Oh no, not another rant about Covid-19!
Yes. here again is another rant about Covid-19. Actually there will be probably two rants – this is the one that seems to need to be next.
I think it was Peter Lougheed who first told me this. Later I heard it from others. But in a conversation recently with Peter Meekison, one of my very special mentors, he confirmed that the former Alberta premier did talk this way. The statement? If you think a decision or challenge could become problematic, get out in front of it. In other words, if an issue is likely to cause you some political (or social or whatever) problem, don’t wait for it to explode in your face – get out there and deal with it, admit any errors, indicate what the path forward may look like.
I bring this up because there are two people who have yet to learn this mantra: the current federal minister of health and the current head of the World Health Organization (WHO). I say this with all due respect.
• In the case of the latter, he knew, or should have known, by Christmas that there was a virus emerging in China that could be catastrophic – the Taiwan government had given him the information. He definitely would have known in early January when both USA & Canadian military intelligence had passed on the information. That was the time to get on the megaphone and tell governments to shutdown immediately, ban any travel out of China, and ramp up any and all virus combatants. He didn’t. Oh he did say that there were some troubling viral issues, but no need to worry. Some time later when things were already heating up he stressed that people should not look with disfavour on China, that things weren’t in a pandemic mode yet. By March with the world itself waking up, in part because of problems in Italy and France, the announcements were firmer; but even today he is still saying that all is well and that WHO and China have handled this Covid-19 problem properly. YET, when the House of Commons wanted to question one of his right hand advisors, a doctor from Canada, WHO hunkered down and prevented the doctor from speaking before the HofC Committee tasked with trying to figure out how we got into this mess; and therefore, how we might get beyond it. A summons has been issued; if this doctor ever returns to Canada he will be arrested. In any event, there will be inquiries and the truth will come out. WHO will be permanently damaged at least in this country. Even now, when we need to still have trust in WHO, because of the on-going denials, the credibility is suffering and so people will believe less and less in the advice and/or direction being articulated.
• In the former case the behaviour of a Cabinet Minister is more relevant and therefore more deplorable. The Minister of Health has fervently backed the Chinese government’s position and attempted to downplay the fact that our own military intelligence did give early warning messages about the Covid-19 problems. If, from the beginning, she had been a strong and rational voice within Cabinet or at least in direct conversations with the Prime Minister, how much government panic spending might have been averted? How much more credible might have been the leadership across the country? But even now she is trying to duck any responsibility for erroneous advice or inadequate leadership by saying no one should ask any questions but rather focus on the next steps. While it is useful to start planning ahead, it is rather strange for a leader in the health field to suggest that questions shouldn’t be asked. How better to make sure that everyone fully understands how we got to where we are, what mistakes were made, and what now needs to be done to correct any ill-taken course of action?
• It’s too late to go back and start this process when the information first became available. But it’s not too late to make sure that everyone has confidence in where we are headed. It’s now time for errors in judgment to be admitted, misunderstandings of science to be clarified, analyses of options to be explored openly. Do this and perhaps you can keep the general public on point for the next phase, But if obfuscation and misdirection continue then troubles are going to grow quickly. One of the ironies of this pandemic is the conversion of Doug Ford towards more rational decision-making; but even he is now being pressured by his own base. If I was a federal cabinet minister I would want him to be in my corner – but he needs straight talk, he needs open analysis, he needs truthful admission by the feds that they have botched much of this pandemic and soothing daily briefings need to be replaced with articulate, cross-the-board intensive leadership (by all federal parties, by all provinces, by all major urban governments). Otherwise, if trust evaporates, who knows what magnitude the second wave of Covid-19 might reach!