The Political and Bureaucratic Rot at the Heart of Ontario’s COVID Crisis

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There’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed within collapsing societal and ideological frameworks where lived experience doesn’t line up with the dominant socio/cultural framework. By that, I mean how we talk and think about ourselves as a society contradicts what we experience living in that society.

It was something that I experienced years ago when my grandmother fell ill, and we had to deal with provincial healthcare and eldercare authorities, like the then called CCAC, which has now rebranded into the LHIN (Local Health Integration Network). I want to think that the rebranding was due to how reviled the CCAC was with most Ontarians, but I can’t say that for certain.

What I can say, based on my lived experience, and confirmed later by the explosion of coverage of eldercare issues in the media, is that people hated dealing with these overpaid and comically ineffective bureaucrats – the Canadian public service equivalent of Marie Antionette, growing fat and stuffing their pockmarked jowly faces with decadent pastries while families fractured and frayed struggling to care for their elderly relatives.

I remember sitting next to my grandmother while watching the then-premier Kathleen Wynne campaign for the provincial election in Ontario. I hadn’t slept much in three days because my grandmother’s sundowning had been particularly bad that week. Wynn got on the podium and said something to the effect of, “we take care of people,” and the conservatives don’t. I remember looking over at my grandmother and thinking, I don’t feel taken care of. Months before that, an overworked and underpaid ER doctor had missed a massive stroke she had suffered and sent her home. A few hours later, we got a call telling us to bring her back.

My experience running through the healthcare and eldercare system with my grandma didn’t line up with my expectations of what Canada represented as a country. When we go to school, they march us through a propagandized social studies education program where our public health system is proudly displayed with the suggestion that the Canadian cultural ethos is a caring one.

We look towards our heritage as a nation of immigrants, each disparate culture welcomed to the shores of Canada with open arms and given wealth and prosperity which did not exist where our ancestors came from. Even in conversation with other citizens, we speak fondly of our tendency to take care of the sick and the infirm with a robust and caring social safety net and universal healthcare system. But when I was in the middle of a family crisis caused by a relative’s declining health, the failures of these institutions compounded one after the other, and we were left largely to fend for ourselves.

There are people on social media and in the traditional news media suggesting that the pandemic response is a failure by the conservatives, but the gradual decline of our healthcare system is something we’ve tolerated for longer than a decade. Anyone that’s been through the system knows how bad it is, but we choose to repeat these myths and quaint beliefs that the Canadian system cares about the public and that it hasn’t been a race to the bottom in terms of the cost of providing quality care.

To those suggesting that this is a sudden and surprising development caused by three years under the Ford regime, well, where have you been the past twenty-five years? It might have taken a pandemic to finally break the back of Ontario’s healthcare system, but maybe if you had been more vocal in the past about quality-of-care issues, workers’ rights, elder care issues, we wouldn’t be in this position.

Now we’re at the point where our lived experience isn’t lining up with Canadian cultural conditioning and propaganda. People are waking up, and they’re not happy. The country doesn’t look at all like what we’ve been promised. The media, elected officials, and government bureaucrats, who are all complicit in the current state of affairs, are desperately shuffling to try to pass the buck on who is responsible. And the ugly truth is that I’m not sure there’s a way back for people to start believing the sedating platitudes fed to them by educators and the media.

For those who have seen behind the curtain, like in The Wizard of OZ, there’s no return to belief in the magical ethos of the Canadian promised land. Government really is just an old haggard man pulling strings to make a giant marionette dance, and provincial authorities don’t care a bit about the plight of the average Canadian. They just pretend to care so they can keep power, and when their regime is threatened with replacement, they’ll unabashedly stand at a lectern and say, “we take care of people.”

Of course, it’s possible that the rest of the country dodges Ontario’s plight, and the public can go back to looking at those desperate people who have been churned through and spat out by our inadequate healthcare system as unlucky eccentrics, meeting their complaints with shrugs and the rolling of eyes. Their warnings about the quality of care experienced in Canadian institutions will go unheard, at least until the next crisis pops up and the smoke from the fire becomes bad enough that it can no longer be ignored.

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Header Photo by Berkay Gumustekin.

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