'We’re trying to build a new kind of society that has never existed before'

Letters to the editor, July 30, 2020: Readers weigh in on ending racism in Canada, pandemic bungling by Canadian governments and a fur harvest pushing northern trappers to the brink

In July, Patricia Treble’s data analysis of the pandemic era appeared in a Maclean’s two-page spread. Treble continues to update key trends on a daily basis, which you can find here.

Amid the pandemic I have been reflecting on a more “normal” time in my life. I purchased my first car, a 1940 Ford coupe, in the spring of 1951, when I lived in Winnipeg and was in my hurry-to-grow-up 13th year. While I cannot help but observe the adverse effects of the current virus, I sometimes feel I’m back driving on a 1950s city street. And I do not miss the eager person on my rear bumper, nor the driver who resents my being ahead of them no matter what speed I’m going, nor those who still drive and yak on the phone, nor the almost daily round of road rage! Perhaps when it’s all over, what’s left of Canadian society will emerge out of this virus nightmare better than before, having experienced what life can be (or should have been) like?
—Ray Grant, St. Catharines, Ont.

Bouncing back

In May, Jason Kirby consulted a variety of Canadian economists on how exactly governments should try to dig Canada’s economy out of the pandemic shutdowns that forced so many businesses to close their doors.

In your article about what steps Canada should take to stabilize the economy, the experts you included wanted policy clarity, pump-priming, entry-level jobs, a reformed EI and fair taxes. Nobody got to the nub of the problem: Canada must pay for the ad hoc programs that keep us afloat in the short term. After the Second World War, Canada accumulated massive debt that has never been paid off. Instead, we grew the economy and money supply to where the debt was manageable, and we have rolled it over ever since. We did the same thing with the Great Recession debt. So, here is the key question: Can Canada look to grow so the pandemic debt looks manageable at near-zero interest rates, and do we continue to roll it over? Or is this the time to tighten the belt, dig in and pay it off? Or some combination of the two? Count me as one who says we need to grow the economy so this becomes manageable debt, using immigration and advancing technology as the catalysts. But let it be more environmentally responsible growth, growth focused on cleanup and sustainability, growth fuelled by AI and adoption of robotics. And let the benefits of growth be more widely distributed so as to encourage buy-in as opposed to alienation. And, yes, there is room for a pipeline to move Canadian crude to tidewater. It is a foundational investment in growth.
—Richard W. Hall, Penticton, B.C.

Ending racism

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, Maclean’s asked Black Canadian writers Desmond ColeAndray DomiseEsi EdugyanLawrence Hill,Sandy HudsonEternity MartisRinaldo Walcott and Ian Williams to pen open letters to America addressing the recent upheaval and the task of confronting racism that—deny it as some Canadians might—persists in their own country.

I won’t forget the words of the eight Black Canadian writers. They were eloquent and passionate, and included many truths that need to be heard again and again. They also included untruths that need to be challenged. I’m a white Canadian who has known for decades that racism and systemic racism are part of Canadian society. I also study history. Every known large-group society has been based on inequality and domination. These are not white-people inventions. People from every ethnic group in the world are capable of conquest, oppression, cruelty, domination, genocide and enslavement. This truth doesn’t justify or excuse the ways that people hurt other people, but it does tell us where we begin when we set out to make a more equal and less violent society. People of colour need to protest, speak out and be listened to. White people need to challenge the ignorant, complacent and racist people who make this system possible. If the hatred and anger on both sides gets out of control, then we will fail. If people on both sides find ways to work together, then we may succeed in creating a better society. But don’t think that we’re restoring some original balance of justice and harmony. We’re trying to build a new kind of society that has never existed before.
—Bryan Carroll, Dalmeny, Sask.

Thank you for the letters from the Black Canadian writers, which are letters to all of us. I can understand the facts of racial oppression, and these letters remind us of the facts—the people who have lost their lives, and the need to stand up in solidarity and speak out against injustice. What I don’t understand is the way forward: How do we get to the place where we have solved the issue, or do we ever get there? Will it be a constant struggle? Can we really defund the police? Certainly, we have to change the function of “serve and protect” so that all are equally protected and equally served. How can I help?
—Jay Hackney, Stillwater Lake, N.S.

Colour of privilege

In May, with COVID-19 grinding the economy to a halt, it seemed strange to Rachel Jansen that we were still so invested in the idea of productivity, especially since the world we’re living in now affords some of us time to slow down.

In her opinion piece, Rachel Jansen states: “It’s no coincidence that all these examples are of privileged, white men” (“Laziness is a privilege,” Productivity, June 2020). Why did she feel she had to state the great inventors were white, and men? I think it was a given and a “no-brainer” back in the day that they were white men. Could she not have simply said they were living a life of privilege and not call out their race and gender? In this day and age, it is not appropriate to stereotype white men (or any race or gender) anymore.
—Don Pasquini, Calgary

Pandemic bungling

In May, Amir Attaran wrote that Canada is mismanaging its most significant peacetime crisis in a century—and the seeds of our failure are everywhere.

