If the 1960s ended at the Altamont Speedway and the '90s started with the fall of the Soviet Union, then Mike Schreiner knows what moment kicked off the 2020s.
The year that was 2020 began what seems like ages ago, with stories about Harry and Meghan ghosting the royal family, Indigenous rail blockades in Canada, and the tragic downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.
But that was all in the Before Time. And for Schreiner, the year changed on March 11.
In a year-end interview looking back on 2020, and ahead to 2021, he replays the moment when the positive COVID-19 diagnosis of Utah Jazz all-star Rudy Gobert and the immediate suspension of games by the National Basketball Association brought home that this was no ordinary virus.
"As a big-time Raptors fan I was so disappointed because the Raptors were really having a magical season," the Guelph MPP told QP Briefing in a year-end interview for our podcast, reflecting on what now feels like a bygone era.
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The same night actor Tom Hanks also tested positive while filming a movie in Australia. With everything going on Schreiner was happy that the Greens had cancelled a town hall to discuss housing that evening given health concerns.
"We were probably one of the first organizations to cancel an event," he said. "The last headline I want is that somehow we hosted an event that led to the continued spread of the virus."
Schreiner caught another inkling that it was a very serious crisis in the corridors at Queen's Park. At one point, Education Minister Stephen Lecce confided that the situation was a lot more severe than the general public realized at the time.
"A day or two later all the party leaders met with the premier and we had a serious conversation about what was going to happen."
Schreiner appreciated the sense of comity the legislature conducted itself with to go alongside the unique needs of a generational crisis. "We needed to work across party lines to address the crisis we were facing," he said, and through March and most of April, he found that was the case.
But the kumbaya sensibility was unsustainable for the political arena, and Schreiner acknowledged that it was inevitable that Queen's Park would slide back to its old ways.
But he took issue with what he saw as the government using the pandemic in order to pass legislation, particularly on environmental issues. Schreiner singled out the government pausing rules on environmental assessments during the pandemic as one item that he found egregious. There was also legislation in the summer that allowed for less consultation in the environmental assessment process, and controversial changes to conservation authorities as part of the government's budget bill.
That legislation, Bill 229, saw a wholesale pushback from a wide variety of stakeholders. It wasn't just environmental organizations, but also the likes of the Greenbelt Council, Ontario's Big City Mayors, and the former Progressive Conservative staffer who is the chair of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority.
Schreiner said that with a couple more weeks of time he thinks they could have got to a place where the government would have abandoned its position on conservation authorities, but it proceeding with gutting the bodies that protect watersheds and protect homeowners from natural disasters like flooding.
"From day one, the Ford government has essentially been attacking environmental policy," he said, citing the dismantling of cap-and-trade, cancelling renewable energy contracts and home energy conservation programs, among other policies.
Schreiner said he wasn't shocked that the government furthered its environmental approach under the auspices of red tape reduction, but he was shocked by the timing and circumstances. "I was just surprised at how fast they did it while we were in a pandemic, and how aggressively they did it."
When this reporter pointed out that the government did run on a mandate to cut red tape, Schreiner's voice raised in opposition to the idea that the promise gave them free rein to cut whatever they liked, regardless of the consequences. "Nowhere did they ever campaign on that aggressive of an agenda, to roll back environmental protections, in some cases 75 or 80 years."
Schreiner also criticized the government for what he called its lack of preparation for the second wave of the coronavirus, calling the dearth of action during the summer when the numbers were low "unforgivable."
He said the government should have been hiring additional staff for long-term care homes and should have invested in significantly more robust testing, tracing and isolation capacity in order to respond. "Quebec and BC were hiring (long-term care) staff over the summer," Schreiner said, pointing out that the subject was his first question to the government in the fall. He said that Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton's response on the subject was inadequate, as she said that the government can't just snap its fingers and make it happen. "That's why you should have been hiring staff in the summer!" he exclaimed in the interview.
This type of reactive approach from the government has consequences, Schreiner argued. "The virus spread is much wider than it needed to be," he said, adding that it means the accompanying economic damage and public health restrictions will be more severe.
The pandemic has been unexpected in many ways for the Guelph MPP. When it began he wasn't baking sourdough bread, but he did have some lofty aspirations. "I had these grand dreams of maybe writing a book ... or spend tonnes of time with my French tutor," said Schreiner, who has long conceded this his French n'est pas le meilleur. In choppy French he told QPB that he likes to speak with journalists, using an accent and cadence that betrays his Kansas roots.
Those aspirations didn't materialize, though. Instead, he spent more time working, as well as spending plenty of time learning how to use "about 10" types of video conferencing software.
Schreiner is hoping to get some downtime during the holidays. He typically spends the winter break with his family, and is fond of doing outdoor activities like hiking and cross-country skiing, and is hoping to get a good book in his stocking.
Asked what he's looking forward to post-vaccine, he answers quickly. "I miss the people," Schreiner said. "I miss all the events in my riding."
"I'm just looking forward to all of that coming back again."