The images of Beirut shattered by a mushroom cloud, right on the 75th anniversary of the A-bomb attack on Hiroshima, stand as a powerful indictment of a government and civil society that has failed to manage a known risk.
Terrible accidents happen, but the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that exploded on Aug. 4, in the centre of Beirut’s regionally critical port, near the heart of the national capital, had been sitting there since 2014. This was a cataclysm waiting to happen.
Look south and you can find a similar disaster, in slow motion on human health and economic levels, happening in the United States. There a political system has utterly failed to address a manageable crisis and it has become an outlier among advanced economies as President Donald Trump’s early “Let ‘er rip!” approach to COVID-19 collides head-on with Democratic and Republican parties that can’t bring themselves to get beyond partisan divisions to protect their people’s lives and economy.
We can look on these foreign situations with horror or smugness, but instead, I suggest we gaze inwards with humility and thankfulness. Canada still has a government system that works.
Canada still has politicians who can put country above political party, at least on the biggest things. (They tend to do this quietly, so you don’t notice.)
That has meant that farmers are able to get on and farm this summer, with few disruptions to their industries and manageable fears about what happens this fall when their kids get back to school, and when the fall and winter bring with them a heightened risk of virus spread.
Because of the relative political maturity that our politicians are showing, whether that’s from the prime minister and the Liberal party, the Conservative party and its two main leadership candidates, the NDP or the Bloc Quebecois, we can have some confidence that whatever happens this fall, our government and opposition parties will be able to do what’s right for the economy and our health in between yelling at each other over scandals and calling each other bad names.
We can have that confidence based on how well things have gone for farmers and agriculture since the pandemic struck.
The railways have not only kept running, they’ve been exceeding all expectations and making up for a dreadful winter. The slaughter plants have kept running or gotten back into production despite early COVID-19 outbreaks and risks, and they’ll likely keep doing that with future outbreaks.
People have stopped hoarding flour and meat now that initial panics have subsided and our domestic food system has proved itself more than adequate to keep overfeeding us.
These are everyday miracles we take for granted. We shouldn’t.
As I’ve gotten older I have found more and more fulfilment in part of the weekly church service I attend. It’s something that I used to breeze through without conscious notice: the prayer of thanksgiving. It’s easy to pray for strength in bad times or for somebody else’s well-being. It can be harder to offer thanks for the things we are given and take for granted in good times.
I suggest we offer thanks (in a secular way) for those things that have kept most farmers going during the pandemic.
For railroad officials and workers, the grain companies and their workers, the Canadian Grain Commission’s officials and the inspectors working on their behalf, for port officials and longshore workers, let us give thanks.
For slaughter plant workers and packing plant officials, Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors and officials, for truckers and border officials, let us give thanks.
For everybody working during this terrible time to ensure we don’t notice how well some of our essential systems are working, let us give thanks.
And let us, against all standard practice, give thanks for our politicians and their ability to rage at each other over comparatively minor matters, like the We scandal or the Jagmeet Singh-Bloc spat over name-calling, while continuing to keep our economy and society going during the pandemic.
The failure in Beirut is political, with the Lebanese government hopelessly crippled by a dysfunctional system and selfish politicians who can’t manage much, including dealing with a stranded pile of highly explosive material in their capital city.
The failures in the U.S. are political, with an incompetent and recklessly irresponsible presidential administration combining with hyper-partisan political parties and an increasingly ideologically divided population to fumble any sort of national response to a non-political issue.
We’re fortunate in Canada and we shouldn’t be taking that for granted. Let’s give some thanks for those who are seeing us through this thing and hope our remaining civility and common commitment are enough to see us through to this time.
Things could be a lot worse.