On COVID-19, our leaders need to set a better example

We need to take COVID-19 restrictions seriously, starting with the leadership our elected officials

On November 29, Canada announced its plan to extend the travel restrictions in response to the perturbing increase in COVID-19 cases. On the Government of Canada website, it clearly states that “The Public Health Agency of Canada is continuing to advise travellers to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada.”

To me, all these restrictions seem necessary and should be taken seriously if we hope to flatten the curve.

However, while the guidelines are essential, those in power seem to be taking them lightly.

In early December, Ontario Finance Minister Rob Phillips went on a trip to the Caribbean, going against the province-wide lockdown. He was not the only politician who chose to go on hiatus. Joe Hargrave of the Saskatchewan NDP party, David Sweet of the Conservative Party of Canada, and Pierre Arcand of the Quebec Liberal party all sought out tropical vacation spots to holiday. Many others have also admitted to partaking in this act. In Alberta, MLAs Jeremy Nixon, Jason Stephan, Tracy Allard, and many others also chose to enjoy their Christmas break at a tropical destination, such as Hawaii. As political leaders, these officials have the responsibility to set an example for the people they represent and they failed.

When I first read these stories, the first thing that came to mind was a parent lecturing their child about what they should and should not do: “Timmy, don’t tell lies.” “Sally, always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’” In many ways, the past nine months have been this scenario on a national scale: the political-leader parent waving a finger at their civilian child, chastising them for their irresponsible actions during COVID-19.

A good example of this is Premier Doug Ford, who took an “angry dad approach” at the beginning of the pandemic to urging people to take quarantine seriously: he started out calm, but soon let it all out and began criticizing certain groups, such as grocery stores who inflate their prices, for making quarantine more difficult. As of late, he has taken on a more empathetic approach, pleading with Ontarians to comply, and has earned the name “Premier dad.”

There is a quote from Ilaxi Patel, the author of Guardian of Angels: A Practical Guide to Joyful Parenting, which says, “Children close their ears to advice, but open their eyes to example.” It does not matter what you tell children if the people around them consistently break their own advice. It does not matter if they are told to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ if they have never heard others do so.

“Do as I say and not as I do” isn’t an effective parenting strategy and it should most definitely be avoided when it comes down to government leaders and dealing with COVID-19. 

Throughout the pandemic, there has been considerable civil unrest against restrictions, especially around the holidays. In early December, protesters from Edmonton and Calgary gathered to rally against the lockdown restrictions. Walks for Freedom against wearing masks have been organized across the country, including one in Calgary which had about 1,000 attendees. During this entire time, our leaders have been labelling these protesters as “selfish” people who are disregarding the vulnerable and those in healthcare. 

Frankly, I say that their words are falling on deaf ears, especially after the irresponsibility certain politicians demonstrated in going on vacation.

I understand it is frustrating for our leaders to see their attempts at flattening the curve go unnoticed, but one cannot expect civilians to follow the protocol if the politicians don’t. Through the actions of these leaders, Canadians may no longer feel obligated to adhere to the restriction guidelines. Why would they if their leaders aren’t? Why would a child be polite if their parents aren’t? And if people don’t follow the rules, it doesn’t matter whether there are no restrictions or if there is a complete lockdown

Phillips has resigned from his position as finance minister. However, others were less willing to follow suit, with Premier Jason Kenney initially refusing to discipline the members of his party who travelled. However, this refusal was faced with much backlash and Kenney soon caved in to the will of the people and discipline was handed out.

While people make mistakes, actions have consequences. At times, people need to be punished for their missteps. Being in such a position of power is a privilege, not a right. If you can’t follow the rules, you should not be in this office. 

This pandemic has been hard for everyone, especially during the holiday season. Traditions have been broken, families can’t gather, and some have even lost loved ones. A vacation can wait — people’s health and safety can’t. With our combined efforts, we can make sure that more people will live to see a day when there is no pandemic.

The biggest impact many of us will have on the outcome of COVID-19 is not through our words, but rather through the example that we set for others.

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