Nothing focuses the mind like a seizure – or a lot of them land at once
The word “crisis” was mentioned in the House of Commons 1,747 times in 2021.
This is the second-highest total for a single year in the past 28 years, dating back to Open parliamentHansard’s searchable database is expanding. It was only exceeded last year, when “crisis” was spoken in the House of Commons 1,839 times.
In just two more years – 2008 and 2009, the years of the Great Recession – the word “crisis” has been used over a thousand times by MPs. From 1994 to 2000, it was mentioned an average of 405 times per year.
A once-in-a-century pandemic certainly counts as a crisis, and that obviously helps explain the rise. But COVID-19 isn’t the only crisis MPs have identified in the past 12 months.
The word has also been used to describe opioid addiction, inflation, the cost of housing, mental health, labor shortages, the fall of Afghanistan, the state of long-term care. , sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces and, of course, climate change. .
After the throne speech last month, the Conservatives tabled an amendment that would have officially recognized a “cost of living crisis” and a “housing crisis”, as well as a “national unity crisis”.
Earlier this month, Bloc Québécois MP Denis Trudel rose in the House and reported that “we are currently witnessing several crises in Canada. Not only is there the health crisis, the climate crisis and, in Quebec, the language crisis, but there is also the housing crisis. “
A wake-up call for the planet
It is possible that the times have an inflationary effect on political rhetoric, that the stress of the past two years causes politicians to speak in more dramatic terms. Social media also appears to offer a powerful incentive for emotional language. And “crisis” may just be a buzzword that will eventually go out of fashion.
But perhaps the pandemic – while exacerbating some pre-existing issues – has made us more alert to the other issues around us. It may have given new urgency to all kinds of things.
In the case of climate change, the pandemic has offered instructive parallels. It also coincided with a series of wildfires, storms and heat waves that proved the next great existential crisis is already here.
It can all seem rather intimidating as a whole, especially at the end of another long year and as yet another new variant sweeps the world. And all of these challenges converge at a sensitive time for Western democracy.
In his submission to the Democracy Summit greeted by US President Joe Biden last week, the liberal government wrote that democracies around the world “must renew dialogue within our countries to demonstrate that democracy remains the system best suited to serve all people, protect more vulnerable and generate greater resilience ”.
New year, same problems
It echoes Biden’s own declared desire to prove that democracy can still “achieve”.
Tangentially linked to this is Trudeau’s assertion that the “cynicism” of the political left could threaten the idea of a progressive government (as partial as an observer may be the prime minister).
But the new year will at least bring new opportunities to face the crises of the moment.
An updated climate plan is expected from Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault by the end of March. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has received demands from the city of Vancouver and the BC provincial government to decriminalize possession of small amounts of certain drugs in response to the opioid crisis.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu has funding from last year’s budget to complete work to eliminate drinking water advisories in Indigenous communities. She also now has a new report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer which suggests more funding is needed for the maintenance of water supply systems.
A new budget this spring is expected to cover the Liberal government’s housing plans, as well as many other points of interest.
A viral stress test for democracy
Canadians’ confidence in their government’s ability to meet these challenges can vary. It may depend on how they assess its approach to the pandemic.
Like water seeping through cracks in a wall, the pandemic has exposed all the cracks and loopholes in our political and social structures. The worst failures – the death toll among older people in long-term care, the inequity in global vaccine distribution – have been glaring. Future reports will identify many errors and errors in judgment.
In some cases – like Duclos recently conceded talking about the Public Health Agency of Canada – institutions were not designed to do everything they are asked to do now. Our lack of preparedness for a pandemic could be attributed to a lack of imagination.
But the pandemic has also shown that political leaders, officials and citizens can act with incredible speed to deal with a problem. We have seen deep suffering but we have probably avoided much worse. We have had real political success with things like national immunization and government financial support. Great things have been done.
Perhaps Canadians will come out of the pandemic with higher expectations. With the capabilities and imperfections of society and government laid bare, citizens could now ask their representatives to act faster, smarter, and bolder.
A crisis is a terrible thing to waste – not because it presents an opportunity, but because it offers lessons and reveals truths. And one way to find something good in the suffering of the past two years is to approach the crises we still face with a renewed commitment to building a stronger, more resilient society.