COVID-19: REFECTIONS ON A RAINY DAY By Pierre Beemans (Article)

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Pierre Beemans

These days, the evening TV news and the morning paper bring us daily doses of events and forecasts we could never have imagined a mere three months ago. 13,000 deaths in the USA alone (April 8)? 18,000 in Italy!!?? Major industrialized countries locked down, their industries at a standstill and their citizens confined to their homes? Trillions of dollars being shovelled out to keep economies from collapse?

Nearer to home, almost every school, university and restaurant and bar in the country closed until further notice? Hospitals running out of face masks and rubber gloves? Up to 15,000 deaths projected just for Ontario? Almost 3,000,000 Employment Insurance claims in the last three weeks? Is there ever going to be any light at the end of the tunnel, anything in the news to lift our spirits?

Well, every so often a glimmer of something to lift our spirits. This morning’s Ottawa Citizen contained an article praising the public service! Yes, a Postmedia publication saying something positive about the people who keep the government’s operations going in these critical times! John Ivison lauding the EI and CRA employees who cleared 2.24 million claims by April 6 -- 500,000 in 24 hours alone after re-jigging the 46-year old COBOL-based computer system, saying that “they have gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure their fellow citizens can afford food and shelter.” Nice, too, to hear them referred to as public servants, not as ‘bureaucrats’.

And they certainly do deserve our praise in these challenging times. So do the tens of thousands of other public servants working from home on overloaded systems to keep our mammoth and complex government operations going, while tending to out-of-school children clamouring for attention (and now, for access to the computer and the internet for their on-line classes). Hopefully we will hear some recognition for them as well from the national newspapers and the CBC/CTV ‘opinionators’, the radio talkshow hosts and the twitterworld of social media.

We might want to bear in mind that it’s not just during this Covid-19 crisis that we get this kind of dedication from our public servants. It’s easy to bad-mouth ‘faceless bureaucrats’ for the amount of time it usually takes in less troubled times to process apparently simple applications and services -- time usually required to conform to the numerous and detailed regulations and procedures put in place to ensure the integrity, transparency, fairness and accountability that taxpayers, politicians, the media and the Auditor-General expect.

Yes, things often take more time than we would like. Yes, every so often we run up against someone with an unpleasant disposition who drags his or her feet, or puts us through unnecessary hoops -- or maybe is just having a bad day. But most of the time, by a wide margin, we are getting from our public servants the best service that the system can provide and, not infrequently, “above and beyond the call of duty”. We should remember that when these Covid-19 days are over.

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