Ideas and Impressions: There will be many questions asked for a long time

By Jason Moscovitz

It has been a while since I heard someone say, “How time flies.” Time is hard to measure in these times of trouble but, surely, time itself has changed everything. No one knew two months ago that we’d be where we are today: stuck in a snowbank in May trying to figure out how to move forward.

At the beginning of March, it seemed we were entering a temporary zone of shutdown. We thought it would be a few weeks, and few of us thought it would be this long. And despite the warnings, who thought it would be this bad? Who could have imagined long-term care homes in Canada would be described as war zones? And who could have thought rotting bodies would be piling up in rented U-Haul trucks in New York City? How about imagining more Americans would die in six weeks from COVID-19 than the 58,000 Americans killed in 15 years during the Vietnam War?

We are of a generation that saw bad things happen in the world but it was usually somewhere else. When it did hit home, it was never as bad as the worst case scenarios portrayed in the media and whatever it was, it always seemed to go away and we went on with our lives, including the getting on with life in the “new normal” of post-9/11. That new normal seems like child’s play compared to what now awaits us.

A couple of weeks ago, on a dismal rainy day, I found myself in line outside the Metro in the Pinecrest Shopping Centre. As I looked around and saw the worried unhappy faces, I saw myself in a photo of the Great Depression with people in soup lines. That day, it hit me that a miracle vaccine will save our lives, but how we live those lives will be forever impacted regardless.

To say nothing will be the same is an exaggeration, but to say we face unprecedented upheaval isn’t. If a vaccine were to be available tomorrow, the clock still can’t be turned back to March 1, the last time most working Canadians, who don’t work for the government, paid their monthly bills without having an anxiety attack. It is impossible to make a good argument for the economy. The economic devastation wrought in just two months is beyond explanation.

The travel industry, the empty hotels and restaurants, the entire retail sector: how many jobs are gone today and how many will be gone forever? A stark reminder is how business – big, medium or small – can’t survive long without cash flow. It is not possible to close the door and reopen a couple of months later and go on with life as if nothing, or little, happened. The irony is how politicians say turning the economy back on isn’t like turning on a light switch. They say it in terms of people’s safety, but sadly, literally, there is no switch to turn cash-starved businesses into surviving ones, let alone healthy, thriving and growing ones.

Two months ago, a $30 billion federal government deficit looked worrisome. Today’s projection of a $250 billion deficit is in another galaxy. Provincial and municipal governments are also spending far more than they have. The enormity of what awaits us is incalculable. Even calculators have trouble with all the zeros that go with hundreds of billions.

The shutdown will end soon because it will have to. There will be too many Canadians who will demand it, and who will say, directly or indirectly, that COVID-19 is killing mostly old people and, as sad as that is, they will maintain governments have to do right by everyone else. It will be another one of those startling changes when sanctity of life itself can no longer be a government leader’s first priority.

There will be many questions asked for a long time over decisions taken and, for what it’s worth, I respect the decision-making in Canada. In dire times, politicians make the wisest decisions they can with expert advice put in front of them. The balancing act between the health of Canadians and the health of the Canadian economy is one of those places no politician wants to be. COVID-19 brought them there.

Israel is beginning to reopen this week and, from conversations I’ve had with family members there, I sense the relief is greater than the fear. It was pointed out to me that in a country of 8.5 million people, only 6,000 are presently suffering from COVID-19.

For everyone else in Israel, and soon in Canada, it is time to get on with life – albeit not knowing exactly what that means.