How the right is exploiting Ontarians’ lockdown worries
This is an excerpt from Ontario Majority, our brand new newsletter covering Ontario politics.
Two of Ontario’s most populous regions – Toronto and Peel – have been under ‘lockdown’ for the past two weeks. Most Ontario businesses have followed the rules, but not all. The owner of one Toronto-area BBQ restaurant dominated headlines last week when he intentionally ignored public health guidelines and stayed open.
The ordeal has turned Adamson BBQ owner Adam Skelly into a pariah to many and a hero to some. Right-wing pundits like Rex Murphy are already praising the restaurateur and decrying the “epidemic of snobbery” of those who disagree with Skelly’s anti-lockdown schtick. (Newsflash Rex, there’s an actual pandemic going on!)
A lot of folks I talk to have mixed feelings about the Adamson BBQ debacle. On the one hand, they find Skelly’s blatant disregard of the rules insulting and dangerous. On the other, they resent the fact that big corporations are getting special treatment under lockdown rules, while small businesses must shut down.
These two views are not contradictory. Moreover, they’re part of a common sense that most Ontarians agree with. It’s not hard to see the unfairness of the lockdowns. Small independent shops are being forced to close down, while big box retailers get to stay open and rake in profits. Big retailers deploy their lobbyists to push for special exemptions from the lockdown, while your local barber is left voiceless. All this, at a time when goliaths like Amazon are already bleeding small businesses dry.
It’s by no means a fringe view to be opposed to this consolidation of capital by massive profiteering corporations. The problem is that some in the political class want to exploit these concerns.
Right-wing media and politicians see how “well” anti-lockdown rhetoric worked in the States and can’t help but try to replicate that narrative here. They want a rigid dichotomy, wherein either you’re for lockdowns and all their negative side-effects, or you’re against them.
What the right is trying to do is this: weaponize people’s rational opposition to the negative consequences of lockdowns and turn it into an irrational disdain for lockdowns themselves. Yes, lockdowns suck. Yes, lockdowns disproportionately hurt mom-and-pop shops. But that doesn’t mean we should lose sight of the bigger picture.
Skirting lockdown rules only gives room for this virus to spread. There might be a vaccine right around the corner, but for the time being we’re still living through a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic.
We’ve got to acknowledge this anti-lockdown talk for what it is. The actions of people like Skelly and the rhetoric of pundits like Rex Murphy are a slap in the face. A slap in the face to all the other businesses and people who are following the rules, only to have their sacrifice go to waste. It’s a slap in the face to the doctors, nurses and healthcare workers that are exhausting themselves to save lives, while anti-maskers line up for a rack of ribs.
Lockdowns are unfair. Pointing that out doesn’t make you a contrarian or an iconoclast. You’re just stating the obvious. And stating the obvious isn’t the same as making a case for why lockdowns aren’t needed – because they are.
Anti-maskers, the Skelly crowd, and the right-wing columnists aren’t doing anyone a service. They’re not the voice of laid-off workers or struggling businesses. (Not to mention, Skelly is anything but a blue-collar business owner). They’re merely opportunists making a bad situation worse and potentially putting people’s lives at risk.
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