Opinion piece by Susan Delacourt

Opinion: A non-essential travellers’ wall of shame

Ontario’s recent finance minister may have characterized his Caribbean vacation as a “dumb, dumb mistake” but sorry, Rod Phillips, you’re instead a poster boy of our entitled political class, at the lead of a sorry pack of like-minded elected leaders and aides across the country.

“Hunker down,” intoned Premier Doug Ford, “stay at home,” while his senior-most minister went gallivanting to sunny climes.

Others who knew better but assumed the rules miraculously didn’t apply to them deserve special mention on a non-essential travellers’ wall of shame: Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard who vacationed in Hawaii, Quebec Liberal MNA Pierre Arcand who went to Barbados, South Calgary-Signal Hill Conservative MP Ron Liepert who went to Palm Desert, Calif., to look after a home he owns there, Saskatchewan highways minister Joe Hargrave who went to Palm Springs to sell a home, and Hamilton Conservative MP David Sweet, who dealt with a property issue in the U.S. and stayed on for leisure. In what makes for cringey irony, Sweet was chair of the House of Commons ethics committee.

How many of us who can afford leisure travel have not felt nostalgic for it in the past 10 months of pandemic restrictions? How many immigrants have been worried sick for their families in far-flung lands? The Liberal Party Whip said three MPs travelled abroad to complete “essential family affairs,” but didn’t specify what.

Many of us have “essential family affairs” abroad, too, but no, we the people stayed put. They, our political leaders, didn’t. The ones who left the country clearly felt entitled to deeming their need to travel as essential.

Entitlement and the attendant arrogance reside at the root of wrongdoings ranging from unethical personal choices to immoral, collective actions; from socializing or travelling or otherwise disobeying public health guidelines to rationalizing colonial and imperialistic expansions, instituting slavery and indentured labour, practising apartheid policies and inflicting genocide.

American researchers conducted three separate studies in the U.S. in April, May and July of 2020 and validated the common belief that entitled individuals were less likely to follow pandemic health guidelines and to believe the threat is overblown. They were also more likely to report that they had contracted COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Israel, which is tearing past the rest of the world with an impressive vaccination rate of more than 150,000 doses a day, is exhibiting a different kind of entitlement. Rights’ groups say it is only immunizing Jewish settlers in the West Bank and not the millions of Palestinians. Clearly, the state feels entitled to the land, but it does not feel obligated to help all its residents, even those it displaced.

At a macro level, the fact that the world prioritized – and, more importantly, funded – treatment for COVID-19 also carries overtones of entitlement. To be clear: Immunization against COVID-19 is both urgent and necessary. But it should also be clear that if efforts have been this highly prioritized it’s not just because the virus affects the globe, but because it affects Westerners. There are many deadly contagious diseases that ravage millions around the world but not Westerners.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that rich nations made side deals with pharmaceutical companies and snapped up billions of vaccine doses, leaving poorer nations so pitifully short that they may not get immunization vaccines until 2024. It should also not take us aback if ultra-rich individuals cut side deals to get themselves immunized first. It’s not that they will face any consequences.

Among Canadian politicians, it’s not at all clear the transgressors understand the depth of their entitlement.

Alberta Conservative MLA for Red Deer-South Jason Stephan, who went to Phoenix, Ariz., said in a Facebook post that he had never told any constituents not to travel. See, he’s not a hypocrite.

A spokesperson for MP Liepert who had “essential house maintenance issues” in California assured CBC News: “There has been no non-essential travel, and he has complied with all public health guidance, including the Alberta border testing program, each time he has travelled.”

No non-essential travel?

Is travelling abroad to look after investment properties classified as essential, then? Federal guidelines around departing the country are woefully non-specific, other than asking us to not travel if sick and to avoid cruise ships.

What about who can enter Canada? Here we get some clarity.

“Upkeep of property” is specifically deemed an “optional reason.” This means property-owning foreigners with “essential maintenance issues” would not be allowed to enter Canada.

What’s good for the goose doesn’t appear to be good for the gander.

Shree Paradkar is a National Affairs writer.

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