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Tableau D’Hôte just today staged a covert outdoor En Pointe protest play on what was, coincidentally, the nine-month anniversary of the pandemic. I knew full well that my small act of civil disobedience would ruffle feathers, but after weeks of incoherent lockdown measures and with no government plan to help Québec residents safely cope with the strain of isolation during the cold winter months, I could no longer stay quiet.

Indeed, François Legault’s ideological leanings continue to cloud his handling of the pandemic, to the detriment of our social fabric and the mental health of a great many of his constituents. While indoor malls and other retail outlets remain open for business, access to places and activities folks can safely enjoy outside are dwindling quickly. What kind of government gives the green light to Escape Rooms, but rejects Montréal Public Health’s request to grant access to the outside spaces of the Botanical Gardens? It’s completely and totally nonsensical.

Beyond the rising number of infections, hospitalizations, and mortalities, the pandemic is also wreaking havoc on the mental health of millions of people. Research conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association and the University of British Columbia indicates that 10% of Canadian have had some form of suicidal ideations since the top of the pandemic, an alarming number that several worry will increase over the difficult winter months where safe outdoor social gatherings are understandably more difficult than in other seasons.

Why then is François Legault refusing to listen to the epidemiologists asking him to do more to help the population get through the difficult months ahead? Why did his government defeat Abitibi-Témiscamingue MNA Émilise Lessard-Therrien’s proposal to offer free access to all of Québec National Parks this winter and allocate additional funds to municipalities to erect safe winter outdoor spaces to the benefit of their residents? Why have they continuously refused to heed to the call of the opposition, community groups, and scientists to take the mental health crisis more seriously?

As Yvette (France Rolland) consolingly reminds a spiraling Marcus (George Bekiaris) during today’s masked and distanced holiday-edition protest play, « Ce n’est pas les centres d’achats qui font le bonheur, mais la communauté. Les moments partagés entre voisins. L’éphémère. L’art. Le plein air. »

Community must always be more important than consumerism, and it is high time that we demand more of a government that places the latter on the unholiest of pedestals. The right to protest is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we have a collective obligation to safely and creatively insist that François Legault quickly put forward a credible mental health strategy, one that includes and encourages safe and universally accessible outdoor social, artistic and physical activities.

Until then, may we continue to hold, support, and uplift our friends, families, and neighbours. Let us find and build shared moments of joy, laughter, song, movement, and play.

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