At this point in lockdown, incompetence rules. People are fretful to their core, tired but not a good-kind-of-tired, sleepless and when they do sleep, oh what dreams may come. Work done at a distance seems slightly unreal. We make small mistakes, different each time, and we berate ourselves. But this is lockdown life.
So it was so restorative to see Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland present a federal budget that was so competent, so sensible. Women’s economic progress collapsed in the pandemic — their employment sank to levels not seen since the 1980s — and how were women, especially women with children, going to haul themselves out of that chasm?
Freeland announced $16.1 billion in new federal spending, with $8.4 billion of that going toward a national child care system. Child care is up there with rent and mortgage payments as the biggest household expense. It’s intolerable.
This will help women immeasurably; no wonder the Conservatives have little to say. The budget’s theme is not just the current morass but climate change, transit, and housing, all prepping for a rapidly changing future.
It’s not that I was expecting the first budget in two years to be a battered shoe box with a collection of scrawled notes, void cheques, an enemies list, and receipts. But I thought it might be wild, outré, cage-fightable.
But Freeland made her case the way she always does, rationally, courteously, wearing shoes by a local designer, and with a perfect grasp of what is desirable and possible.
Other sensible stars: Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s medical officer of health, who suspended businesses with five or more COVID-19 cases (Toronto followed); police across Ontario who declined Premier Ford’s sinister offer of randomly stopping and carding everyone breathing outside air.
I single them out because, as you may have noticed, Canadians are not functioning. People are incompetent. Here in the land of tired, we’re doing our best and our best is not great.
Newspapers regularly run stories labelled “two months ago” or “four days ago” just to fill the space, which is odd because old news is not news, and online there’s no defined space anyway. CBC.ca is the worst offender with many COVID-19 hard-luck stories like loaves of bread, staler by the day.
Again, doing our best. As was my local streetcleaner, a new guy driving alone in a huge blue tank trying to scrub the street as city workers shovelled up brown gunk glued to the edges.
I watched him having a nervous collapse. He couldn’t steer, damaged trees, forgot to put the scrubbers down, went round the block 16 times, and in the end the road still looked like a plowed field.
In the distance he saw a car parked, idling, and a family desperately trying to unload groceries before he got there, parents shouting at little kids to haul bags. He knew he had another 12 rounds on my street before turning onto theirs.
What did he do? He turned and chased the family. I said he was useless; I never said he was nice about it.
Rogers Wireless croaks. A lab has no record of my appointment. Instacart delivers three mushrooms. A grocery website says it has rabbit; it has none. The oiks in the store say rabbit is only sold on certain holidays. What? Who eats the Easter Bunny? Well, terrible people like me, routinely. That’s worse than fur coats.
I buy the wrong garden hose. Since I don’t return purchases — it’s a matter of principle — I live with my mistakes. Until COVID-19, I never made a misstep. Now we have four garden hoses.
The cut tulips turn rancid the day I bring them home. The landscaper deplores my garden. Whose idea was the katsura? (Not mine?) Tell the truth, do you really like euonymus? (Yes? No?) Nobody plants box any more. (Sorry.) I feel degraded, root-bound. I am incompetent.
I call the fridge repairman about a continual buzzing sound. A disassembled fridge and $200 later, he is mystified. I suddenly realize two cans of cider have been vibrating tightly every time the fridge starts up. Mortified, I thank him profusely.
He is remarkably competent. I am not. I am the trend. We are all the trend.
Heather Mallick is a Toronto-based columnist covering current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @HeatherMallick