We Must Return to Properly Functioning Legislatures

The persisting pandemic requires all minds on deck
February 18, 2021 Updated: February 18, 2021


When an early Blackfoot or Plains Cree tribe faced a problem of food supply or contagion such as smallpox in their territory, councils met to discuss it. Typically a group of senior men—war chiefs, shamans, hunters, and the like—talked, in turn, and considered the various aspects of the problem. The input of many experienced voices was heard. These were so-called primitive societies, yet this is how at least some of them worked.

When the classical Greeks of Athens discussed taxes or faced war, they met in assembly to deliberate publicly. Men such as Demosthenes and Pericles discussed options in orations while others listened, noting dubious ideas for rebuttal in order that votes might result in effective action for the polis as a whole. A polis was not simply the city, as Robin Lane Fox notes in “The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome,” but the large area of villages and agricultural lands surrounding it so that policy was required to meet the needs of a varied population. They regularly ostracized people in Pericles’ time (voted to expel them for a period), similar to the current “banishment” of Donald Trump. And just as those ostracized in Greece returned, so shall Trump.

From the Greeks we inherited democracy and the practice of fact-based—not fear-based—reasoning, echoed by more recent aboriginal societies in their councils. The adage that two heads are better than one is therefore well-grounded in our past.

For a year now, the proper and traditional functioning of democracy in Canada and elsewhere to various degrees has been subverted by the pandemic, an emergency that has caused the legislative and executive branches of our governments, the deliberative and decision-making branches, to relinquish much of their constitutional authority to un-elected medical officials. This was done on the premise that these officials and their staff possessed the scientific expertise to deal more effectively with a pandemic than a group of mostly non-medical persons.

This was wrong. A pandemic is more than a medical emergency—it is a societal one because it affects all areas of life. But because we have become accustomed to specialization in work, government, and science, we have confused specialization’s valid use in normal times with the proper way to deal with a generalized crisis, which is to do so in a generalized manner.

Emergency management specialist David Redman has struggled from the start to make this point with authorities, with little success. He calls the pandemic a “public emergency” instead of a “health emergency” because it affects jurisdictions beyond the medical affecting all citizens.

Provinces should have set up emergency management teams “featuring a cross-section of professionals—including those in the medical, education, and major resource sectors—that could look at all areas impacted by the pandemic and work together to minimize the damage,” Redman has told the Epoch Times.

“[Health professionals] have no capability of understanding the power grid, the water supply system, the cattle industry, the pork and beef industry, the oil and gas industry,” he said. “Why would they? That’s not their job.”

In times of crisis, cabinets should contain the best possible minds and meet often. Prime Minister Mackenzie King of Canada put the inimitable C. D. Howe in charge of wartime industry in 1940, while Britain’s Winston Churchill placed a feisty Canadian newspaper publisher, William Maxwell Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), in charge of aircraft production before the Battle of Britain. Without Aitken and his extra Spitfires and Hurricanes, that key battle may well have been lost and with it, perhaps, England’s war.

The error in our approach to COVID-19 was identified early, yet those who sounded alarms were ignored or cancelled. Letters to editors went unpublished; formal applications like Redman’s were brushed aside as the powers that be closed ranks to protect the saw of the day: “We’re all in this together, so listen to the science.”

A year into the pandemic we see serious damage to our societies, much of it caused by well-intentioned but flawed policy with a medical focus. Many thousands of small businesses have shuttered their doors and big sectors like airlines and tourism have laid off tens of thousands of people. Our children are being harmed, perhaps irreparably, by school closures and other restrictions on social activities even though science tells us children are not good transmitters. So we aren’t even following the science properly.

We close our churches, denying freedom of worship, yet keep the Costcos and Walmarts open.

The best way forward is to shed the fear of normal procedure, much of which I think is based in concerns of legal liability. With COVID variants spreading, it’s more important than ever that we should return our Parliament and legislatures, as best we can, to normal daily functioning. Provincial and federal cabinets must resume their full executive duties. Mr. Redman’s emergency management teams have roles to play as advisers, as do medical officers. And we need proper budgets and full oversight of them.

Each of us might also strengthen our immune system with good food, sleep, supplements, and exercise—which many of the well-seasoned among us already do.

Brad Bird is an award-winning reporter and editorial writer based in B.C. He has a master’s degree in political studies. An ancestor, Jimmy-Jock Bird, was a noted Blackfoot chief.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.