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Danny Cavanagh: After COVID-19, a better world

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – When we start our gradual resumption of life post-COVID -19 pandemic, we need to give some serious thought to economic recovery. It will be essential to ask ourselves how we got here and to now look at what we can change to create a more equal and fair society and economy. It became evident during COVID-19 when a bright light shined on the enormous gaps a capitalist society brings.

We also saw the many practices, policies and laws that benefit some at the expense of others. Sadly, our community heroes who kept us all safe, are some of the most undervalued and most vulnerable citizens in our country. We hope the pandemic has sparked us all to demand better.

The economy will face a prolonged crisis, which means the federal and provincial/territorial governments will be asked to come up with measures to get the economy back on its feet. We will need to see massive public spending to get the economy rolling. So let’s not hear it’s time for austerity, we can’t afford it or we need cut taxes. Interestingly, no one called for less government or less taxation when the handouts for business affected by COVID -19 were distributed.

I do not recall any media reports about the business community saying no to taking government money. Remember the groups that before COVID – 19 fought vigorously against paid sick leave for all and $15 an hour minimum wage? They were not against those handouts and addressing the immediate issues of income support, wage protection, and other measures have permitted a much-needed boost and a bridge to allow the country to focus on keeping people healthy.

Now it’s time for unprecedented measures to get our nation back on its feet. Austerity agendas have failed the majority of us. With predictions of high unemployment, the closing of businesses, and steep declines in GDP, we will need to look to governments to take on the responsibility of investing and growing our economies. We believe that means investing in a robust public sector and quality public services. We already know that the private sector will not be able to spend what will be required. Our governments must take the lessons learned from COVID-19, and invest in health care, long-term care, public and social infrastructure, reconstruction, transportation, and the environment; all are vital to growing the economy, supporting local businesses, communities and people.

History tells us that government investment in its people and jobs works. Government investment rebuilt economies after the Second World War. We know it can be done. We have an excellent opportunity to address all the gaps and inequities we have seen throughout this global pandemic. We applauded our front line and essential worker heroes. 

Finally, we can put our money where our mouth is. We have an excellent opportunity to turn this country into one where the engine runs full steam ahead with investments to create a society that looks after its people. We can fix our ailing healthcare system and establish national standards in healthcare and long-term care. Now is the time to invest in a universal, single-payer national Phamacare Plan.

We need to see much needed investments in education and training, publicly funded and operated childcare and early learning, better services for vulnerable populations and for the organizations that look after them. These types of investments will pay dividends into the future. Investments in public transportation will help thousands of people and will provide thousands of jobs.

Retrofitting homes and public buildings will create jobs and help our environment. Investments in green housing will help thousands of low-income Canadians get off the streets or other into adequate housing. We have been struggling to get high-speed internet functioning across this country. It’s time to ensure everyone has access to the Internet regardless of income or geography.

It’s time to be different and act differently. Putting the rich and powerful in charge of driving the economic recovery won’t force change. Economic recovery cannot mean listening to the same old voices, the voices that led us to an economy with a widening income and gender gap, heightening rates of poverty and homelessness, increasing violence and inequality, poorly underfunded and inadequate public and community services. 

We hear every day the wealthy and influential, our elected leaders and many others thanking the heroes on the front lines. We listen to things like, “We’re all in this together,” and, “Don’t worry, we have your back.” We need to hold them accountable to actions that mean something, to shift from low-wage precarious jobs, where women are treated equally, where society and its people are looked after, not thrown onto the street. We can do better.

Critical to our recovery will be to bring all stakeholders to the table, including business and labour, community and those voices who are traditionally unheard. We can do this together. With the right leadership and investment by governments, we can rebuild our economy by building a healthier, safer and more sustainable world, a world where no one is left behind.

Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

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