My latest: is it March 2020 all over again?

Remember March 11, 2020?

Of course you do. It was the day the world changed.

It started, as world-endings perhaps do, in unexpected ways. Everyone has their own “where were you” story, like when famous people die suddenly.

This writer was on his couch in Toronto, watching something forgettable on TV, when the unforgettable news blinked onto an iPhone. Tom Hanks and his wife, filming in Australia, announced they had COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Minutes later, a statement from the National Basketball Association appeared. The basketball season was being suspended “until further notice.” A player with the Utah Jazz had it, too.

Truth be told, I wasn’t totally shocked. In my communications class at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law, we had been tracking the coronavirus for weeks, because we were convinced it was going to get worse.

And now it was, dramatically so. I didn’t ever expect the Heralds of Doom would be a Hollywood actor and some basketball players, but perhaps that was needed to communicate that it was real. It was really, really happening.

Observers of the government of Justin Trudeau could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t, however. In the terrifying days that followed, Trudeau’s witless minister of health told Canadians not to wear masks. She said the risk of getting sick was “low.”

And anyone who politely suggested that we should consider closing borders was called a racist by the Trudeau cabal. Subsequently, their acquisition of vaccines became a fiasco, and Canada would lag far behind the Americans and Europeans.

Well, that was March 11, 2020 and the days thereafter. That was the start of this, the COVID Plague. More than five million people have been killed by it; many millions more made seriously ill, some permanently. Economies crushed, businesses decimated, lives upended.

And now — perhaps, maybe — it is starting to feel a bit like March 11, 2020 all over again.

The Heralds of Doom, this time, weren’t actors and basketball players. It was, properly, governments. Within hours early on Friday, they started closing their borders to travellers from African countries. Markets fell, prices rose.

And we all started watching our phones more closely, asking ourselves: is it here already? Federal health officials don’t know.

The new variant initially bore the bland, antiseptic name B.1.1.529 — but was dubbed Omicron by the World Health Organization on Friday.

All of the previous coronavirus mutations were diabolical — slithering, like snakes, around public health measures and personal immunities.

Omicron, first detected in densely-populated South Africa, is incalculably worse, in two critical ways.

Firstly, it is five times more effective at infecting humans than the very worst of the variants.

Secondly — and this the menacing March 11, 2020 fact — it may be powerful enough to defeat the vaccines most of us have in our bodies. As in, we may be just as vulnerable to sickness and death as we were on March 11, 2020.

The good news, of course, is that we know that masks generally work as well as vaccines. Social distancing and regular handwashing help a great deal, as well. So does closing borders to countries with outbreaks — something now happening within hours, not weeks and months.

Also good news: the new federal Minister of Health, Jean Yves Duclos, has already revealed himself to be far more coherent and capable than his bumbling predecessor.

On Friday afternoon, after Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole demanded immediate action.

Duclos announced multiple restrictions on travel to or from seven different African nations. Anyone who has recently been in one of those countries must immediately enter quarantine and get tested, Duclos declared.

So far, so good. Much is at stake: lives, economies, futures. Will Trudeau and his regime do better, this time?

Because, this time may be March 11, 2020 all over again.

— Warren Kinsella was Chief of Staff to a federal Liberal Minister of Health

My latest: pick a lane, Tories

The conservative conference delegate stood to ask a question.

“Warren,” she said, clutching the microphone one of the conference organizers had passed to her, “do you think we as conservatives should spend more time defining who we are?”

Before providing my answer, let me set the scene. I was at a weekend gathering of the Conservative Leadership Foundation, ably led by my friend John Mykytyshyn. On the noontime panel, held in a stately boardroom in Toronto’s Royal Canadian Military Institute, were two people who were way smarter and way better-looking than me: TVO legend Steve Paikin and Conservative strategist (and fellow Postmedia columnist) Tasha Kheiriddin.

But the question had been addressed to me. So I answered it.

