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EDITORIAL: Modelling healthy behaviour (Mar. 2020)

March 24th, 2020 · No Comments

As we continue to try and navigate uncharted waters due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it has been quite reassuring to hear from the prime minister in almost daily news conferences delivered from the steps of his home, Rideau Cottage. The federal government response to the crisis under Justin Trudeau’s leadership has been calm, measured, and mindful of the significant impact it has on the lives of Canadians now and in the future. 

Trudeau announced a huge economic aid package for people in all forms of employment and support for businesses facing a bleak financial outlook. He negotiated with the Americans a closure of our common border to all non-essential travel while leaving it open to trade for what is really one economy.

And the prime minister has done all this from home where he is the sole caregiver 24/7 of three young children. His wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, who has tested positive for the virus following a trip to England, is quarantined in one part of their house. There are no political staff or caregivers at the residence.  Following Mrs.Trudeau’s diagnosis, the family took the need to self-isolate very seriously. 

Parliament is convening to consider the government’s multibillion-dollar rescue package. Trudeau will be absent. Though the Liberals lack a majority the opposition parties are unlikely to block the legislation as the plan has been widely applauded as necessary. 

In the outdoor news conferences media repeatedly ask Trudeau why he has not invoked the Emergencies Act which would give the federal government sweeping powers to limit civil liberties and impose strict rules on the movement of people. He has wisely resisted the call to declare a “public welfare emergency” (language from the Act) unless and until the provinces and other jurisdictions have exhausted their powers to control the crisis, and the scale and severity of the situation warrant a much stronger federal response. Trudeau is wise to wait in fact; the law demands this prudence. 

The predecesssor legislation to the Emergency Act is the War Measures Act which then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously enacted in 1970. This was in respsone to a “apprehended insurrection” in Quebec after members of a terrorist group, the FLQ, kidnapped a British diplomat and a provincial cabinet minister. Police arrested and detained hundreds of indiviudals on the basis of their ties to the FLQ. Justin Trudeau is altogether a different leader from is father. 

Domestic duties have kept the current Trudeau busy; making meals for his children, Hadrien, Ella-Grace, and Xavier. In between, calls with G-7 leaders continue. Sometimes the two conflict. Sounds of kids yelling and screaming can be heard on the line during some pretty heavy conversations. A late night teleconference with federal officials was delayed recently because it was bath time for his six-year-old Hadrien. 

On the occasion of his most significant announcement, regarding the economic measures, he halted the news conference which was being held on a very cold winter day and said “Just before I take questions, I’m supposed to model healthy behaviour,  I’m going to go grab my coat and I’ll be right back.”  At another presser, he took the high road and wanted to thank Canadians, not only front line medical professionals, but those earning low wages re-stocking grocery shelves or serving coffee, truck drivers, and cleaners. 

He took the time to thank the children: “I know this is a big change, but we have to do this not just for ourselves, but for our grandparents, our nurses, our doctors and everyone working at our hospitals and you kids are helping a lot.”

This is exactly the kind of leadership we need right now. Trudeau is modelling behaviour that is positive, caring, inclusive, and proactive.

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