Over the past few decades, there’s been a decided decline in leadership throughout the political spectrum.
Leadership once meant exactly that — leading. These days however, it’s come to mean watching public opinion polls and blowing with the wind, or triangulating amongst special-interest groups. In both cases, the goal appears to be power for the sake of power itself.
It’s a paradigm that was on full display during the dying days of the last NDP government and, about halfway through its second term, is starting to show itself in the Pallister government too.
That’s why a recent open letter from Brandon Burley, mayor of the City of Morden, was a breath of fresh air. Widely distributed on social media, it was a heartfelt plea for his fellow citizens to protect themselves, and others in the province, from the COVID pandemic by getting vaccinated.
Burley, living and governing in a region of the province noted for COVID deniers and low vaccine uptake, has been somewhat of a poster child for public health.
In November of 2020, he took to his Facebook page and announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and urged others to take the disease seriously.
“For anyone who says ‘COVID is just a cold,’ I can confirm it’s not, in no way whatsoever,” the mayor wrote at the time. “Tests came back positive in our house, and I feel like I’m dead or dying 23 hours a day.”
Unfortunately, Burley’s post-recovery support for COVID-related public health measures, and opposition to COVID-denial and anti-mask sentiment, has also made him a lightning rod for dissenters in the Morden-Winkler area, where skepticism seems to run deep.
In April of this year, the Winnipeg Free Press reported, he was in his yard with his seven-year-old son, barbecuing burgers, when a group of vehicles blasting air horns pulled up in front of his house. One of the protesters enquired “Are you wanting to die or what?”...
Burley himself later conceded that it could be an expression of worry that a vaccine was harmful and even deadly, but also told the publication that in the moment, it felt like a threat.
Undeterred, Burley hasn’t wavered from his position on the reality of COVID and the benefit of a robust vaccination program.
He acknowledged in his writing that this could carry a political cost, but also noted that it was the right thing to do, and was consistent with his “full conviction” of the facts.
He added that he’d told fellow council members on more than one occasion that their job as a council through the pandemic was to keep as many of their constituents as possible alive, so they could vote them out at the next election if they disagreed.
Burley’s letter urged citizens to put their differences aside, and to reach out to their neighbours to encourage the “vaccine-hesitant” amongst them to get their shots.
“We are in a moment of crises right now — a moment at which we need the co-operation of our friends throughout the region for our safety and protection,” Burley wrote.
He added that derision and provocation were not the path to the desired end result, but that while it might be satisfying, it “...will not get a single shot in a single arm. It will rather lead to the entrenchment of views that might be weakly held, and almost certainly won’t cause COVID-deniers to honestly examine their own positions.”
“In short, I am asking us to build bridges and not foxholes, because we need each other,” he concluded.
Farmers in the region — and throughout the province — have a role to play in encouraging vaccinations. You’re frequently seen as respected community leaders and reliable independent voices.
Many among you have long spoken of the need for consistent, science-based policies in everything from trade to crop protection, and there aren’t many clearer-cut cases of a strong scientific case than the efficacy of vaccines.
They’ve tamed other killer diseases like polio and smallpox, and have brought our society to the point where some among us have the luxury of being able to refuse vaccines.
As my colleague John Greig, editor of sister publication Farmtario pointed out recently, it’s no coincidence the oldest among us — and therefore the most likely to have seen some of these diseases in person — have extremely high vaccination rates.
Perhaps we should also encourage some of these citizens to speak out to the younger generations about the importance of getting their shots.
Vaccinations will get our province through to better days, and we should all get our shots if we’re medically able to, and encourage everyone else we know to get theirs.
It’s our duty as Manitobans.