“You conservatives spend way too much time agonizing over who you are,” I said to the assembled delegates, many of whom were masked, and all of whom had been verified as fully vaccinated. “I know who you are. You favour smaller government, less taxes, and law and order. You favour individual liberty. That’s it. That’s who you are.”

I paused. “Liberals, and I’ve been one, don’t worry about who we are. We don’t get into big philosophical debates while standing in front of a mirror. We know what we are, above all else: Winning. We win.”

And Canadian conservatives, mostly, don’t. Why? Well, take a gander at what is going on in Ottawa this week.

The vaccination vacillation of Erin O’Toole continued, virtually overshadowing the return of Parliament. One Conservative MP was revealed to have COVID, and any number of others had therefore been possibly exposed at last week’s caucus meeting.

Meanwhile, a number of others were mysteriously absent from the reopening of a Parliament they’d previously insisted needed to reopen. Oh, and a statistically impossible number had “medical exemptions” from vaccination.

So, a question: Do ‘Error O’Terrible’ and his cast of fools think we are dummies? Do they think we’ve not noticed that they’ve equivocated, and obfuscated — and plain old skated — on every reasonable vaccine question directed their way?

Chief of which was, and remains: Are you all vaccinated?

We still don’t know.

As I told the assembled conservative attendees at the aforementioned conference: The COVID-19 pandemic is existential. As in, it directly relates to the existence of human beings. After five million of us have been killed off by this cruel, relentless virus, you’d think O’Toole’s cabal would get this. But they don’t.

“I’m a war room guy,” I told the conservative folk. I’d run majority-winning war rooms for Jean Chretien and Dalton McGuinty. “I don’t care about policy. I care about clarity. That’s what voters want: Clarity.”

That’s the case, I told them, even when the most plain-spoken option is awful. Donald Trump, for example. He was awful. But he spoke in simple, declarative sentences and you knew where he stood.

But with Hillary Clinton — who I proudly worked for, full disclosure, in two states and at her Brooklyn headquarters — you didn’t know where she stood. She was a superior human being to Trump, in every way, and every sane person knew it. But she equivocated. She vacillated. She bobbed and weaved.

Like Erin O’Toole and his team do, on one of the most critical public policy issues of our lifetimes. And he thinks we haven’t noticed.

“We’ve noticed,” I told the conservative conference folks, many of whom were nodding their heads.

“And we’re not impressed.”

— Warren Kinsella has run war rooms for Canadian political parties from B.C. to Ontario.

“A free speech ruling that celebrates (of all things) free speech”

From Michael Taube. Full column here. Snippets below:

“Canada respects the principle of free speech. Unfortunately, our governments often have a love-hate relationship with this important personal freedom. They’ve created several restrictions and barriers that have, at times, made speech appear to be far less free.

Yet, a recent – and important – free speech ruling may be one of those rare birds where Canadians on the left and right have cause to celebrate.

In February, People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier launched a defamation lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court against former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella and his consulting firm Daisy Group.

The Ontario court ultimately found in favour of Kinsella.

Justice Calum MacLeod felt Bernier’s lawsuit didn’t pass the smell test with respect to Section 137.1 of the Courts of Justice Act, which deals with free expression in matters of public interest.

“In my view, the plaintiff runs a significant risk that his action will succumb to one of the defences of justification of fair comment,” he wrote in his Nov. 10 decision…

This particular defamation lawsuit may have focused on a right-leaning political leader, but it’s an important judicial ruling for Canadians of all political stripes.

Neither Canada’s right nor left lost any personal freedoms due to Kinsella’s victory and Bernier’s defeat. The parameters pertaining to discussion and criticism of individuals, public policy and political ideas have been maintained and, in some ways, enhanced by the anti-SLAPP defence.

It’ll also help protect Canadians on the right who wish to criticize someone or something on the left now and in the future.

Free speech hasn’t necessarily won any new converts. Hate speech remains on the books.

However, an individual’s right to speak freely in the Great White North, even in this day and age, is on a more secure footing than ever before.

That deserves free … err, three cheers!”