Covid Simply Accelerated the Demise of Canadian Unity

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Will COVID be judged the final straw for Canada?

No, I’m not suggesting some dastardly new variant of what has indeed been a very nasty virus will soon emerge and cut such a swath through the people of this country that we collectively cease to function as a true nation.

Health wise we are over the hump, so to speak, and while those mask and vaccine rows will likely linger a little longer most of us recognize the pandemic is increasingly to be viewed in the rear view mirror.

But psychologically it did much lasting harm, further exposing the differences already plaguing this country. More than two years of constant warnings — to be wary of strangers, keep your distance from neighbours and mistrust everything and everyone — helped breed an attitude of fear and suspicion that can’t be reversed simply by some ministerial edict from Ottawa or Edmonton telling us it’s now OK to join hands and sing Kumbaya.

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Of course, if we’d been united back in the early spring of 2020 then the myriad of ever-changing rules and strictures we’ve followed since might have been met with more stoicism and — dare I even mention the phrase — good humour.

But no, we weren’t united to begin with and COVID simply widened the divide.

So, with sudden increased stress on those bonds binding us as Canadians, things started to unravel and in the process destroyed much of what little empathy remained for others not part of our perceived grouping.

A recent study by the Canadian Mental Heath Association confirms what many instinctively feel — today, fewer than one in eight Canadians can understand and relate to another person’s perspective compared to about one in five a few years ago.

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Really, was it any surprise the Freedom Convoy, led by annoyed truckers who descended on Ottawa three months ago, caused such a split in our country? The rest of the world was stunned this was taking place in Canada of all places and the heavy-handed response of the federal government just added to a sense of things unraveling. (If this could happen in Canada — the nicest country on the planet in many foreigners’ eyes — then was nothing and nowhere off-limits for such deep-seated societal upheaval?)

In a country of this massive size with such a relatively small population made up of a high percentage of new Canadians from every part of the globe, as well as two separate founding cultures and an aggrieved Indigenous population, expecting some one-size-fits-all Canada was always a non-starter. But we didn’t always actively dislike other provinces.

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Heck, now we don’t even like some of those in our own backyard. The level of animosity between Alberta political parties is off the scale these days.

In fact, you don’t have to leave the fold to find such surliness. Look at the current state of play in the so-called United Conservative Party. Meanwhile, the opposition NDP might have thought such endless division was all to its own good, until discovering this week that backbiting, bullying and name-calling isn’t confined to the rival Tories.

Just how far we’ve slid is evidenced by the announcement by premiership hopeful Danielle Smith that she’d introduce an Alberta Sovereignty Act as the first order of business if succeeding Jason Kenney.

Such a move promises to cancel the enforcement of federal laws deemed hostile to Alberta — arguing Quebec does this, so why shouldn’t we?

A decade ago such a suggestion would have been laughed out of existence. No longer. It captures the surly mood of our province and could therefore capture the premier’s job for Smith. Playing nice is a losing strategy these days.

But is this what Canada has become? Some all-you-can-eat, cut-price buffet joint, where you greedily choose what goodies to devour, but adamantly refuse payment for anything that doesn’t take your fancy?

Apparently it is. We’ve been sliding headlong into this national abyss for some time. COVID just provided a hefty push down that sad, slippery slope.

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