By Ian Pattison
This is an updated version of a column that appeared Jan. 2 in the print edition and on the website.
2020. Such a nice, round, even number. It could have been a breeze. Instead, it was the longest year in living memory. 2021 is an odd number, but oddballs are often the ones that surprise us, that lift us up and give us reason to . . . hope.
Hope is perhaps our most powerful emotion and if ever there was a time when hope was needed, this is it. We’ve got lots of reasons to hope for much better than last year’s annus horribilis.
For starters, we are 12 days past the Winter Solstice. The days are getting longer and soon (well, not too soon and not soon enough) they will begin to get warmer. Heck, spring is just around the corner.
The coronavirus is going to be with us for a long while but two vaccines produced in record time are being delivered to those who need them most. Approval of a third is imminent. Mass inoculations will be underway by summer and before you know it we will be reading about Canadian communities that are free and clear of COVID. Thunder Bay should be among the first, given its relatively low incidence throughout the pandemic.
As COVID begins to clear, attention will be re-focused on the other clear and present danger -- pollution and climate change. Here, too, there is cause for optimism.
Coca-Cola, Carlsberg and L’Oreal are among companies supporting the Paper Bottle Project which aims to reduce plastic bottles entirely, in favour of plant-based biodegradable ones.
Coffee chain Tim Hortons has joined the zero-waste initiative, Loop, to introduce a bottle-deposit-style system for reusable coffee cups and food containers.
Ottawa and Ontario have chipped in to support a plan to overhaul Ford’s Oakville assembly plant making it the company's No 1. electric vehicle factory in North America.
Fiat Chrysler will invest $1.5 billion in its Windsor, Ont., plant to enable the assembly of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles, with at least one new model in 2025.
GM plans to bring 30 new electric vehicles to market in the next four years, though there are no plans yet to build them in Canada. GM signalled its commitment to EVs in a big way recently, flipping its gas-guzzling powerhouse Hummer to become its new flagship electric super truck.
Cobalt, Ont., is getting a new lease on life as the mineral in its ground becomes more highly-valued in the race to perfect electric vehicle batteries and power 5G technology.
The idea of producing cleaner-burning hydrogen to rid the world of fossil fuels is gaining traction in Alberta of all places, home of the oilsands. The oil-rich province has attracted a growing group of researchers and entrepreneurs betting that the region's vast resources can turn it into one of the world's largest hydrogen suppliers, reports Bloomberg.
Laggards like outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump, who’s done all he can to re-carbonize the country and re-endanger water, land and wildlife, are a dying breed. President-elect Joe Biden has committed to taking climate change seriously. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, remains firmly stuck in the past.
When Ford begins one of his briefings with his favourite greeting, “My friends,” ask yourself if you’re really a friend of the Conservative premier.
As Doug Drager wrote in Niagara At large, “There is something about politicians who repeatedly use ‘my friends’ in addresses to crowds that makes me cringe – like someone I am not sure about putting a sweaty hand on my shoulder.”
Developers are especially friendly with Ford after he removed the authority of conservation authorities to control developments on sensitive lands.
Road construction contractors call Ford a friend now that he’s opted to build a new superhighway near the 401 to free angry commuters from the canyons of big trucks that snarl traffic.
Perish the thought he’d order trucks to use the relatively wide-open 407 toll highway that parallels the 401. A government panel recommended negotiating truck toll relief with the owners of the road but in Doug Ford’s world friendly companies don’t pay tolls, people do.
If you’re the owner or director of a for-profit long-term care home corporation, like former Ontario Tory premier Mike Harris, you’re pals with Ford who removed any liability they might have faced for the lousy care frail senior residents have received during this pandemic.
It is astounding, alarming and unforgivable that seniors’ homes are once again a breeding ground for COVID. Deaths there during the first wave made us recoil at horror stories about infirm seniors left for days without attention. There were resolute promises this would never happen again, and yet it has, the product of too few staff in homes where profit trumps care. Remember this any and every time government talks about health care “efficiencies” with the private sector.
In 2021 we need to start separating fact from fiction.
Think back to the fall when federal Conservative Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole repeatedly accused the Liberal government of signing bad deals that “put Canada at the back of the line” for COVID-19 vaccines. Turns out Canada had already confirmed contracts for seven of the most promising vaccine candidates. Turns out O’Toole didn’t know what he was talking about so, joined by Ford, he switched tactics, demanding to know the precise date when inoculations would begin. As if that could possibly be known during approval and delivery planning stages. Now here we are, well under way, and O’Toole is silent.
On the larger fiction scale, NPR outlines how the widespread embrace of conspiracy and disinformation amounts to a "mass radicalization" of Americans, and increases the risk of right-wing violence. More than 70 million people supported conspirator-in-chief Donald Trump and his imminent departure will not signal a radical retreat.
Extremism fuelled by online provocateurs is spreading in Canada, too. There are 29 right-wing extremist groups active in Atlantic Canada alone. Even the Canadian military is riddled with them. We can only hope for a return to reliance on traditional, balanced news media and public acceptance of fact from dangerous fiction.
Finally this new year, can we hope to rid ourselves of the yoke of unreasonable guilt over even perceived sins against “others”?
Take the case of Michelle Latimer. The Thunder Bay-born filmmaker has become a staple of the Canadian film and television industry with a focus on Indigenous content. The new darling at the Toronto International Film Festival launched her acclaimed documentary Inconvenient Indian and her new CBC series Trickster there in September.
Now it’s all breaking apart. Latimer’s maternal grandfather had told her that while her father was French-Canadian her mother was Algonquin and Métis. She embraced this heritage but as her fame grew, questions about it arose within the Indigenous community.
Latimer issued a statement profusely apologizing for any unintended slight. She’s consulting elders in Quebec’s Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg community near where her grandfather said he lived, and has hired a professional genealogist “so that my family and I can understand our family history with greater clarity.”
While that plays out a CBC investigation has concluded that Latimer’s Indigenous heritage is limited to two 17th-century ancestors. Apparently that’s not enough for her detractors who get to decide what level of DNA separates a real Indigenous person from a cultural appropriator.
Shamed by the perpetually aggrieved and blacklisted by the industry that adored her, Latimer has felt the need to resign as director of Trickster and return a major documentary film award. Inconvenient Indian has been pulled from the Sundance Film Festival and the National Film Board of Canada has shelved plans to release it.
Is Latimer’s superb body of work no longer of value because she took the word of relatives that she had a partial Indigenous background? No one’s accused her of lying about it, yet she’s being pilloried as an imposter. What a shame.
How about we make 2021 a year to be reasonable? We’re all in this together. Lets act like it.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.