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THOMPSON: The stark contrast between Canada and U.S. during COVID pandemic

June 15, 2020 - 12:00 PM

We’re nearer the start than the end of the COVID-19 pandemic but we’ve already learned an invaluable lesson. In matters of public health, listen to the unfettered speech of physicians and scientists, rather than politicians.

As citizens - taxpayers - we sometimes tend to be slow learners. We too often assume those we elect will serve our best interests, in all matters of government. All too often, nothing could be farther from the truth. Our leaders should, well, lead. That’s the way it is supposed to work...and it could...if we were a smarter electorate and demanded more of those we elect.

I am an American citizen, and later this year I will be a Canadian citizen, as well. I have spent seven months in British Columbia and five months in Florida every year for almost a decade. Living anywhere other than your native land generally broadens your perspectives...allows you to question your biases...and we all have them. COVID-19 has heightened my already acute awareness that all is not right in America.

Many of America’s and Canada’s leading doctors and scientists - infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists, molecular virologists - knew about COVID-19 by last New Year’s Eve...some earlier in December of last year.

Men and women of science don’t spin information...they don’t tend to overstate or understate risks or outcomes. They tell the truth...because that is the culture of science and medicine.  Pandemics - like other diseases - simply don’t care about who’s in power...who’s elected...and whether it’s good or bad policy.

But politicians - Right or Left, Liberal or Conservative - shade things...they spin...they want to look better than they are. They do in Canada, and they do in America. Canada’s governments - Federal and Provincial - have done a better job than the U.S. federal and state governments. In fact, most of the world has done better than the U.S...it’s a low bar.

I don’t pull punches when I write that Trump and his Republican minions have risked the lives of Americans unnecessarily and tens of thousands died that didn’t have to, and we are nowhere close to the final body count.

There are more lessons for Americans to learn than Canadians from this pandemic. Americans need to ask themselves, “We’ve spent more money on military each year than the next seven countries around the world...combined...and we’ve done so for decades. So, why didn’t we have test kits, masks, gowns and respirators?”

Americans shouldn’t like the answer. America has suffered nearly twice as many casualties from COVID-19 as in Vietnam...nearly 120,000. It has spent $7 Trillion on its military the past decade alone...more than $30 Trillion in my lifetime...and what did it buy? Not public safety. Most agree that a strong military is necessary...but America has won few wars in the last 50 years...and generally the rest of the world is none the safer.

America is losing the battle against COVID-19 like no other country worldwide. Only Brazil comes anywhere near the U.S. in COVID-19 cases and deaths...and that’s because millions of people live in squalor six and seven to a room.

And once again in recent weeks, citizens have held a mirror up to bear witness to the institutional racism that has always plagued America. The confluence of this reality and COVID-19 should be more than decent people can stand.

I believe - and I certainly hope - America will make a dramatic shift in its ways this next election. I’m not sure what more proof of corrupt incompetence is needed. America is farther from its aspirational ideals than it has ever been with the possible exception of its Civil War.

I hope Americans will demand universal healthcare in the future...it remains the only so-called civilized nation that doesn’t protect the health of its citizens. If enough Americans die will it scare people to action...to demand better leaders and better government?

Meanwhile, here in Canada - while certainly imperfect - we are doing a better job protecting our citizens. I wish more of my fellow Americans could visit here when times are safer...and keep open minds and hearts...drop any arrogance that if it isn’t American it can’t be good.

I’m proud every time I cross the border into Canada that it is my home. I would fight and die for Canada. I feel the same way about my native land.

And yet, I feel like America has somehow lost its way in the past few years — like a friend who’s made bad decisions — choosing a path that can’t possibly have a good outcome. I hope Americans will learn from this pandemic. Canada...and most of the rest of the world...are waiting and hoping for better days ahead for America.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.

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