Skip to main content

Meanwhile, Just Over the Northern Border

The jerk was making a stink over being forced to wear a mask.

No, this was not Alabama or Texas, or even Michigan. It was St. Joseph Island, Ontario — a place I’ve come to most summers of my life. The summer of 2020 most emphatically broke that streak. I didn’t know until three weeks ago if I’d be allowed into Canada even this summer.

The jerk was just ahead of us in a short line, waiting to get into one of the few restaurants on the island to survive the pandemic. The restaurant business isn’t brilliant there, even in the best of times. But we were used to having three or four decent choices on the island.

The jerk was loudly lamenting that lack of choice. He appeared to be in his late thirties, with a wife, two kids, and a bad attitude he was happy to share. In answer to a question I didn’t ask, he assured me that the failure of restaurants on the island was a failure of the government and its anti-business policies. Which was why we were all forced to wait in line.

I considered asking him if he thought Covid might have played a slight role — that maybe having no customers for a year might have been a factor — but I didn’t really want to hear his answer.

My Canadian friends and relatives assured me he was exactly the sort of wingnut we Americans recognize instantly. Idiocy respects no borders.

To this point the subject of masks had not come up. But when he got to the head of the line, he refused to wear one. He was offered one — every business keeps a ready supply — but he turned it down. This prompted the hostess to escalate the complaint to the woman who has owned the restaurant for as long as I can remember, and who accepts no bullshit.

Especially since the government can shut her down if she lets the jerk in. The law is on her side — she can refuse to serve him — but it requires her establishment’s strict compliance with the mask mandate.

From here, the story peters out. The jerk and his family left quietly, and no doubt hungry. But it got me thinking about how the two countries are handling the virus, and what it says about them.

St. Joseph Island is actually a stone’s throw — in places almost literally — from upper Michigan, but the Covid response on each side of that border is noticeably different.

Going into a store on the island is a throwback to March 2020, when we were all deathly afraid, trying to make sense of this virus that had shut our world down. There, every store and restaurant — with one apparently willful exception — now has signage that mandates masks and strict social distancing. Every employee wears a mask full time. There’s the inevitable hand sanitizer just inside the door, and your host will prompt you, with Canadian nice-ness, to use it.

From all reports there has not been a single case of Covid on the island. Not one. Granted, its entire population is less than some apartment buildings in Manhattan, but it’s still striking, in a culture-shock sort of way, how universal the response seems. I assume most people are vaccinated.

It was the same story in Sault Ste. Marie, the nearest city, 25 miles away. I did business in a bank, a bike shop, a Home Depot, and a supermarket — and everyone was masked, including customers. It was expected of everyone, and nobody made a fuss. No further jerks were sighted on this trip.

At home in Michigan, the stupid politics of mandates are wearing people out, and mask-wearing has become much more casual than it should be. Our vaccinations have made us blasé, even as the out-of-control delta variant screams at us to be more careful. We need more mandates, not less — especially for vaccinations — but we pay more attention to fools than is good for us.

On the island — and, if I may generalize, in Canada — the mandates seem mostly wanted and respected.

Of course, St. Joseph Island can’t speak for all of Canada, so I asked my friend Doug, who can, how he accounts for the differences.

He attributes it to a long cultural affinity for collective effort. Canada is a huge land mass with a tiny population, a harsh climate, and an embedded understanding that everyone needs to pull together to make it all work.

He adds that Canadians have little impulse toward rugged individualism or the myth of self-reliance. The self-made tycoon is not widely admired.

If I understand Doug correctly, the Canadian constitution codifies, at least by implication, the ability of the collective to override the individual. Collective imperatives carry more legal weight in Canada than they do in, say, Texas, where self-reliance currently reigns, and where appalling numbers of people are exercising their individual freedom by dying in its name. And taking up valuable hospital beds in the process.

