BY IAN PATTISON

What were the Liberals thinking? And why can’t Justin Trudeau learn his lesson? 

It’s not as if the entire structure of the Liberal government in Ottawa wasn’t aware of a relationship between the Trudeaus and the WE Charity. The PM and his wife, Sophie, have been fixtures at WE events to involve young people in good deeds. The prime minister’s mother, Margaret, and his brother, Alexandre, have spoken at events and been paid. Which is hardly a crime. 

No, what’s wrong with this picture is that Justin Trudeau has, for the third time in as many years, failed to either recognize or admit that optics matter in politics, that conflicts and their appearance must be avoided. 

By accepting a 2017 family Christmas trip to the private Bahama island of the Aga Khan while the federal government was considering a $15-million grant to one of his charities, Trudeau failed to see the obvious problem. 

By having his office pressure the-then justice minister to go easy on SNC-Lavalin as the big engineering firm faced bribery investigations in 2018, Trudeau was unable to publicly separate the good intention of saving Canadian jobs “vs. keeping the notorious Jody Wilson Raybould feeling sufficiently radiant,” in the words of columnist Heather Mallick.

And by voting last month with his cabinet to award WE a nearly-billion-dollar no-bid contract to administer the Canada Student Services Grant program, the PM was tone deaf to the fallout that would assuredly occur. Never mind that there is an entire government department in place to do just that sort of work.

It took Trudeau six days to apologize for failing to recuse himself from the discussion. Was he sorry on Day 2, on Day 4, or still deciding? He still seems unable to go all the way and admit that another lapse in his judgment has again shaken people’s faith in his leadership.

Trudeau once more has the ethics commissioner peering over his shoulder and, desperate for anything with which to appear relevant outside an empty Parliament, all three opposition parties have joined forces to demand that Trudeau appear before the ethics committee to testify under oath. This would just waste a great deal of time and effort that will be largely duplicated by the commissioner’s office. But it gives the nasty Tory Pierre Poilievre, who is leading the charge, a forum in which to perform his stern act. 

Fact is, like the SNC affair, this one isn’t much resonating with Canadians who’ve got bigger things on their minds, like juggling work and kids at home, or fearing for their jobs and indeed their lives should the coronavirus enter their world. 

Still, it’s legitimately concerning when the PM can’t or won’t see a conflict when he’s in one. And that his cabinet is apparently in such thrall that not one of them dared tell Trudeau to his face that he might want to think about leaving the room while his pet charity’s $900,000-plus contract for student pandemic relief was on the table. Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughter works for WE, for heaven’s sake. 

So the country is mildly distracted, the opposition is ‘shocked, shocked,’ WE has had to lay off hundreds of staff, and young people who were ready to participate are waiting for a promised replacement program half-way through summer. 

ELSEWHERE on the pandemic front, a silly and dangerous debate over whether to wear masks in public has overtaken discussions about how we best deal with COVID-19 -- including the incredible fact that some areas are once again short of personal protective equipment and disinfectant. 

Governments in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park (let’s not get started with Washington where Trump pits his own inanity against Fauci’s grim medical advice) are eager to encourage people to wear masks in public but won’t require it. This despite overwhelming evidence of masks’ ability to prevent giving COVID-19 and growing evidence that it can help prevent getting it.

Toronto and Ottawa are among Ontario cities that now require anyone in public to wear a mask. If you shop at Walmart, you have to wear a mask before entering the store. It's just common sense, and common decency.

Dr. Janet DeMille, Thunder Bay’s medical officer of health, did issue the order on Thursday, a day before Ontario entered Stage 3, the least restrictive level of coronavirus protection. Masks or face coverings will be required for indoor public spaces beginning July 24.

That leaves seven days in which unmasked people will spend a lot of time in bars and restaurants with other unmasked people. Let’s see what happens to district COVID numbers two weeks from now. Will we wish DeMille’s order had coincided with the onset of Stage 3 instead of a week later? 

DeMille said recently that Stage 3 worries her. Many people were already a little too casual on the distancing front. Now that bars and restaurants are open, albeit with separation rules, expect devil-may-care people to act like we’re in the clear. Not.

In U.S. states where lax rules preceded wide-open declarations far too early, the incidence of infection shot up dramatically. States with the fastest-rising rates include Canadians’ winter play spots, Florida, Arizona and California. 

There are more than 13 million cases worldwide and nearly 600,000 people have died. The virus is surging in many countries whose leaders haven’t taken it seriously. Saturday set a new single-day global record for new cases. This is not the second wave. We’ve not gotten over the first. The worst is to come. 

For every confirmed case an estimated dozen go unreported. A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reckons that, without a medical breakthrough, the total number of cases will climb to 200-600 million by spring 2021, The Economist reports. At that point, between 1.4 million and 3.7 million people will have died. Even then, well over 90 per cent of the world’s population will still be vulnerable to infection—more if immunity turns out to be transient. The doubting conspiracy theorists, and those who insist their personal right to be unmasked is paramount, are among the most dangerous people on Earth right now.

The peril of haphazardly re-opening is clear. We can’t let that happen in Thunder Bay. DeMille is right to make masks mandatory in public. It’s a relatively minor inconvenience that is all the more important now that we’re into the final stage of getting the economy back on track.

Thunder Bay district recorded its first case of COVID-19 on March 27. Since then there have been just 93 confirmed cases. Ninety-one have recovered and one person died. We have just one active case here and none in hospital. We’ve done really well. Let’s not blow it.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs. 

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