The Pandemic

From the Editor / L. Ian MacDonald

Welcome, if that’s the right word, to our special issue on The Pandemic, the COVID-19 coronavirus contagion that has swept into our lives this winter and spring, leaving death and destruction worldwide like nothing seen in a century.

How to measure it, how to get over it, how to move beyond it, are global themes explored by our writers amid this devastating health and economic crisis. And all we know about a post-recovery world is that it will likely be different from the one we knew. Abnormal is the new normal.

Our extraordinary team of contributing writers, as well as guest contributors, have brought the best of their talents to this story: how it has unfolded in Canada and elsewhere; how it has changed our lives; and in many cases brought out the best of Canadians being there for each other.

Robin Sears begins our journey by borrowing the question asked at family Seders: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” He asks: “Why is this crisis different from all other crises?” In Canada, Sears suggests the pandemic has brought us together as never before, even across the partisan lines of politics. “There has been an outbreak of political comity,” he writes, “unseen even during the two world wars.”

Donner Award-winning Lori Turnbull looks at Ottawa and concludes both politicians and public servants have stepped up, but adds: “There is no substitute for Parliament. The elected legislature is the link between the governors and the governed.”

Looking globally, our lead foreign affairs writer Jeremy Kinsman observes that as “the coronavirus pandemic cuts a traumatic swath through various national timetables and trajectories, it wraps the crowded globe in a shared fearful narrative that will likely alter the way we all live.”

Kevin Lynch, who was Clerk of the Privy Council during the financial crisis of 2008-09, says there’s really no comparison between then and now. “The COVID-19 global recession is significantly worse than the global financial crisis, which severely traumatized Western economies,” he writes, adding: “This is the first truly global recession since the 1930s.”  

Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce suggests that “After the immediate dangers have passed, we will need to take stock.” How so? “Every institution will have to ask whether it was prepared to deal with the pandemic.” 

In a guest column, Bruce Power President Mike Rencheck writes of business giving back to communities, such as the ones served by his company in Ontario. “These are difficult times,” he writes, “and they bring out the very best in our people.” Well said.

Kevin Page, Canada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer and founder of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy, looks at the numbers, and doesn’t like what he sees. “It is the perfect storm that depresses both demand and supply,” he writes.

One of the biggest shocks has been to the airline industry, in Canada and worldwide. McGill University’s Karl Moore notes that “Even when the crisis has passed, people will be reluctant” to fly again. 

Helaina and Valencia Gaspard grew up in southern Ontario with Detroit in their backyard. Now public policy practitioners in Ottawa, they have an instinctive understanding of differing governance issues in Canada and the United States. “The comparative management of the COVID-19 crisis,” they write, “is a case in point.”

Sarah Goldfeder is also an Ottawa policy specialist on Canada-U.S. files at Earnscliffe, but grew up on the American side and served as a State Department adviser to two ambassadors to Canada. She sees COVID-19 as a narrative of two Americas, the haves and have-nots.

Our associate editor, Lisa Van Dusen, has lived and worked as a journalist in Washington and New York, and sees the COVID-19 storyline as just the latest crisis further catastrophized by Donald Trump’s leadership.

The streets of Ottawa have been deserted for months as part of the social distancing lockdown, but John Delacourt has been working his high-level Liberal and government sources and shares his impressions of how they’re running the country.

Canada’s health care providers are already absorbing the lessons of success and failure from the COVID-19 pandemic. McGill’s Dr. Tim Evans, a leading authority, was appointed by the prime minister to the COVID-19 immunity task force as we were going to press. A key source of expertise in the recovery process will be HealthCareCAN President Paul-Émile Cloutier, who shares his immediate recommendations.

Finally, on the mood of Canada in the pandemic, Shachi Kurl checks in from the Angus Reid Institute with new data on how Canadians are faring, and how they are feeling about all this.

And columnist Don Newman looks ahead to the so-called new normal after the crisis passes, but concludes that “normal won’t be the same normal as it was before.”  

Be well and safe.