Both sides now


Have you noticed that the world is becoming a little grumpy these days? A little tetchy, prone to irritation and hitting out? The whole Covid thing seems to be a major source of these negative vibes, as you might expect, as it seems to keep coming back just as you think you see daylight ahead. People are more than annoyed. In the Netherlands, police are firing water cannons at thousands of protesters who are angry about re-imposed restrictions owing to the pandemic. This is being repeated in many countries, and patience is wearing thin.

On the other hand, the crowded hospitals and ICU wards are mostly filled with unvaccinated people, and that is causing many medical professionals to start feeling a bit tetchy too. An article by a respiratory consultant who works in many hospitals in the UK has put the situation in rather stark terms.

“Covid-19 has largely become a disease of the unvaccinated. The man in his 20s who had always watched what he ate, worked out in the gym, was too healthy to ever catch Covid badly. The 48-year-old who never got round to making the appointment. The person in their 50s whose friend had side-effects. The woman who wanted to wait for more evidence. The young pregnant lady worried about the effect on her baby. The 60-year-old, brought to hospital by the ambulance that he initially called for his partner, who had died by the time it arrived; both believed that the drug companies bribed the government to get the vaccine approved. All severely ill with Covid. All unvaccinated and previously healthy. All completely avoidable.”

The facts, the stats, are all pointing in the same direction: vaccinations work; in fact, they may be the only way out of this strange new world we’ve inhabited for so long now. But still, people are sceptical. They don’t trust anyone, any medical authority, only the individual nutcases they read on social media. To be honest, I’m getting more than a little tetchy with them myself. No, vaccinations do not prevent Covid; but they radically improve your chances of avoiding serious illness, hospitalisation and…of yes, death.

It seems that there has been a universal decline in the willingness of people to believe anything said by anyone, unless it involves “exposing” some deep and dark conspiracy to mess us up, mentally and physically. Minds seem closed to any argument that refutes previously held ideas and beliefs. And this is where the real danger lies. Once people, or society in general, stop questioning, things go wrong. But the questions have to be honest and the questioners have to be open to the answers they get to their questions. Too often, answers, good, solid answers based on evidence, knowledge, expertise and basic facts, are ignored, rejected, derided, because they aren’t the answers wanted.

I was thinking about this the other evening, listening to the “consultation” meeting on the proposed prison for Kemptville. By the way, it is ok to call it a prison: one of the Solicitor General’s reps did so, making it a legitimate term. But the real problem arising from the entire evening was that it was difficult to know how much to believe, on either side. The government bureaucrats were very clear in making certain assurances to the people of North Grenville. They will pay for all water and sewage infrastructure required by the prison. Ali Veshkini, Associate Deputy Minister, SOLGEN stated clearly: “Also, just in terms of being able to be more definitive about the water and sewage, we said that we’re definitely paying for it ourselves, the one time cost of building, designing, but also the ongoing.” This didn’t stop opponents claiming that taxpayers would be on the hook for those costs.

For all the claims by CAPP and JOG that Council could have done more to stop the project going ahead, their own attempts at the meeting were as fruitless as any. Requests that the project be put on hold until proper consultation takes place, were completely ignored by the Solicitor General’s people, who made it abundantly clear, yet again, that this is a fait accompli. They stated also that local “stakeholders”, like the hospital and schools, “We met with the hospital’s CEO and with their board members… and we met with indigenous partners. There was no major concerns that were brought forward… there wasn’t anything that was major in terms of impacts that were brought up.” Similarly, on many of the other issues that have been raised as concerns about the prison, answers were given that seemed to be quite definite and reassuring.

But now, we get back to the initial thought: It seems that there has been a universal decline in the willingness of people to believe anything said by anyone. How much can we believe what was said last week by these government people? How binding on their assurances? How can we trust people who continually refer to Kemptville as a “city”, or throw in words like, “So issues like that, we will definitely take back and take very seriously.” Promises to work with residents on problem issues sound rather hollow from people who repeatedly pointed out that this was the earliest they had ever consulted with a community on a project? Really? When did other consultations begin – after opening day?

At the same time, claims made by opponents are also open for questioning, such as this one made at the meeting: “There’s a large majority of people in North Grenville that are opposed to this prison project, and the others are only in favour of it because of the economic benefit that it’s supposed to bring to the community.” How do they know about that “large majority”? Where are the stats, the survey results? And how open to dialogue can people be who, before the meeting even started, could state: ““The sad fact is that the province has lost the moral authority to claim honesty and transparency where this prison is concerned. It is hard to imagine how this evening’s engagement session will change that reality.”

Oh, this is confusing. Who to believe? Whose words to accept? This democracy thing is hard! Steve Clark seems to be the major casualty so far, in terms of credibility and reputation. But who knows who else will suffer the same fate as time passes?


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