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Premier McNeil, rather than firing shots at labour, what happened to us working together?

Premier Stephen McNeil

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The public sector has been paying the price for poor government decisions for many years. Isn’t it time to try something different?

Not one public sector worker created the mess we are in; those were government decisions. Child poverty is at an all-time high in Nova Scotia. Poverty is rampant and getting worse. Health care is in shambles, as are long-term, home, and residential care. We need to give some serious thought to economic recovery. It will be essential to ask ourselves how we got here and look at what we can change to create a more equal and fair society and economy. 

COVID-19 has highlighted the enormous gaps a capitalist society brings. Let’s also remember that budget 2020 saw tax cuts by your government for business – an estimated $70 million. That $70 plus million in tax cuts will do little to benefit the economy, and is $70 million dollars we no longer have. Same with the privatization of highways and hospitals. Our tax dollars are lining the bank accounts of corporations.

COVID saw your government hand out millions to business and little to workers. Our community heroes have been on the front lines for the past 5 months, and hoped for better. Your government must get the economy back on its feet. It’s time 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 to cut taxes and the public sector must do its part”.

No one called for less government or less taxation when the handouts for business affected by COVID -19 were distributed. Now it’s time for unprecedented measures to get our province back on track. 

Governments need to take on the responsibility of investing and growing our economies. That means, investing in a robust public sector and quality public services, not cutting them.

We already know that the private sector will not be able to spend what will be required. They are too busy protecting shareholders and hoarding cash in tax havens. 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 have an excellent opportunity to address all the gaps and inequities we have seen throughout this global pandemic.

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 Pharmacare Plan. We need to see investments in education and training, publicly funded and operated childcare and early learning, better services for vulnerable populations – all investments that will pay dividends into the future. Investments in public transportation will help thousands of people and provide thousands of jobs retrofitting homes, and public buildings will create jobs and help our environment. Investments in green housing will help thousands off the streets and into adequate housing.

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. These voices 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 social services.

For five months now, we have heard the wealthy and influential, our elected leaders and many others, thanking the heroes on the front lines every day. We listen to things like, “We’re all in this together,” and, “Don’t worry, we have your back.” We need to hold the government accountable to actions that mean something, where society and its people are looked after, not thrown onto the street. We can do better.

Critical to our recovery will be bringing all stakeholders to the table, including business and labour, community and those whose voices are typically 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 where no one is left behind.

Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

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