I’m not saying Canada couldn’t have done better at managing the COVID-19 crisis, but the case Amir Attaran makes for how badly we’re doing is not nearly as well-founded as it might seem. We haven’t quickly brought our numbers down from a sharp peak like other countries because we never had a sharp peak. As to the comparison to Australia: they don’t share a border with the U.S. (the source of at least 36 per cent of our original cases). Australia also had its fall holiday break in April, after our March breaks, so its lockdowns were in place before the crowds would have been travelling. As for us having “a per capita death rate only a little better than Donald Trump’s United States,” that’s just plain nonsense. Our death rate is 60 per cent of that of the U.S. Our infection rate is 39th in the world and falling, as the U.S.’s and other countries’ rates rise. If Attaran wants to tackle the biggest problem we’ve got, then let’s talk about long-term care. It’s where most of our deaths have occurred. Comparisons to other countries that have had high rates of infection in the general population but avoided high rates of deaths among their seniors would be far more useful than this flawed analysis. Attaran has an impressive resumé and has done a lot of good, but I’m not sure what his agenda is, beyond wanting to make the federal government look bad. He would better serve the public by not twisting facts to pursue it.
Terry McTavish, Burnaby, B.C.

One thing Attaran ignores in his argument is the terrible state of federal-provincial government relations before the pandemic started. Most of the provinces had conservative leaders (plus there was the Coalition Avenir Québec) who were ready to take down the Liberal government or separate. There was no co-operation with Ottawa. Many provinces were not even willing to talk to the feds on any issue except to demand billions of dollars from them with no strings attached. There is a long history in our country of the provinces defending their constitutional right to control health-care policy, services and funding. The federal government can negotiate with each province about this funding, but the provinces can say no. When Attaran states that the feds should just take over the provinces’ public health, he is leaving Ottawa open to a constitutional Charter fight in the middle of a pandemic that would take years to settle. So, who is messing up here? It is pretty obvious that the big provinces have done a poor job of shutting things down early enough, providing lots of testing, setting up widespread contact tracing and providing consistent communication to the population. Attaran should have gone after the premiers of Ontario, Quebec and Alberta using many of the exact same set of arguments he presents in his article.
—John Wilson, Caledon, Ont.

Unlike previous health crises that have disproportionately affected countries in the Global South, the universal burden of COVID-19 has provided an uncommon opportunity to compare national responses worldwide. We’re learning such comparisons can reveal much more than epidemiological curves. If Canada’s testing shortcomings are indeed the result of political choices, as Attaran suggests, why is it then “a humiliation” for us to be “beaten” by the world’s poorest continent? If the implication is that leaders in resource-poor or impoverished settings are unable to make sound policy choices, we may need to reconsider Canada’s entire international assistance program. The truth, of course, is that countries such as Cuba and Ethiopia and Rwanda have long experience in global health crises and policy-making amid scarcity, and this experience has guided their effective responses. We would do well to learn from, rather than denigrate, them. The positioning of countries such as Australia and South Korea as “top performers,” while Rwanda—with more than twice as many tests per confirmed case as South Korea—is a measuring stick only for Canada’s incompetence, is troubling and counterproductive.
—Mark Brender, Toronto

Fur harvesters

In April, Nadine Yousif wrote that dwindling demand and the failure of a key fur auction have pushed northern trappers to the brink.

My husband has been a trapper for 50 years (“Keeping skin in the game,” Alberta, April 2020). He is a registered trapper and has a lease of approximately 100 sq. miles in the Porcupine Hills in Manitoba. The Porcupine Hills run along the north side of the Swan River Valley, which is a huge agricultural community. If he and others weren’t trapping beaver, coyote, wolf, etc., populations of such animals would grow, and their search for food would cause them to move into the valley. The first thing the beavers would do is build dams, which would flood pastures and fields. The coyotes and wolves would kill lambs and calves. Because the fur market has a questionable reputation from these types of articles, the demand isn’t there and it is very hard for the trappers to make a decent living. Regarding the traps, it is illegal for anyone to use an unmodified leghold trap in Manitoba (unless it is in a drowning set for aquatic use). The conventional snare is also a thing of the past; spring-loaded power snares are now used, and animals perish within two to five seconds. These traps and snares are regulated by the government. Keep in mind, trappers are harvesting a crop, they are managing a crop to ensure there is substantial seed left for next year’s harvest, they want to make the most money possible for their furs, ensuring there is the least amount of pain/trauma for the animal to keep the fur in the best condition possible. I don’t believe there is a trapper that doesn’t appreciate the wilderness.
Marilyn Collinson, Swan River, Man.

Royal jest

In May, Patricia Treble wrote that rarely a day goes by when Princess Diana’s name isn’t mentioned alongside those of Charles and Camilla. But it’s time we saw them as a couple unto themselves.

Your decision to run an April Fool’s article in the June issue was interesting, and I did enjoy the rich satire about giving Charles and Camilla a fair shake (“The grown-up people’s princess,” Royalty, June 2020). The absurd statements and nonsensical scenarios were classic elements of a successful and amusing April Fool’s stunt. Um, just a moment, please . . . my wife has just told me the article is dead serious! Surely not.
—Doug Yonson, Ottawa