Time to move on from COVID.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on January 24, 2022.
The return of Parliament should provide a much-anticipated channel-changer from the constant barrage of COVID news that still saturates the airwaves.
Most people I know have simply tuned out to the daily update of hospitalization and infection information from every part of the country.
They are also taking the medical advice with a grain of salt. Travel advisories emanating from Ottawa are being discounted even by federal government service providers. Last year, the majority of snowbirds heeded the government’s advice to stay home and refrained from travelling because of the danger of contracting COVID.
This year, those same people have decided to ignore the repeated warnings and are heading to warmer climes to avoid the bitterly cold Canadian winters.
Even the federal government pensioners’ payment website has a general proviso that the travel prohibitions emanating from Ottawa have no affect on their insurance policies or plans.
Likewise, the travel industry is starting to fight back publicly.
Last week, the major airlines and Canada’s largest airport joined to urge the government to end the redundant random PCR testing that faces some travellers upon their return to Canada. They pointed out that the infection rate on planes hovers around two per cent and every single passenger has already undergone a PCR test to get on a plane so it makes no sense to undergo a second test on landing when tests are so scarce and the local infection rate stands at 20 per cent.
Infected residents cannot access tests because of a shortage while travellers are double-tested in an effort to discourage their movement.
The opening of the House of Commons will focus public attention on issues other than the pandemic, with inflation rearing its ugly head just in time for the return.
Statistics Canada inflation numbers published last week painted a grim picture with calculations showing the highest levels of inflation in three decades.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole immediately tweeted out the negative results, claiming the Liberals are showing zero leadership on tackling the cost-of-living crisis.
O’Toole did not provide any specific suggestions himself, nor did he walk back his finance critic’s claim three days earlier that the cost-of-living figures were “vastly underestimated” in the methodology applied by Statistics Canada to the role played by inflation in the Consumer Price Index data.
Poilievre is great on grabbing the headlines, but the claim that Statistics Canada is cooking the books does not resonate well when his leader is about to launch a national campaign based on the very numbers the critic is questioning.
The chance for the Conservatives to make their mark on the inflation issue should not be muddied because their critic questions the veracity of Statistics Canada.
That kind of dog-whistle politics may serve Tories well in their fundraising endeavours, but it does little to prove to Canadians that they are really ready to govern the country.
To be that government-in-waiting they need to consider the big picture. Just like inflation could be a looming issue in this parliament, the Tories will want to make an example out of cultural policy when the government reintroduces legislation to amend the Broadcasting Act.
But by taking a hard line against new rules that put streaming services like Netflix on a more level playing field with traditional broadcasters, the Conservatives risk being viewed as a marginalized fringe party.
The Liberal legislation that passed a previous House of Commons vote was supported by the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois so the Tories’ support is not required for passage.
The new minister of Canadian Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez, has also been in the portfolio before and has the kind of political savvy that will make him a real champion for the legislation.
He will not get sucked down the rabbit hole of responding to social media influencers who think their blogs are the equivalent of major streaming services.
If the Tories have any hope of forming the government, they have to be able to broaden their reach in Quebec. And by fighting against C-10, they simply manage to reinforce their image as a right-wing, anti-culture party that really does not care about Canadian content, on traditional media or via the internet.
They have a small rump of ten members of parliament in Quebec. Perhaps those members will be able to convince their colleagues that a more moderated approach to broadcasting amendments will serve their long-term political agenda.
The return of the House will be a welcome channel changer. Time to move on from COVID.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.