“I don’t believe that anybody should tell me what the hell I have to do,” Joe Miller told the CBC in 1987.
The fine for not wearing a seatbelt was to be $25 when Alberta made them mandatory on July 1 of that year, and as is clearly tradition in this proud province, we were pretty late to the party.
More than a decade after Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Saskatchewan made the move, and long after the life-saving statistics were readily available to elected officials the world over, Alberta finally decided to drop the civil liberties debate and simply introduce a policy that prevents death.
The only province to hold out as long as Alberta did was Prince Edward Island – the one place in Canada that ends before most vehicles reach top speed.
Of course, 33 years later, humans above five years old universally understand that seatbelts save lives, and if we’re truly honest with ourselves, being the last province to reluctantly agree to enforce a law assuredly, and unnecessarily, cost lives.
But since the anti-mask crowd already assumes they know where we’re going with this and have formulated rage-filled retorts about how masks in a pandemic are nothing like seatbelts in a vehicle, let me clarify that we are not talking to them. Just like Joe Miller in 1987, every situation has a group who thinks they know something everyone else doesn’t – including the overwhelming majority of experts.
These people are simply an historical statistic and, just as it did with seatbelts, time will prove their opinions wrong. In the meantime, we want to talk about leadership.
COVID-19 might be the crisis at the forefront but it is far from the only crisis we face, and our choices in leadership are going to impact where we end up. Unfortunately, our current choices tend to think that “doing nothing” is being a leader, and in Medicine Hat we get that mindset from both Edmonton and city hall.
The simplest of perceived inconveniences will always set someone off. Our problem isn’t the Joe Millers, nor is it the folks who attended the city hall mask protest this week to say eerily similar things like, “I don’t want to be told what I can and can’t do … I’m here for my freedom … this is about control.”
Our problem is the leaders tasked with calling the proper shots in the face of the Joe Millers, and in spite of the misguided people who follow in his footsteps.
Hindsight might be 20/20, but we no longer dispute that seatbelts work. And had our leaders at the time cared more about doing right by their people than they did about pleasing a perceived percentage of them, we wouldn’t have been the slow cousin who stumbles over the finish line after everyone else goes home.
But, as if “history repeats itself ” is simply a set-in-stone guarantee, here we are once again with a chance to let experts be experts, and we have leaders who cater to fringe groups with bad science.
Medicine Hat Mayor Ted Clugston, Coun. Jim Turner and Coun. Kris Samraj – the three elected municipal officials who voted against a mask bylaw despite the overwhelming majority of health-care experts telling them one was necessary – are the kind of “leaders” who cater to the fringe.
They claim to be “listening to all sides” when in fact they’re either seeking confirmation to their own personal misinformed biases (Clugston, Turner) or attempting to pander to every single voter in a ridiculous contortionist act that can’t be pulled off (Samraj).
But regardless of their selfish motives or complete lack of ability to read the room, the rest of us no longer have the time to wait for the slowpokes to catch up.
By definition, a leader can’t be the last to figure something out, and when this crisis passes and the next one arrives, we better ask ourselves what kind of leaders we want.
This is a global pandemic that is currently killing 10-15 Albertans every day, and the health experts say the rest of December is likely to be worse. With all due respect, maybe a former librarian, a former grocery store owner and a mayor who used to sell insurance are lacking official medical expertise and should take a few cues from others instead of being the only three to vote against a safety bylaw in the last major city to adopt it.
Even some that did vote for it made apologetic mention of encroaching on people’s liberties. We’ve got good news for those councillors… You didn’t. You made a necessary decision in an emergency that increases the odds of community safety, and that’s what a leader does. (Unfortunately the mayor and police force have already given dissenters permission to disobey it, so it’s not going to work, but, hey, you tried.)
Leaders don’t sit on the fence and talk about needing to compromise for everyone’s wishes. Leaders make the call that experts tell them to make and they don’t apologize to the people who can’t comprehend the logic.
Of course, our municipal leaders have Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro setting the shining example of being grossly under qualified to be overruling experts, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when a few local officials act in the same manner.
And, maybe, if we keep electing the kinds of governments that dislike the very concept of government, we shouldn’t be surprised when we have leaders that can’t grasp the very concept of leadership.
This editorial originated in the Medicine Hat News