There used to be grammar rules for the summer, just like there used to be grammar rules for writing a sentence in grade seven. The subject had to be down time (no work), a time away from the endless pursuit of money. The action verb could be a canoe trip or other outdoor escapade. The object was re-invigorating time with friends and family; the punctuation was outdoor music and cold cider announced with the seductive tinkling of ice cubes. The COVID-19 pandemic has trashed all of that.
While down time, canoe trips, unstructured time with family and friends and cold frosty glasses are still possible, they have all been morphed into sad imitations of their former selves by the pandemic. The down time has been colonized by never-ending domestic projects that empty weeks and months have rendered inescapable. Hovering over these projects are the twin Angels of Inevitability and Gloom (“when else will we ever have the time to clean out the basement / re-paint the house / ad infinitum,” and “what will we live on when my CERB runs out? / will you ever get called back to work?”). The outdoor escapades are mired in emotion bureaucracy; the feared domestic projects have taken up all the oxygen in the season. The time with friends now happens on Zoom. The music is all online and the cold frosty glasses are quaffed furtively alone at home.
Uncertainty was the only guarantee as a discussion topic, and everyone around me was totally obsessed by the pandemic. So, the pandemic seemed to be inevitable topic du jour.
Like most bullies, the pandemic has not arrived in our lives alone. A serious recession, unemployment levels not seen for 90 years, the hottest summer on record and a prolonged drought have tagged along for the ride, just to provide extra intimidation. I entered this pandemic living a charmed life; I was able to work at home for a month as the spring semester at the college where I teach part-time switched from classroom to online delivery. But that was then. By the end of April, all the pages in my day timer were turning up blank.
Searching for structure, I turned to my weekly broadcast/podcast called Pints & Politics. I have been hosting a weekly program panel discussion program on Trent Radio, a local campus and community station here in Peterborough (CFFF, 92.7 FM), for over two years. We rant about all things political every Thursday evening, then I upload the program the next day as a podcast episode. Uncertainty was the only guarantee as a discussion topic, and everyone around me was totally obsessed by the pandemic. So, the pandemic seemed to be inevitable topic du jour.
Between the end of March and the end of June, I posted the following 9 episodes on pandemic life in Peterborough and what the future might bring. I talked with Sylvia Sutherland, a journalist and former mayor of Peterborough. I also talked with Kemi Akapo, a current Peterborough city councillor. Other guests on these panels included Sean Conway, a current band councillor for Curve Lake First Nation, Ian Attridge, a lawyer and university faculty member, Gywneth James, an accountant, business leaders Stuart Harrison and Paul Bennett, editor and Transition Town activist Cheryl Lyon, property manager Jenny Lanciault, math teacher and playwright Tim Etherington, campaign manager and consultant Lauren Hunter, editor and writer Donald Fraser, community planner Sarah Cullingham, theatre artists Kate Story and Ryan Kerr, Artspace director Jon Lockyer, student leaders Malakia Collette, Annabelle Valiant Fraser, Jake Douglas and Kaia Martin, Meaghan Hennekam, executive director of the YES Shelter, Christian Harvey, executive director of One Roof Peterborough, Jonathan Bennett, senior associate of Laridae Consulting, Kirsten Armbrust, executive director of the Community Counselling and Resource Centre, Yvonne Lai, director of community development at the New Canadians Centre, Brianna Salmon, executive director of GreenUp and Michael Vanderherberg, director of housing at One City Peterborough; these panelists gave listeners a kaleidoscope of hopes and fears about the future. What did these community leaders say? Four themes emerged: precarity, leadership, policy choices, and the potential for a better future.
Precarity was a dominant theme for those working with the homeless and in the non-profit sector. Even during so-called good times (BTP – Before the Pandemic), shelters and other non-profit organizations limp by on very thin budgets. The people they serve have nothing to fall back on. To learn more about these organizations and their survival strategies for the future, listen to:
- Episode #83 — What’s been the impact of the pandemic on Peterborough’s homeless people?
Guests: Meagan Hennekam, and Christian Harvey
- Episode #88 — What changes will the pandemic leave behind for Peterborough’s non-profits?
Guests: Jonathan Bennett, Kirsten Armburst, Yvonne Lai, Brianna Salmon, and Micheal Vanderherberg
Precarity and fear of the future were also dominant themes for some artists:
- Episode #90 — How can Peterborough best support its artists through this pandemic?
Guests: Kate Story, Ryan Kerr, and Jon Lockyer
Competent leadership was a theme that dominated the political discussions on all the political panels so far. The federal government, Peterborough’s city council and the Premier of Ontario all received varying expressions of confidence or at least tentative approval:
- Episode #82 — What’s happened so far and what might change
Guests: Jenny Lanciault, Lauren Hunter, Tim Etherington, and Donald Fraser
- Episode #85 — How are decisions being made during this new normal?
Guests: Jenny Lanciault, Sean Conway, Lauren Hunter, Sylvia Sutherland, and Tim Etherington
- Episode #89 — Policing, racism & the pandemic
Guests: Jenny Lanciault, Sean Conway, Sylvia Sutherland, and Tim Etherington
The future holds dangers but also positive possibilities. The theme of choice (positive and otherwise) came up in these episodes. Will we simply re-build our way of life as it was before the pandemic, or will we dare to repair and re-invent that which we know can be improved?
- Episode #84 (Parts 1 & 2) — Which future should we aim for as Peterborough re-opens when the pandemic fades?
Guests: Cheryl Lyon, Kemi Akapo, Sarah Cullingham, and Ian Attridge
- Episode #86 — Four Peterborough students look at environmental politics & the pandemic
Guests: Malakia Collette, Annabelle Valiant Fraser, Jake Douglas, and Kaia Martin
Finally, tumultuous change and the potential for a more cohesive and independent community came up in a discussion about the financial and business impacts of the pandemic:
- Episode #87 — Money, debt & surviving the pandemic: a look at Peterborough’s future
Guests: Gywneth James, Stuart Harrison, Sylvia Sutherland, and Paul Bennett
As a host, I was once again struck by the breadth and depth of perspective in our community. Peterborough is blessed with an abundance of talented people with very useful experiences and expertise on how to walk the path that is opening before us as this pandemic recedes. We need to have these conversations. We need to listen to each other.
Bill Templeman is the host of Pints & Politics, a podcast that be accessed through iTunes or Stitcher or here: https://pintsandpolitics.ptbopodcasters.ca. You can reach him at email@example.com
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