Covid-19 victims, part IV – accountability mechanisms and democratic institutions

di Joe Volpe del 2 April 2020

TORONTO - An admirable trait of the Canadian Parliamentary system (including its provincial legislative assemblies) has always been the daily Question Period in the House of Commons. Even though in recent years it had descended into a quasi-ritual where theatrics and obfuscations had replaced substantive questions and answers, it served the primary function of forcing the Executive, the Government of the day, to respond to the elected representatives on matters of public interest.

The basic idea has always been: “You want to spend our money? Explain how and why. If we are in the middle of a crisis, explain your decisions in terms of our priorities and how they make reasonable sense.” In a daily Question Period – unscripted and without forewarning, as in the British system (where the Premier is compelled to attend only once a week) – the public can judge both the merits of the initiatives and the “stuff of which the government’s Ministers are made”. Talking points are soon discovered for the “fluff” that they are.

We appear to have transformed our governance model into one that insulates decision-makers and their initiatives/proposals from scrutiny and criticism. Press conferences are scripted, staged and questions from Press/Media, when allowed, can easily be dismissed with statements like, “we are following the advice of the experts”. Really? At another time, we used to hear, “and the Lord sayeth unto them, verily I say unto you…”.

Those new High Priests of truth and knowledge are Chief Medical O¦ cers, now turned into minions at the service of uninformed Cabinet Ministers whose only message is that they are trying their best and are shoveling money wherever they can. Yes, we agree that, as we begin to dig ourselves out of the economic hole our response to Covid-19 has dug for us, we will need money. Where is the healthy adversarial system that challenges the one-dimensional thinking? Who is looking at applicable precedents for guidance?

On the Medical Health side, until two weeks ago when Doctors Fauci and Birx (leading the Covid19 response unit out of Washington, USA), admitted that the medical community “did not have the data” to formulate an attack on the spread of Covid-19, the “experts” were focused on tracking those who had contracted the virus. Most of them seemed to be speculating on the microbiology associated with the disease. Few of them did anything other than “test” frontline medical workers to ensure they would remain safe in service – as is right and proper. But that’s it.

Internationally, various nations reported statistics on an irregular and incomplete basis, if at all. Those that actually provided an “identikit” of Covid-19 and its interactions with other pathologies and subsequent impact on a broad demographic, were ignored – if not derided for the incidences of confi rmed contagion, ratio of infection to general population and ratio of recovery per infected. There emerged a morbid fascination with the number of non-survivors.

Now the Americans are on an hourly contact with their Italian counterparts for the only data that is available: “the identikit” and the government measures for isolation and containment that seem to work. Because the Italians started a comprehensive testing program, despite some limitations, early. They should share those phone numbers.

Spain is a classic example (but unfortunately not the only one emerging) of the dramatic consequences that befall those who ignore what others in similar circumstances have lived through. With a population that is 75% that of Italy, it has already reported 96.5% the number of confirmed infected in Italy.

Ontario may get to Italy’s level (logistically) by the end of April according to the latest opinion of the “experts”. So far Quebec, with half the population of Ontario, has tested twice Ontario’s number.

Politically, what has happened to the elected Opposition to governments? Yes, everyone must pull together. But, if not everyone is in the same the boat, we either go around in circles or stress resources to get to our objective in a timelier pace.

If the only source of “news” on the crisis is provided by daily, staged press conferences offered by those who purport to have exclusive access to “experts”, the rest of us may just as well collect the transcripts and publish them as the new Bible.

That would be an odd turn of events, given the centuries Western societies have spent challenging every word and punctuation in both the Old and New Testament.


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