Yes, it's as bad as you think it is
Dispatches from the Left
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The Sask Party burning it all down
Bilderschreiber via Flickr
Saskatchewan is, for reasons both environmental and political, often a challenging place to live. But over the past several months, the situation inside the province has degraded to the point that it is almost unbearable. Since the provincial government prematurely ended the public health order requiring masking in all public spaces on July 11 in a news release grimly titled “Living with COVID-19,” the numbers of the sick and the dead have skyrocketed. October is now on track to become the deadliest month since the pandemic was declared more than a year and a half ago. As of Thursday, 143 people have died this month - nearly 40 each week. More than one-quarter of new cases in the province are in children under the age of 12, and three children in the province have died, accounting for 16 per cent of all child COVID deaths in Canada, even though the province’s children account for only 3 per cent of the youth population.
Scott Moe, who may well replace Grant Devine as the most reviled and despicable premier the province has ever seen, has callously refused to implement new restrictions, despite physicians in Saskatchewan begging him, and the incompetent health minister Paul Merriman, to do so. Moe claims that the case numbers are dropping, but that’s almost certainly because the amount of testing has declined, and not because there is less COVID in the population. Last week the armed forces were deployed to the province, which is a medical disaster zone, to help airlift COVID-19 patients to Ontario because the province’s ICUs no longer have the capacity to care for them. Life-saving surgeries have been postponed and cancelled, and people have or will die because of this, probably many of them. On October 20, the province’s chief medical officer, Saqib Shahab, cried during a live teleconference as he presented COVID modelling for the province.
No empty beds here
Concordia University via Flickr
And on Thursday, we all found out why. There has been speculation over the past weeks and months about why Moe has been committed to doing absolutely nothing to protect the lives of Saskatchewan residents. That he is playing to his base, that he is appeasing the antimask crowd, that he is trying to keep “the economy” open. But on Thursday Moe said that he wasn’t sure when the two hundred and seventy-five healthcare services that have been cut will be brought back, but suggested that privatizing certain services might free up some “folks.” It seems clear now that at least part of the reason that the Sask Party – which has been committedly and doggedly fileting the province like a fish for a decade and a half, carving it up and selling the choicest pieces – has been allowing people to die long, agonizing, and unnecessary deaths, is in order to privatize certain services and to undermine the quality of the public healthcare system.
Moe has killed through negligence before, but to suggest that what is happening here is negligence is to be too generous. Scott Moe, and his entire cabinet, know that what they are doing is killing people. They know that there are terrified people who were awaiting transplants and cancer surgeries and bypasses, who would have certainly lived if they had been able to have those surgeries, who may now die unnecessarily and in utter anguish because of the choices that are being made in this province every day. This is beyond negligence. It is social murder. It is the deliberate decision to allow an untold number of people to die in order to advance political aims. It is a level of depraved indifference that is almost unspeakable, and it is made all the worse by the dissonance between the devastating conditions facing Saskatchewan people and the premier’s blithe tweets and statements about retail trade increasing by 4.2 per cent in August or his “optimism” for the province’s future.
Housing is a human right
Daniel Moskowitz via Flickr
And it’s not just the pandemic. Saskatchewan, under the catastrophic leadership of Minister of Social Services Lori Carr, rolled out a new social services program that has had brutalizing consequences for poor people. Over the past several weeks, Regina has seen the growth of a tent encampment, called Camp Marjorie after a mother and community member who died because of the province’s unchecked drug toxicity crisis, grow from one tent to more than 60, because so many people are being evicted due to the inadequate funds provided by the SIS program. And despite Murray Mandryk’s absurd column where he argued that Saskatchewan – a place where police have used the cold as a method of extrajudical execution of Indigenous men within living memory – is a place that “would not let our cattle freeze, much less our people,” it is abundantly clear that the Sask Party does not care if Saskatchewan people freeze to death, and they may even desire that as an outcome because it means fewer people attempting to navigate the byzantine social services system to access whatever meagre supports exist. And while the provincial government continues to intentionally and methodically violate the dignity and humanity of the people who live here, they talk about investing more money in police and prisons, to stamp out “crime.”
And the government is not alone in this assault on the people of this province. Many of our own neighbours are deeply and viciously invested in causing us harm. At a rally on Wednesday to call on the Sask Party to immediately reverse the devastating changes to the welfare system, anti-maskers gathered in a counter protest, bearing heinous signs and taunting members of their own community. And the comments sections on stories about Camp Marjorie contain some of the vilest, most inhumane comments about the value of the lives of our brothers and sisters that could possibly be made. People talk about leaving here for good, and they talk about feeling like they are losing their minds from the gap between what is happening and what is being acknowledged.
This is a deep, dark moment in a province that has had its share of dark moments. And there is little hope of structural changes in the near future. There is still organizing going on on the ground. People are doing the work that they can do to support their communities, and that matters, that is saving lives. But in a place where the elected leadership is refusing to acknowledge the acute suffering that is happening in every corner and community in this province, it’s important to acknowledge that the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social suffering that people are experiencing is real. If people are feeling bad, if their mental health is tanking, there is good reason for that. We are in a period of prolonged collective suffering, and while I would encourage you not to despair, and to look for those who are helping, and do what you can to help as well, you’re not wrong to be afraid, or furious, or to feel like you’re losing your grip. It’s as bad as you think it is.
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