New normal

Adjusting to the COVID-19 year

With the start of a new decade came the rising realization that something was seriously wrong in China with a new virus that seemed to have no cure and spread rapidly. As the spring of 2020 rapidly dissolved into summer weather (at last), we almost forget that the news event of the new decade started with the central Chinese city of Wuhan, and then seemed to spread to cruise boats.

Andrea and I normally attend a round of Chinese functions at the time of the Chinese lunar new year. With Chinese restaurants and Chinese people being either avoided or shunned, and often worse, we resolved to show our support to the Chinese-Canadian community, and attend the functions to which we were invited in the first quarter of the year. And we did, without harm or effect. A few large Chinese social functions scheduled for February were cancelled: at least one of them normally serving upwards of 1,000 people. Back then in mid-winter, one wondered whether our Chinese-Canadian community was being overly cautious. With the perspective of a few months of hindsight, one can see they were being careful, responsible and prudent.

The shut-down begins

Just before the general shut-down, life was pretty busy. The first weekend of March began with a family funeral, at which Andrea and I did our best to minimize our contact and maximize what would, within days, become known as ‘social distancing.’ The following day, the Ontario Liberal Party Leadership Convention began at the International Centre in Mississauga. I picked up one of my Riding Association colleagues on the Friday. We registered, cast what would turn out to be our only ballot, did a minimum of socializing with friends at the event, skipped all the receptions, and went home. We were not being anti-social at the time, but just careful. We went the next morning for the speeches and the vote counting of the first and only ballot. By this time, people were talking about COVID-19, but nobody knew anybody who had it, and the the phenomenon of the asymptomatic ‘super-spreader’ was then unknown. They announced that our Candidate, Steven Del Duca, had won on the first ballot, and my group bade a polite and expedient adieu to an event I would have otherwise enjoyed for a few more hours.

In the weeks that unwound, we are not aware that anybody at either the family funeral or the OLP Leadership Convention tested positive for the virus. They were close to the last large events of their type that happened before the world shut down in the following week.

For me, it happened after Wednesday hockey. As I was getting dressed to play goal, a few of the guys rolled in talking about the ongoing Prospectors and Developers Convention in Toronto, and how a few people had tested positive. I asked if any of them had encountered anyone who was there. No, they said, they’d just heard it from others.

“Good,” I thought to myself, “I don’t need to run out of here and I’ll play this game.”

On the ice in goal, it occurred to me that a hockey rink was a pretty strong environment for any exhalation-borne disease to propagate, and I was glad to be in goal, away from the players’ benches. After the game, one of the guys asked me if I’d be available for a game with his group that Saturday night.

“Well, two things,” I said to him. “Yes, I have nothing on Saturday night, which makes me available, but we’d better talk tomorrow or Friday, because I am not sure if we’ll be playing.”

Sure enough, when we spoke the following day, he told me that the City of Mississauga had called and cancelled all his ice time for the balance of the year. I said I was on one hand disappointed because I was in peak condition for hockey, and on the other hand, I was a bit relieved. The previous day, the stay-home period was mandated across Canada, and the country-wide shutdown began.

The family’s signature cats

Though not from COVID-19, we suffered our losses in the family. Our younger cat, Bebe, had developed a very aggressive form of cancer in early March, and she met her merciful end on March 23rd, with her human Mummy and Daddy at her side. She had always been a healthy little cat, and we were not prepared for her very quick passing. At least Andrea and I could be together and at home during the mourning period that follows the loss of a loved member of the family, whether they talk on two legs or four.

The house was, and remains, emptier without our little Bebe cat on patrol, checking her territory, cuddling with Andrea on and off all day, and talking to us at key points. Particularly when I was elected, people often remembered our two cats who adorned every Christmas card: Obi-Wan (1999 – 2005) and Bebe (2005 – 2020). Now they are both gone, though alive in spirit and memory. Merlin, who adopted me at Pet Valu in Meadowvale in late February of 2016, remained healthy.

