Just in case you drank so much over the holidays that it obliterated all your memories of what kind of a year 2020 was, here’s a quick refresher: it sucked. People lost their jobs, businesses were forced to shut their doors or radically change the way they provided goods and services, travel was discouraged, funerals were limited to no more than five people in the last months of the year and 600 or so Manitobans died of COVID-19, often alone, sometimes unable to see anyone but nurses and doctors during their last few hours.
To reiterate, it was not good and we aren’t out of the woods yet. Many of us probably feel like we need a vacation. However, unless perhaps we are members of Parliament or of provincial legislatures, we likely decided to abide by public heath recommendations and stay home.
Between masks and social distancing and delays in parcel delivery and curbside pickup and not being able to go have a beer or invite your friends and family over to celebrate Christmas with a big turkey dinner or to watch the grandkids open their presents in person, people are stressed. It doesn’t take much for someone to decide to trash a display shelf in a store, rip a door off its hinges, smack someone upside the head with a can of Twisted Tea or, in America, storm the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying president-elect Joe Biden’s election win, thanks to the accumulated fatigue of everything that’s gone on. Regular people understand this, because they’re feeling it themselves, like one more thing might send them over the edge.
Unfortunately, some of the people who apparently represent us in government are not quite as capable of reading the room, perhaps because they’ve continued to collect their full paycheques and to live life much as they did before, albeit with a little less flying in airplanes and a little more virtual Question Period and the like. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have flown to Hawaii or Palm Springs or Mexico or, in the case of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski NDP MP Niki Ashton, to Greece.
Some lapses in judgment are more understandable than others. Simply wanting to go lie on a beach and drink a margarita? Not at all essential. Need to sell your vacation property in America? Not particularly essential and a sign of how out of touch you are with the majority of people who elected you. Going to see an ailing grandparent? More understandable but definitely not forgivable to those who have had loved ones die without being able to go see them, even though they may live in the same city or province.
It takes months and months of repeating messages about staying home, not gathering, washing hands and only going out for essential purposes for them to sink in, and only one bad decision to wash half of it away. While we maybe shouldn’t consider politicians role models (telling people what they want to hear to gain their support and then failing to deliver on it most of the time are not admirable character traits), we should at least expect them to have some common sense. At a time when ordinary people are being asked to make extraordinary sacrifices, well-paid elites are deciding that missing some fun in the sun or being away from loved ones at a critical time are more than they can stand.
As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. The actions of Canadian politicians who urge people to stay home out one side of their mouth and then do precisely the opposite work well as a figurative extended middle finger to the people whose taxes fund their salaries.