because that describes so much of what’s happening around us and what we’re needing to do for the greater good. We haven’t liked a lot of it, but it’s had to be done anyway.
But back to the point, Ibbitson points to the fact that our economy and its health is tied to our southern neighbours. They are our biggest trading partner, our biggest customer and so much of our supply chains are interwoven. While we’ve been diversifying our markets for so many products over the years, many of our eggs are still in the US basket, more than anyone else’s. So while part of our economic recovery will come down to what we do at home, we are more exposed to the potential problems from the US than most.
And this is where this eerie consensus forms. Both Ibbitson and Edwards in their separate pieces come to a similar conclusion; the United States is messing this up. As Edwards put it, “There are sensible ways to reopen a country, then there’s America’s approach”, which was bookended by Ibbitson putting as “the U.S. is doing everything in its power to make things worse.” Two writers from two different countries with two very different interests arriving at the same conclusion. Yikes! But if this wasn’t clear enough already, yesterday we saw a prime example of this story, summed up in a news story from CBS News:
That piece should be an awful exception in any world-leading country but under the Trump Administration, that’s just what you call a normal Wednesday. Could you seriously picture our current Prime Minister or any provincial Premier taking pot shots at the most trusted medical official, trying to make insinuations about his motives because he simply gave his best professional medical advice and that leader didn’t like it? No, never. In fact while the far right and some Republicans in the US have been baying for Dr. Fauci to be fired, when similar elements have tried to demand the same of Dr. Theresa Tam, she was defended by the vast majority of our political leaders.
While a lot of this can be placed at the feet of President Trump, he’s not the full problem here. As Ibbitson alludes to in his piece, the election of Democrat Joe Biden in November’s Presidential Election “might restore some sanity to American economic and foreign policy”, but only might. It’s no guarantee that things will return to some degree of normal. Yes Trump has a lot of responsibility for the political environment he’s working in, but it’s getting harder to believe that simply electing a new guy to the White House will make everything hunky dory again. The roots of what you’re seeing play out politically in the US right now are much deeper than Trump.
Either way as Canadians we have this issue and longer-term question before us now. Again we’re seeing the old story of the mouse living next to the elephant playing out, but in this context it feels different. What happens to our south will impact our recovery and how we deal with Covid-19. There will be some serious conversations and debates in the months ahead about how we go forward on that, but today I couldn’t ignore just how eerie it is that so many have arrived at the same conclusion in this moment. It’s an eerie consensus indeed, the question going forward is what we will do with it. Like it or not, this is part of our new reality, no matter how abnormal it feels.