The following week, Andrea’s older brother passed away, also suddenly, from heart problems in Guyana. The funeral had to happen quickly and without the family members from Canada and the USA. We participated by video.

The days that re-occur daily

And then life settled into the stay-home pattern: shopping once every eight or ten days; no more in-person visitors; and the days sort of folded into one another such that one of Andrea’s relatives observed on their family WhatsApp chat group, “During this time, what difference does it make if Sunday should fall on Monday?” We started a blog page on Andrea’s family we site to record what was happening from week to week. We tracked what we had for dinner on each day, because the event of dinner seemed to mark the transition from the work day to personal time. We watched old movies on TV, learned how to use Zoom, called our friends and discovered we were all living more or less the same day each day, and took it one day at a time.

And it was cold! Into May, I had not put away my winter jacket, gloves, hat and scarf. Merlin would go outside and wander about, and I would sit in the gazebo to keep him company and get a bit of morning air – cold morning air. My own theory was that Mother Nature was doing her part to help Canadians maintain social distancing by making it uncomfortable and inconvenient to be outside together. In May, when new COVID-19 cases in major Canadian cities began to rise again, it turned out that my theory held water: as soon as it was warm and sunny enough for people to congregate too close together, they did just that, largely without masks or other protection. We just stayed home.

The garden provides a ray of sunshine

From what was indoors and had survived the winter, and from what we had in storage, much of the annual summer garden got started in April and May, when the weather permitted. It took a few careful visits to the Longo’s garden centre near where we live and to our favourite nursery (all suitably masked) to get the balance of the flowers and garden soil to finish the job. This year the garden is a bit more sparse and economical, but it’s there.

To work or study outside in the gazebo in the good weather of 2020 offers the songs of the household robins, the fragrance of our garden flowers, the comfort of a sleeping Merlin with me, and this view when I look up from what I am doing. Nice office environment!

As May drew to a close, and the first wave of summer heat descended, I tried my summertime outdoor office again in the gazebo, where I had studied for my Canadian Securities Course in 2019. I can bring out a portable table, set up the computer, bring out a cordless phone, my cell, and all my books and notes, and I largely set up. The Wi-Fi from the house can be a little spotty in that corner of the garden. This year, the songs of the resident families of Robins are more evident due to the still-unearthly quiet in the neighbourhood. Merlin and I had not been able to get to the neighbourhood park for our walk not so much due to the virus, as we seldom encounter anyone at the park, but because the park was either too cold or too wet to make the 600-metre stroll enjoyable for me or for 17-year-old Merlin, who remains a healthy, active and handsome cat.

Shopping adventures

Andrea didn’t want to run the risk of grocery shopping, so we found a great substitute. Longo’s has high-speed Wi-Fi for its shoppers, so after I have run down the list, I go over to the fresh meat and fish counters, plug my Bluetooth headset in, use the video function of WhatsApp, and let her virtually shop with me for a few minutes. It has worked out perfectly.

Now really: if we had encountered anyone dressed like me, and now just about all the grocery shoppers, before the corona virus period, wouldn’t this look like somebody who wasn’t in the store just to pick up groceries?

At the stores, we never yielded to the compulsion to hoard at any stage. Sure enough, paper products were back in abundance, and soon on sale. The same for such items as chicken and dried pasta. Our local Longo’s became a progressively weirder place to visit, as the shoppers increasingly were masked (as was I after the first two trips). On Twitter, I observed that if I had showed up at the grocery store pre-COVID-19 attired in the mask I now wore, I would likely have encountered a skeptical police officer by the time I got down the second aisle. Now, I am just another masked face pushing a shopping cart.

