Sacrifices We Make (and Our Leaders Don't)

Maybe it isn't the best time to fly to St. Barts or Barbados or Hawaii or Arizona or California or Mexico or the UK or

Sacrifices We Make (and Our Leaders Don't)

There’s audible mumbling as the screen shakes and shifts. Portrait, landscape, portrait again. Finally, it settles and I see the stage, chancel, and the altar with a small foldout table in front of it. On the table are flowers, a candle, and a framed portrait of my grandfather.

This is his funeral. I’m watching it on Facebook Live. It’s happening in Lac La Biche, Alberta, at a church I spent vast chunks of my childhood in—and loathed every second. But I would’ve given anything to be there in that moment instead of seeing it happen through my laptop in Vancouver.

“I want to thank each and every one of you for what we are doing to protect our most vulnerable while we celebrate this very, very special, but challenging holiday season,” Ontario’s former Finance Minister Rod Philips expresses flatly in a prerecorded video his social media team tweeted out on Christmas Eve. Clad in a turtleneck sweater and flanked by a roaring fireplace and gingerbread house, he sips awkwardly from a glass of eggnog.

It would end up being especially challenging for Phillips, who’d been in St. Barts since December 8th, and would subsequently resign from his cabinet position on New Year’s eve (while remaining a member of the provincial legislature) after the discovery of his out-of-country trip rightly caused a media firestorm.

It was a “dumb, dumb mistake,” Phillips would later say of his holiday and pre-meditated social media campaign designed to give the illusion that he was still in his riding of Ajax, eggnog in hand. Demoted for a “mistake” that federal and provincial government officials had been pleading with the public for weeks not to make, in hopes of avoiding another deadly spike in COVID-19 cases.

My aunty begins to play the church piano, Amazing Grace tinkles through the screen. The only people in the pews are my grandmother, my dad, stepmother, uncles, aunts, and my grandfather’s remaining brother. Ten people in total, all masked and distanced, in accordance with Alberta’s health guidelines for funerals.

Rows and rows of pews that would otherwise be filled with grandchildren, extended family, and members of the community that my grandfather has been a part of for over eight decades, sit empty.

“In hindsight, all I can do is apologize,” said Alberta’s former Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard. “I was looking to honour a tradition with my family, respecting the guidelines.” The UCP party member continued at a news conference, explaining why her family spent the winter holiday in Hawaii during a global pandemic.

The former minister, who resigned on January 4th following an uproar on social media after her trip was made public, also made news back in October—for contracting COVID-19.

At the lectern, my uncle pauses partway through the eulogy, right before an anecdote about the friendly bets my grandparents used to make on everything from what someone’s maiden name was to the date a relative had come to visit. Sealed with a handshake but never cashed in on, it was an unknowable debt grown over 57 years.

My uncle’s voice cracks as he apologizes for the moment he needs to collect himself.

"Despite the fact that travel is not prohibited, we are aware of the magnitude of criticism against people travelling south," Quebec’s Liberal Party member Pierre Arcand said following blowback surrounding his holiday trip to Barbados. “Criticism,” not the risk to the public’s health, it seems would ultimately lead to Arcand being stripped of his role as critic in the Liberal’s shadow cabinet on January 4th.

“Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father,” the priest says as he readies himself to deliver the eucharist. He sanitizes and puts on a mask before coming around to the front of the altar, body of Christ in hand.

I think about the plane ticket I bought, how I planned to visit my grandfather, ailing from cancer, before cancelling as case numbers in Alberta spiked dramatically. How I couldn’t say goodbye. How the closest I’ll get to doing so until the pandemic is over is through this screen, as countless others in this country have had to do. I’m grateful to at least be able to see.

The camera pans to my grandmother, hands together in her lap, who I’m seeing now for the first time in my life as alone. Who will return to her care home alone. Part of the sacrifices made to protect our most vulnerable.

“Millions of Albertans have made real sacrifices over the past 10 months to help keep each other safe. They are right to be angry about people in positions of leadership vacationing outside of the country.” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said through a Facebook post on January 4th, after accepting the resignations of various members of his party who skirted public health recommendations.

Mind you, he didn’t stop them from jet-setting beforehand, didn’t consider or care about the risk they posed to their communities and the communities they travelled to, only acting once #ResignKenney started trending.

But to be fair, how can we expect these people to lead without heads, hearts, or guts.

“When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.”

My aunty sings, pressing into the piano keys as the camera pans back to the photo of my grandfather before it shakes and cuts to black.