LETTER: We got this 

'Long-term investment in our society's well-being is needed, not down the road, but now'

click to enlarge PHOTO VIA UNSPLASH

The COVID-19 situation has developed rapidly. As we look at an extended stay in our homes, now is the time to think ahead in ensuring the physical and mental well-being of those of us who live in the Sea to Sky, not just now but well into the future.

At the time I write this, all parks and recreation sites have been closed, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has unequivocally told us to "stay home." But we still need to get out—otherwise we'll go stir crazy.

I urge RMOW council to act swiftly in devising a permit system, based upon house number, allowing selected households to use parks during allotted times. We will need bylaw officers and police to enforce these permits. We'll be able to get out, say twice a week to a park, on a rotating basis. While at the park, this means one must maintain two metres of distance to other folks.

We've got this, folks. We can do this. Which is why I also urge all citizens to be aware, informed, and inquisitive of government decision-making.

I likewise urge local elected officials to demonstrate leadership by addressing—and not silencing—critical questions. Transparency is needed more than ever. Democracy must not become a casualty, and elected public officials need to show courage by addressing, and not suppressing, the facts.

B.C. has the highest number of cases yet has had the slowest response. These cases are already in our community. This is not a "city problem."

We are an international tourist destination with limited health care resources and no overnight beds. Positive test cases have been reported throughout B.C. at heli-skiing and tourism operations. We should be asking why our provincial health authorities responded so slowly, and in such a piecemeal fashion, especially compared to other provinces—not to allocate blame, but because we need to realize we can do better. Right now we need folks in charge capable of the task ahead of them.

How did we get here? The unfortunate development of closing parks has arisen because of poor messaging from federal and provincial governments around the term "social distancing," which as a new, abstract concept, didn't mean much to many of us.

And so many folks gathered in parks, treating the situation like a vacation. We thought the number of people in the group mattered, but really, it's not about numbers, it's about who is in the group, and where they are from. Meeting up with friends from different households breaks quarantine.

As the Prime Minister has reiterated, we must limit contact to folks only in our household. If we don't do this, we will find ourselves ending up like Italy, where folks didn't follow these rules. Small towns there are being devastated by deaths. Don't become a statistic.

Right now, we need concrete directions from government, and elected officials have to realize they need to be specific, not vague, in their directives.

At least for now, the core message is: "Stay home, only shop for groceries once a week." Yes you can go out for a walk. No, you cannot meet up with folks outside your household.

Eventually, we will see these restrictions eased, but this will require a coordinated response from elected officials working in tandem across regions and levels of government. It will require vision.

The same will go for economic measures. Now is the time to think of future-oriented solutions to our society's woes. We need a permanent Universal Basic Income that covers all gig-economy workers, not just those who are considered employees; we need to support and enhance progressive taxation; we need an economy oriented towards clean energy, so that we stop bailing out big oil; and we need a massive reinvestment in our beloved Canadian health care system.

On the local level, our ask is now simple: we need a small hospital in Whistler with overnight beds. Since when did it become "normal" to heli-vac patients on the daily to Vancouver? Save all that jet fuel, and build a bigger, better, Whistler Health Care Centre. Do it now.

Long-term investment in our society's well-being is needed, not down the road, but now. Our parents and grandparents once did this, in the aftermath of the Second World War, building the foundations for Canada's social safety net and health care system.

Over the decades, we have forgotten what it took, and we've let ignorance and greed eat away at the institutions we need most.

Now is the time for our living generations to shine, to contribute once again to a positive vision of Canada, as we feel the weight of this historical moment—which is precisely why we now need strong, positive, morale-building visions, as we look to the future of our society. We're all in this together, folks.

We can do this. We got this.

tobias c. van Veen // Visiting professor, Quest University


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