But for Canadians, what this constitutional foundation means in practice is that they are free to overwhelmingly approve and buy into the public health measures imposed by their government. They accept the science, and they trust the doctors, academics, and public health officials who are managing the pandemic response.

So even after a slow start, seventy-two percent of the population is now fully vaccinated. Eighty percent favor mandatory vaccination for the country. And Covid rates are currently manageable, knock wood.

Which is not to say Canada doesn’t have its share of numbskulls, or that distrust of government isn’t on the rise. Even on the island, there was a low hum of discord regarding one store that was ignoring the mask mandate, despite having been reported multiple times. Not to mention that jerk in the restaurant.

Canada has barely one-tenth our population, so it’s hard to compare apples to apples. But I think it’s safe to say that America, as a whole, could clearly use some lessons in the benefits of collective will. If we’d approached Covid with even a fraction of Canada’s attitude toward the public good, the pandemic might well be over by now.

Instead, we keep making stupid mistakes that we seem doomed to repeat.

 

Comments

  1. That was so well written I feel like I could’ve been there!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Report from Los Angeles and San Francisco: these days everyone is required to — and actually does — wear a mask in all businesses (except restaurants and bars while sitting down) without a fuss. Doesn't sound so different.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I feel that we are doing the same in my part of Oregon but obviously not so in southern Oregon where the hospitals are tragically overflowing and the nursing staffs are quitting due to burn out and mistreatment by the folks coming in and dying while still in angry denial about their cause of death!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Mainstream Media Continues to Disappoint

  Since I began this blog in 2020, one of my obsessions has been the culpability of the press in our current political predicament. Given the stakes we face this year, I feel we all need to be reminded that these mainstream news organizations are necessary, but not sufficient. Accordingly, I am revisiting this piece, which I wrote last May, because it’s particularly illustrative of the problem, especially in its depiction of The Washington Post’s shameful spinning of the final Durham Report.   The awkward term "both-siderism" has, at long last, stepped into the limelight, thanks to the graceful gravitas of CNN icon Christiane Amanpour (full disclosure: our dog used to play with her dog). In one brilliant commencement address , to the Columbia School of Journalism, she dope-slapped her own profession and, indeed, her own boss, both of whom richly deserved it. That takes guts, not to mention a reputation for integrity. Both of which she has in abundance.

Is Nikki Haley Working on a Take-Down of Trump?

  Every now and then I like to engage in a bit of speculation. Not prediction, mind you, but something hopefully less presumptuous. In this case, I’ve been musing about Nikki Haley’s path forward, if she has one. Not whether she’ll win the nomination, which is unlikely. I’m more interested in her potential as an irritant, as a person ideally positioned to tamper with Trump’s fragile psyche. She now has the unmistakable opportunity to attack Trump from inside the Fox media bubble, something few have been able to do. Haley just might be the focus of a novel strategy that does two things at once: It holds the door open for the slim chance she has of winning the nomination this summer, while at the same time, it lays the groundwork for a 2028 run at the presidency. Given the debased state of today’s Republican party, this is surely as good a strategy as any, though it risks doing more for Joe Biden than for her. More on this later. For now, let’s presume that ther

What Could Be Worse than the Dobbs Decision?

  I’ve tried to be a bit more optimistic in my posts of late. I’ve focused on the evidence — of which there’s plenty — that maybe Trump and the Republican party are driving themselves, as opposed to us, off a cliff. The politics of preserving democracy have indeed been somewhat encouraging, especially when one considers the virtually unbeaten record of Democrats in every election since the fall of Roe v. Wade . I’d like nothing more than to give up the gloom-and-doom thing on a permanent basis. But not today. Today, once again, I have to bum us all out. I have to tell you about one of those boring and esoteric legal issues that tend to slip right by us, but which, in this case, carries a level of threat arguably more alarming even than the tanking of Roe . Once again, the Supreme Court is up to no good, and it has nothing to do with the criminality of Donald Trump. One of the decisions they’re cooking up for this June could dwarf the Dobbs decision, both in