Kurl: Summer stagnation displaces thoughts on COVID-19, Ukraine

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It’s the perfect time of year.
somewhere far from here
I feel good enough I guess
Considering that everything is a mess

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Two decades after iconic Canadian band Barenaked Ladies released Pinch Me, it’s not an obvious choice for the song of summer 2022.

The songs of summer are usually upbeat, upbeat, upbeat tunes. But the Ladies’ sleepy tune seems all too aptly to sum up where Canadians seem to be, while the country, and the world around them, burns both figuratively and literally.

It’s the perfect time of day/To get rid of all your worries.

And who can blame us for wanting it, this midsummer? We are by our own admission an exhausted nation. In March, more than half told the Angus Reid Institute that their mental health had deteriorated after two years of the pandemic and uncertainty. This was long before anyone had started to fully process the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the unyielding doggedness of COVID-19, or inflation rates at their highest point in 40 years.

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Go upstairs to my room/Sleep the afternoon

Data points on two key issues clearly illustrate the situation.

This week, as new infections, hospitalizations and outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities rose across the country, nearly half of Canadians, including a whopping 68 per cent of men ages 18 to 34 They said they “don’t think about COVID much more.” Most under-55s say they no longer follow coronavirus news closely. This age divide extends to views on whether to reintroduce preventative measures such as the mask and vaccine mandates, which were largely lifted in the spring.

It’s been said so many times, but it bears repeating. This virus, and its persistent ability to mutate faster than we can stick vaccines to our arms (especially in the context of declining interest among significant segments of the population to get vaccinated).

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Canadians this week also weighed in on the Trudeau government’s decision to grant Germany’s request to return the Nord Stream 1 turbines, recently repaired in Montreal, to a Russian state oil company. The subject is complex and thorny. On the one hand, it is necessary to stand firm in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine and adhere to our own sanctions. On the other hand, there is the importance of helping key NATO allies like Germany, which is currently facing a very cold winter and an unprecedented energy crisis without access to Russian natural gas.

I was not surprised that Canadians are evenly divided on the decision to return the turbines. Just over a third said it was the right decision. The same number said it was the wrong one. What I found most alarming was the one-third unable to offer an opinion, in part because the “reviewed” factor in the Ukraine conflict has increased significantly in recent months. Where two-thirds were closely following events in early May, that number has dropped to just over half today.

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Like a dream you try to remember but it’s gone / Then you try to scream but it only comes out as a yawn

It may seem that way, but I’m not lifting a critical finger. Believe me, no one could want to retire to a hammock and a book more than I do for the next six weeks. I’m also not trying to be a harbinger of more difficult times to come. I don’t have to be. They will come anyway. We simply, by our own admission, are not paying attention.

The lack of commitment now will impact how well equipped we are to deal with COVID-19 this fall. The geopolitical decisions we make now will greatly influence how we trust our allies, and in turn, they will be able to trust them in the months and years to come.

As a friend recently told me, “we are entitled to our summer.” Maybe we are. But along with all the other things that are going up in price, it’s a right that we may not be able to afford.

Shachi curls is president of the Angus Reid Institute, a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public opinion research foundation.

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