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Danny Cavanagh: How to learn from the pandemic and build a better future

(Photo by Prachatai / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In Canada, we have weathered the pandemic by sticking together and supporting each other. Economic recovery cannot mean listening to the same old voices that led us to an economy with a widening income and gender gap, heightening rates of poverty and homelessness, increasing violence and inequality, and poorly underfunded and inadequate public and community services. We need investments in new ways of doing things. We know sending jobs abroad and closing plants is a wrong approach. Let us build more products here at home using our workers to turn raw materials into finished products. 

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 vital to growing the economy, supporting local businesses, communities and people. 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 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. We must have high-speed internet in every region across this country.

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 and into adequate housing.

Let’s take what we have learned from the pandemic and prepare for a brighter future. We need a progressive plan that invests in workers and keeps moving us forward together. A future that guarantees a living wage for all workers, one that invests in infrastructure and supports workers and industries that have been the hardest hit.

We must move to a “Buy Canadian” procurement policy now. Together we must create better jobs and provide essential frontline workers with higher wages and better hours. Our governments and businesses must guarantee a living wage for low-wage workers in all jurisdictions. The federal government should immediately implement its promised $15 an hour minimum wage.

We need social infrastructure investments, including long-term care, home care, childcare, skills training, post-secondary education, and arts and cultural institutions. We need investments in physical infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, air, and marine ports.

We need green infrastructure investments, including public transit, clean and renewable energy, and energy-efficient retrofits of buildings and homes. Governments must take steps to bridge vulnerable workers and industries to the other side of the pandemic, including travel, tourism, hospitality, and cultural industries. Government support for these industries must focus first and foremost on workers by protecting jobs, wages, benefits, and collective bargaining rights, rather than covering only corporate bottom lines. Those investments must have a gender and equity lens to address the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women, racialized workers, and other marginalized workers.

Governments should use procurement policy to foster domestic manufacturing capacity to ensure Canada is not reliant on other nations for personal protective equipment, essential medical equipment and supplies and expand domestic production of steel, aluminum, and forestry products, light-rail transit, and zero-emissions vehicles.

We have lost millions of jobs because of the pandemic, and we need to start and replace those lost jobs with better ones.  The economic shutdown had a disproportionate impact on women, racialized workers and Indigenous Peoples who face systemic barriers. Governments must make investments that will kick-start local economies to replace those lost jobs with better ones. That is part of our vision as labour to drive the economy. You can help us by joining us in our plans for a better future at https://canadianplan.ca/

Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

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