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Mr. Legault, we deserve the truth

For almost two years, the people of Quebec have shown great solidarity. We have collectively made a colossal effort despite the fear, disappointment, anger and frustration.

Like the vast majority of us, I held on, agreeing to abide by the rules laid down by our government. Whether or not I agree with the strategy deployed, I recognized my limits and submitted to public health directives.

Not being a doctor or a researcher in epidemiology, I restricted myself, not to say confined myself, to playing platform managers with colleagues or friends. COVID and its many variants have forced our specialists to work quickly, often successfully and to the benefit of the majority. They still do.

As a citizen, I have been in solidarity with our political leaders. The Prime Minister and his team have earned my respect, sometimes my admiration. They weren’t perfect, but who can be under such circumstances. It takes a lot of energy, patience, courage and determination to draw from within yourself the strength to come back to meet journalists every day and answer questions. Getting up every morning with the challenge of fighting for the collective well-being is admirable.

Until Thursday, François Legault, the two directors of public health as well as the two ministers of health have kept my sympathy. Limited in my knowledge and expertise, I weighed the pros and cons of measures like curfews, but from a theoretical point of view.

At Thursday’s press conference, empathy and sympathy were strained. For a rare time, the team sitting in front of the journalists ventured onto terrain that I know well. If I refrained from harsh judgments until then, this time I had the skills and experience to speak out.

For the first time yesterday, I could confirm that we were twisting the facts or portraying a situation that does not correspond to reality. If it weren’t for the respect I still have for Premier Legault’s contribution, I would say he lied.

Before elaborating a little on the back-to-school context, I would first like to take a little detour through the government’s strategy. Mr. Legault projected on Thursday the image of a confident and good-humored man. “Good news,” he said, pointing out that we may have reached the top of the wave. At least it would be done these days or very soon.

Mr. Legault is a leader and he has shown it on numerous occasions over the past two years. I understood the need to reinvigorate the morale of his fellow citizens and to give hope. Who would want to follow a downcast or resigned leader? This mood also seemed to me to herald a new way of looking at the crisis. As we have been told I do not remember how many times, Omicron is a different animal that must be managed differently.

More virulent, but less severe in its symptoms, the most recent variant opens the door to possible multiplication. For a while we forgot about hospitalizations, crowded emergency rooms or intensive care almost at the limit of their capacity. We no longer talk about the number of infections per day. Not because we can no longer count them correctly because there are so many, but because we are less sick of Omicron than of Delta.

Already at this point in the press conference I felt out of step with our Prime Minister. In my view, all things considered, more cases of a less dangerous variant can still place an additional burden on a system that cracks everywhere, despite the heroic efforts of all hospital staff. The celebrations seemed premature to me, to say the least. But I digress …

This is not the only mention of the “good news” that made me tickle. Despite my incomprehension or my inability to apprehend the situation other than according to the paradigms used until now, it is rather on the topic of the new school year that I felt cheated.

The Prime Minister, the Minister of Health and the new National Director of Public Health have supported the return to class of students and pupils, from elementary to college. There too I thought that with the state of the health system, we should perhaps delay the start of classes or even rely on virtual education for a few weeks. But who am I to question the analysis of Dr Boileau, whose expertise and experience guarantee undeniable competence?

As a parent and educator, the arguments in favor of going back to class are known to me and I subscribe to the opinions of experts who raise issues of mental health, socialization or the effects on success, learning disabilities and dropping out. Here the prime minister was preaching to a convert.

So I dropped out elsewhere. When? First of all, by thinking that we had made the shift towards achieving collective immunity without calling things by name. It’s already big. Moreover, Minister Roberge and the Prime Minister weighed their words carefully by affirming that everything was in place to allow school personnel to prepare for a “safe” return to school.

I could not estimate the percentage of my fellow citizens who believed that we had all the means, the best means, to limit the spread of the virus and the possible slippages, but I no longer count the sharp and heated reactions of many colleagues and friends who teach in elementary, secondary or college. Many have stopped believing.

You probably already know the list of problems. We haven’t solved them in two years, or we have only partially solved them. I am about to start my session in a closed room, with around forty students sitting shoulder to shoulder. The average duration of our courses is three hours …

If the teachers and students are almost all vaccinated twice, it is unrealistic to think that a sufficient percentage of all these beautiful people will have benefited from their third injection for the start of the school year. If the information we are given is correct, a double dose will offer little protection against Omicron.

Despite this precarious context, there is no question of giving up or breaking solidarity. As I have been doing for many years now, I will be there, attentive to the needs of my students and enthusiastic about sharing knowledge and skills.

Others than me have been sacrificing much more and for a long time. My thoughts are with the staff of our hospitals and those who take over in our grocery stores or our essential services. Like all those I want to make my contribution.

If I had a request to send to Mr. Legault, whose resilience I salute, it would be to no longer distort the facts and to put all the information on the table. In my opinion, too much emphasis is placed on the 10% of the unvaccinated, to the detriment of the admirable solidarity of Quebecers.

Prime Minister, if we have made the shift towards seeking collective immunity, I will follow you. If your experts think it’s better to be in class and we’ve reached the breaking point for our kids, I’ll roll up my sleeves and get down to business. I will do so on one condition: the truth. Teachers do not have all the means, let alone the best.

Do you want determined and united citizens in this war that we are waging against a devious and tenacious enemy? Make sure you don’t shake their confidence like you shake mine. We have long won the right to know. Cynics sometimes claim that you lose an election by looking people in the eye and telling them the truth. I’m offering very little if that’s what is at stake, but you would earn my respect and, quite possibly, my vote.