The pandemic remains most citizens’ primary lens for interpreting events.

Premier Doug Ford’s latest fundraising e-mail boasts of better days ahead, with the caveat that virus variants or vaccine shortages (over which he hints the provincial government has little control) could still challenge this outcome.

The Premier reassuringly writes: “Good news, our plan is working, and brighter days are ahead … the framework I announced on Thursday provides certainty and predictability … by getting vaccinated, we can get life back to normal. Together, we’ll open Ontario and get our economy moving again.”

So goes the cheerleading and credit-taking, when it looks like Ontario is turning a corner for the good.  There is enough goodwill for all to claim some part of the praise.

The Premier appears to be listening to the science table — finally. He is correct in continuing to focus on the encouragement and promotion of vaccine usage. We need only look to our neighbour to the south to see the worrisome trend that their vaccination uptake is stalling. 

In the past, the Premier has commended the contribution of the vast majority of citizens who have endured physical and mental privation. They followed public health masking, distancing and lockdown rules. Suffering a perpetual Ground Hog Day, confined to close quarters, the public deserve the lion’s share of government’s appreciation as well as encouragement to follow those rules for a little longer.

In the same spirit of thanks, Ontarians have much to be grateful for, as we see light at the end of this dark pandemic tunnel.  

We should shower our essential workers with gratitude. Ontario’s first line of defence against the ravages of the pandemic has been its health care workers, aided by a remarkable contribution from other essential workers who have delivered goods, stocked food shelves, kept our streets safe and clean or ensured that basic services continued uninterrupted.

These often under-appreciated citizens have finally gotten some of the government recognition that they have long merited. The Ford administration’s recent acceptance of improving paid sick leave and vaccinating hot spot areas where many of these heroes live is an overdue but welcome start.

Which leads me to spotlight one other group of individuals who have performed admirably while serving the public good under significant stress.

I am talking about public servants. The pivot to providing virtual services and support to the citizens of Ontario and Canada has been nothing short of remarkable.

Appreciation for the role of bureaucrats is uncommon. The praise or catcalls are mostly reserved for the politicians, who regularly court support leading up to the election cycle.

While public servants assess and outline the risks, present the options, design program delivery and execute the political will, it is the politicians who call the shots and must be held to account first.

Building the system to deliver precious vaccines across Canada has been an incredible achievement. Working under the equivalent of “war time” pressures, the Public Health Agency teams collaborated to the point where we now have more first dose vaccinations delivered on a per capita basis than our American neighbours. 

The COVID-19 scientific tables and NACI, the national advisory committee on immunization, faced the nearly impossible task of offering instant certainty, daily, on a subject which literally changed all the time. The fog of the battle complicated their efforts to provide transparent information to guide personal choice. 

How many of us marveled at the system that processed us efficiently at large mass vaccination sites, following the presentation of our health cards? It worked seamlessly right down to the countdown clocks signaling “all clear” following a 15-minute wait before leaving and the printed second dose appointments.

Or the work behind the scenes to create and staff pop-up clinics or stock pharmacies, schools and community centres with vaccines that require special handling? 

Retired doctors, nurses, and health care workers who could administer vaccines were trained and pressed into action. Our military has successfully bridged numerous challenges in our long-term care sector and in hotspots across the country.

There were senior figures who stayed on duty to see Ontario through the crisis such as Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams.

Last week, Helen Angus, Deputy Minister of Health, announced her intent to retire from the Ontario Public Service later this summer. Ontario’s Secretary to Cabinet described her role as follows:

“Over the last 15 months, Helen’s leadership and steady hand enabled the Ministry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, chairing the Health Coordination Table of inter-ministerial partners, public health, academia, associations and health system leaders to collectively support the health response to the pandemic.”

We owe a lot to selfless leaders like these individuals.

Of course, the system was not perfect; lessons learned can help us face the next pandemic better.

I feel grateful to all levels of government who had our backs through this traumatic period. The next time anyone questions whether it is worth paying our tax burden, we can all point to their role in ensuring we could imagine the end of the pandemic.

Hershell Ezrin is a Professor of Government Relations, Seneca at York, and former Principal Secretary to Liberal Premier David Peterson.

Hershell Ezrin: In Appreciation

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