The best summer ever

Scott Gilmore: The upside to the ongoing border lockdown is that for the first summer in ages Canadians have the country to themselves. Get out and enjoy it.
A paddler heads out in Algonquin Park on June 11, 2021 (Fred Thornhill/CP)
Olivia Gerelus goes for a sunset paddle in Algonquin Park Friday June 11, 2021. With provincial re-opening people from across Ontario flocked to Ontario’s marquee provincial park. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill

We rarely need encouragement to get out and enjoy the summer. Typically, Canadians spend 10 months of the year thinking about summertime, then two months of the year revelling in joyful warmth, before the first cool breeze of September sends us back to another 10 months of longing.

Under normal circumstances, no one has to tell Canadians to get out there and enjoy the good weather. But, these are not normal times. For over a year every political leader, medical professional and authority figure has warned us to stay indoors, stand apart, remain alone, mask up, lock up and hide. All the billboards, PSAs and speeches have had an impact. We are not only better and slowing transmission of the COVID virus, we are now also instinctively leery of simply getting near anyone. Even watching movies can be unsettling if two unmasked characters shake hands, or worse, kiss.

For many of us, the idea of rushing out to a music festival, a crowded beach or even a restaurant patio remains unnerving. Ironically, months and months of isolation has not made us yearn for human contact, but rather to fear it.

And, for those of us who do want to dive back into a life of crowded airports, busy bars and raucous dinner parties, it is still maddeningly unclear what is and is not allowed. The country remains a patchwork of confusing restrictions. The rules, and the decisions on when to remove them are clearly not being driven by science, otherwise there would be some common rhyme and reason.

Instead, we have provincial health officers, from coast to coast, singing from different song sheets, and patronizing politicians explaining that we are in fact not confused, and pretending otherwise is merely a partisan attack on their honest efforts—next question please.

Canadians currently find themselves both crippled by Pavlovian conditioning and hindered by incompetent politicking. Vaccinated or not, seizing the summer is not as easy as it sounds.

Nonetheless, we need to make a collective effort and try. Not only do we owe it to our long-suffering selves to bump into a few happy strangers, this summer also presents a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Look around. Notice the lack of Americans? Thanks to the fact our Prime Minister is worried Ontario Premier Doug Ford might continue to say mean things about him, he has opted to keep fully vaccinated Americans out of Canada. Other countries are being slightly less timid. They, understandably, realize that fully vaccinated visitors, who test negative for COVID before and after landing, present almost zero risk to public health, while also bringing in billions of badly needed tourist dollars. So, the doors to France and Mexico are wide open, while Canada remains shut.

No amount of angry gesticulating from the governors of border states or diplomatic wrangling from officials in Washington will change Ottawa’s mind. This is not about the science, or even the economics. Like most other decisions taken by our political leaders during this pandemic, it is simply about poll numbers and approval ratings.

The upside, however, is this may be the first summer in 100 years where we have the country to ourselves. From Molly’s Reach to Peggy’s Cove, there won’t be a foreign tourist in sight. Finally, some elbow room for all of us. Now is the time to stroll down Banff Ave and watch the sun set over Mount Norquay; or walk aimlessly through the National Gallery in Ottawa, or wander around the Roosevelt estate on Campobello Island. The prices will never be lower, and the crowds will never be smaller than they will be this summer. Under these circumstances, how can you possibly stay home?

Eventually, the border will reopen. Eventually, the tourists will return. Twenty-two million of them, in fact, on a normal year. But, until then, we have this great country to explore. We have a hospitality industry that is desperate for attention. And, most importantly, we have earned every minute of it. So, please, for god, country and yourselves, get vaxxed, get out and look around. This might actually be the best summer ever.