Flour and yeast were products that we had purchased a few weeks before the run on the stores began, and we were fine for our yeast supply through the spring. Flour supplies were sporadic for a while as the whole world seemed to start baking. Yeast vanished for nearly three months. In the end, Longo’s offered a 20 kg bag of unbleached flour for $18.79, and one such purchase solved our flour supply for the indefinite future. It’s about equal to eight of the normal bags we buy. A friend of mine found yeast at their summer place near Niagara, and the next day (as it always happens), we saw yeast also at Longo’s: in 450 gram packages, again nearly eight times what was in a single bottle we generally bought. Now we are good to bake anything we want for most of the rest of the year.

And so life goes on. We continue to be careful and to stay apart from the family, friends and other people we’d normally have over for dinner and visit. That part hasn’t changed from the year of the Spanish Flu a century ago. At that time, some 500 million people were infected, and that corona virus killed more people than the recently-completed Great War of 1914 to 1918.

Regional chairs

How Ontario legislation passes

The Ontario Premier, in a Friday morning news conference, declared an intention to introduce legislation that would, if passed, nearly cut in half the number of seats on Toronto city council, and cancel regional chair elections in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka; all within 90 days of the 2018 municipal election on October 22, 2018.

Such legislation would open the Ontario Municipal Act; the Ontario Municipal Elections Act; and the City of Toronto Act, and perhaps other acts as well. In other words, it is not a small undertaking.

The earliest that such an act can be introduced to the Legislature (“First Reading”) is Monday July 30, 2018. Presuming the near-certainty that one opposition party tables a “reasoned amendment,” the Speaker will not allow debate on the bill to start the day it is introduced. As well, the government will almost certainly table a “time allocation bill” to truncate the debate time for the bill. However, a time allocation bill is itself debatable, so it will take time to pass the time allocation bill before its provisions can shorten whatever bill that affects the municipal elections.

This likely means that Second Reading of the bill in the Legislature will continue through the second week of August. The government has not said whether the bill will be referred to a Legislative standing committee for consideration, as bills should be. If so, it will require at least a day in committee, with perhaps another day for proposed amendments to be submitted. Then the committee considering the bill must meet for “clause-by-clause” consideration of the various amendments submitted. Only after this may the bill, perhaps amended, go back to the Legislature for “Third Reading.” Third Reading normally takes a day or two of debate. The vote after Third Reading passes the bill, which must then be subsequently “proclaimed” on behalf of the Queen by the Ontario Lieutenant Governor.

That takes the process likely to late in the third week of August, at the earliest, and depends on:

  • Absolutely nothing unplanned happening during debate;
  • No substantive or procedural delays during debate;
  • No court proceedings interrupting or delaying the process of consideration of the bill.

It would not be prudent to assume passage, without opposition or delay, on a debate that opens three or more such substantive provincial acts. In short, stuff happens.

Legal challenge

It is impossible to know if anything in a bill that has not yet been written (or introduced) can be challenged in court. Given the absence of any advance consultation; the fact that no municipality asked the Province to affect the 2018 municipal elections; and the inexperience of the new government, the odds of all or part of the proposed (and as yet unseen) act being flawless and sailing through the legislative process may not be strong.

A legal challenge that delays the process of passage of the act, in effect, would neuter the act in the 2018 elections.

In short, unless something definitive successfully happens in sufficient time to cancel the elections for the four regional chairs, they are on. Similarly, unless something definitive is passed in time to change the configuration of Toronto City Council, it too will proceed to the 2018 elections with 47 seats, as is the case now.

Worrying precedent

The Ford government never mentioned interfering with Ontario municipal elections in its 2018 election campaign. The proposed changes to the structure of Toronto City Council and to the election of regional chairs in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka were never mentioned in the government’s Speech from the Throne (i.e. where it sets its agenda for the session of the current Parliament).

Peel Region is an economic and population entity larger than the entire Province of Manitoba! Having one, single elected representative of all its 1.4 million people – the Regional Chair – is actually a good idea. The Province ought to be encouraging this check-and-balance of having an elected representative to work with the regional staff, and not trying to revert to having Peel Regional Council appoint the Chair.

Today's Quote

Recession is when a neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.

— Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004)

Bob on Twitter