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Bosses and politicians want you to die for profits

John Bell

November 12, 2020

At first I thought, “There is no plan!”. Then I realized, “That is the plan.”

Premiers like Doug Ford and Jason Kenney have obviously decided that the debate that hung in the balance during the pandemic’s first wave – public health and welfare vs business and profit – has been settled.

And public health has lost.

On a day when new COVID cases spiked to a (then) record high of 1,050, on a day when 14 people (at least) across the province died, Premier Doug Ford announced he was easing restrictions on non-essential indoor businesses like restaurants and gymnasiums.

But fear not folks: they are unveiling a new “dashboard”, and a colour coded chart so you can follow along at home. At ton of formless information, not a lick of sense.

One number is always hard to find in the blizzard of digits: the number of deaths. 14 people died in Ontario. But that fact rates barely a mention on our news broadcasts, instead buried (pun intended) in a scroll at the bottom of the screen.

14 people dead and their names appear nowhere but after the fact, on the obituary page. The day before it was 7, the day before that 9. An average of ten people a day, dying gasping for breath in ICU wards, and it isn’t “news”.

What was top of the news today? Interviews with restaurant owners about how their business is suffering now that patio season is over.

Three days ago–when 9 nameless Ontarians died from COVID–the top of the local news was the closure of The Pickle Barrel, a barely adequate, charmless Toronto restaurant masquerading as a “deli”. The gravitas with which the closure was announced told the tale: this was a Toronto institution to be mourned. Dead friends, neighbours and elders, not so much. Our media, given the choice between smoked meat and dead meat, opted for the former.

Last week the local morning “news” platform (CP24) led each morning with interviews with gymnasium owners. Toronto gym users (where gyms were ordered closed) were fleeing to suburban sweat shops to get their endorphin fix. The answer, not to close all the gyms, but to open them up.

Gym owners argued that if big businesses and factories remain open, why should they close. And they are right; everything should be closed down if only temporarily, to flatten the curve. So government does the opposite, and opens everything (albeit with strings attached). Seems fair. Lemming-like in its suicidal short-sightedness, but fair.

Whatever glossy wrapping paper Ford uses to decorate this shit brick, the fact remains: it stinks. His government, along with a compliant media, have been relentlessly preparing us to sacrifice our health and our very lives to get back to business as usual.

Also on the morning’s news, reports of an outbreak at a Scarborough elementary school–at least 9 staff and 2 children testing positive, and about 60 more kids in isolation pending results. The Ford government acted decisively. They, and their minions to the Toronto District School Board declared that one wing of the building was bad and must be closed, but the school must stay open. As if corona virus was a naughty kid sent to the corner for a time out.

“It is safe to attend,” said a TDSB rep. “There is no reason to close the school. If we thought it was unsafe, I can tell you, that school would already be closed.”

Teachers and unionized staff disagreed, refusing to enter an unsafe workplace. The school countered by calling in management and lunchroom volunteers to keep the illusion of business as usual going.

Orders from on high are to keep up the appearance of normalcy at all costs. Although Ford and his ilk make sympathetic noises, hoping for the best and praying to whatever free market deity they subscribe to, they have bought into the disastrous idea of “herd immunity”.

So we face a “plan” to deal with COVID that amounts to this:

  • Downplay the severity of the disease, by minimizing attention on the deaths and long-term health issues it causes;
  • Normalize the pandemic by making it seem inevitable and unstoppable – the “we might as well get used to it” argument;
  • Play up concerns about “business” by focusing on our favourite local bistros and pizzerias going out of business, and ignoring the big industrial concerns, like meat processing plants, that act as super-spreaders ;
  • Put the responsibility on individual behaviours rather than economic organization, as when we hear DoFo fuming about people gathering in their homes on the same day he lets restaurants open up for the winter;
  • Prioritize the plight and rights of “business” over public health, and keep the “economy” going at all costs;
  • Use “emergency” powers to weaken workers’ ability to organize and resist austerity cuts, while appearing daily making announcements that are nothing more than motherhood statements.

This will certainly appear chaotic. So we get the bizarre spectacle of Doug Ford easing restrictions on business at the exact moment when COVID cases and resulting deaths are on the rise.

Even as Ontario’s handling of the pandemic is being exposed as murderously inadequate, a new poll reveals that 70% of respondents think Ford has shown good leadership on the issue. It infuriates me to say it: to some extent their plan is working. They know that in chaos there is opportunity, so they stoke the chaos and grab for the ring.

Our job is to blow away the smoke, the way the teachers did who refused to work in an unsafe school, or like the health care workers in Alberta who wildcatted to protest government layoffs, cuts and austerity. There are thousands of workers who are saying “we won’t let you throw our bodies into the grinder for your profits”. The mainstream media will only downplay them or ignore them entirely. It is our job to seek their stories out, amplify them, and shout them from the rooftops:
When the choice is public health or business as usual, our lives must come first.

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