It is mid-September 2021 and as other jurisdictions begin a cautious return to a life without constraints imposed by COVID-19, Alberta remains mired in crises.
Our hospitals are overwhelmed. Opportunities and experiences for our youth and enterprises continue to be lost. And the vital work of restructuring our economy to the reality of permanent and significant carbon pricing remains neglected and deferred.
And the cause of this catastrophe is a small minority who believe their personal preference takes priority over the broader communities needs.
How do we resolve this? How do we move forward? It is cliché to say so, but history provides us guidance as how to proceed.
Western Canada is blessed in, but also handicapped by, that with the exception of displacement of the First Nations peoples our geography has never experienced invasion, significant armed conflict, nor civic dysfunction.
When something is provided without effort or sacrifice on the recipients part, nor explanation on the providers part, it is human nature to take it for granted. Western Canadians have become entitled to stability, safety, and prosperity without significant sacrifice.
Repeatedly defending your family with your bare hands is sacrifice; a challenging but well paying job is not sacrifice. We do not understand that what we unthinkingly take for granted is, in the global context, exceptional.
This is a huge impediment to reconciliation; the broader population lacks the context to understand, let alone empathize, with First Nation communities for whom displacement at gunpoint is not only a searing cultural memory, but the root cause of many of the challenges they struggle with. But this is not the topic I want to explore today.
Where our exceptional fortune has caused harm is that it has denied us readily available and proven tools to use when, as crises necessarily and occasionally dictate, the broader public good must take precedence over individual preference.
Those who resist accepting COVID-19 vaccination present themselves as exceptional, and leaders. They are warriors, informed where others are ignorant, and leading society out of unthinking compliance. They present vaccination passports as an unprecedented impingement on our rights, and a new and insidious proposition that, if implemented, will lead to totalitarianism.
None of this is true. Both those who resist a necessary but not universally popular action, and societies method to deal with them, have long established precedent.
Two generations ago, when those who had immigrated to Alberta from outside Canada, where instability, war, and civic dysfunction were the norm, represented a larger and more influential component of our community, the term that would have been applied to this group is Shirker.
Shirker was the label applied to those who qualified for military service, but did not volunteer. They were social outcasts, and denied most forms of employment. Many of them were pressed into labour that, while not directly engaged with military operations, supported the same objectives.
And the consequences of the Shirker’s choice was not limited to the duration of the conflict. For the remainder of their lives the best opportunities in education, employment, and positions of authority went to those who had accepted their civic duty, and denied to those who had abrogated theirs.
Twice in the last century we have asked every citizen to accept their civic responsibility and take on military duty on a massive scale. And hundreds of thousands of them accepted that duty with full knowledge that death was a likely outcome. And those who currently work in military service, protective services, and medicine knowingly put their lives at risk every day to our collective benefit.
Today, our country, our province, our community, our employers, our educators, and our neighbours have asked us all to accept our civic responsibility and submit to a simple procedure that has a vanishing small probability of side affect, let alone death, and requires but fifteen minutes of time at a nearby drug store.
And a small minority refuse that duty.
The correct term for these individuals is Shirker. They are unworthy to partake in the peace, prosperity, and right to freedom of expression possible only because of the sacrifices of previous generations. And they fully deserve the scorn, isolation, and lack of opportunity that Albertan’s of two generations ago, who had a visceral and pragmatic understanding of what is necessary to sustain a society, would have imposed on them.
It is regrettable that leadership of the party currently holding government in Alberta is not only unwilling to employ the tools that past governments had the wisdom to apply in these situations, but is enabling this behaviour, and trying to profit from it.
But the sacrifices of those who came before have provided us another blessing that we all take for granted. In a few short months we will have our opportunity to pass verdict on the decisions taken on our behalf, and have our say on how we wish to move forward.
I am optimistic our leaders will continue to use the time until then to reflect on their decisions and find a more effective path forward.
Mountain View County