Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland
© SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILESCanadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.
I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany ... on the importance of early learning and childcare.

— Chrystia Freeland, Finance Minister.
Beware of politicians having epiphanies.

It's quite enough to deal with them when their inspirations are earth-bound, but when they start receiving prompts from the celestial world it's time to really start worrying.

In full and fair justice to Minister Freeland, it is very clear that she was not, repeat not, alluding to divine authorities or archangelic visitation when she spoke of having an epiphany. The minister was instead calling on the word's secondary meaning, that of being visited by a sudden thought, what we sometimes call a flash of insight. And so it is on purely mundane grounds that we must approach her comments.

Now Liberals have been promising something like national child care for nearly a couple of decades. From which we might deduce that the need or justification for it has been established and clearly on their minds before even the phrase COVID-19 was invented, and well before its current and cruel manifestation.

And if it has, in their understanding, and for so long in their councils, been seen as either justified or necessary purely on its own merits, what is there about COVID-19 that attends such a program, as an epiphany in the minister's mind? Is she saying or implying that without some sort of national, indeed international, medical crisis, a case for such a program could not be made? Obviously, she is not, because as already demonstrated the Liberals have been dangling national child care promises for years. So often in fact it might be seen as one of their favourites. It's up there with ending boil-water advisories on reserves.

Perhaps instead we should attend to the other, more troubling phrase, her characterization of COVID-19 as a "political opportunity." It's troubling for two reasons. This plague has brought death and vast anxiety to very, very many people. It is, to be most gentle, in any context, more than jarring for a leading public figure to characterize it as a "political opportunity."

Comment: This "plague" has done nothing of the kind. The disease itself has brought death in similar numbers as the annual flu and the 'vast anxiety' has been brought through unjustified panic and lockdown measures. It has nothing to do with Covid.

To those who follow politics it immediately calls to mind that crass attitude of mind of Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's chief-of-staff, when he declared, with a super abundance of cynicism "never let a crisis go to waste."

It is not right, and it is not proper, that politicians, Liberal or Tory, Republican or Democrat, at any time play politics under the cover of tragedy. It is also neither right nor proper to "use" a crisis to bring in policies or programs — that absent such a crisis — they would not bring in or could not bring in. It is equivalent to saying "well, we could do such and such in normal times, but now that people are distracted by anxiety, or off their centre of balance because of the hard times we are going through, if we act now — we'll get it past them."

No one would want a government who thought along such lines. Yet, that there is — and I will try to be fair — a tinge of such callous opportunism present in the current government is hard to miss. Outside of Freeland's perhaps careless phrasing there is the more deliberate declaration made by the PM himself, half a year ago in the UN.

His statement was as follows: "This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset. ... This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine economic systems." That is far more declarative and direct than Freeland's musing. He was saying for his government, and pointing out to other governments that the pandemic gave them the "chance" as he put it "to accelerate" — and this is the key part — "our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine economic systems."

Opportunity for a reset. Our pre-pandemic efforts. There were ideas, on a vast scale — how else to describe the reimagining of "economic systems?" — that were present before the pandemic, but now the COVID-19 crisis gives us the "opportunity" to pursue. The Liberals have a much freer hand to reimagine our national economies, to restructure economic systems. Without the COVID crisis they could not, or would not dare to try.

That's actually a pretty dark run of thought. That is, or at the very least certainly appears to be, a plain statement that COVID-19 could or should be seen as a "political opportunity" to pursue broad ideological ambitions.

Freeland may have been a little careless or loose in her phrasing. The prime minister's declaration has about it, in contrast, clear evidence of pre-thought and considered reflection. If he was serious I expect the direction of his "reimagined" Canadian economy is one where our national energy industry, the building of pipelines, and support for all the worlds directly and indirectly supported by the energy industry will have very little place.

We'll get more than a hint of what is actually the case in just about a week, when for the first time in a long time Canadians are allowed to see the books — or at least have a peep at them. The Budget at last.