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Rebecca Dingwell: Marketing campaigns will not save us from COVID-19

Photo by Mariah Solomon on Unsplash

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The vaccine is coming. Be patient. In the meantime, order takeout. Sit down in a restaurant. Stay at a bed and breakfast. Can’t do that? Buy a gift card. Do your part for the economy. In other words: spend money.

I feel inundated with this messaging when I log onto social media, watch a government briefing or an ad pops up on YouTube. It’s frustrating, to say the least. Supporting local businesses above Amazon or major chains is well-intentioned. However, the emphasis on consumerism during a global pandemic makes me deeply uncomfortable. 

Recently I postponed  my wedding indefinitely. After rescheduling once, my partner and I decided it simply wasn’t worth it. The horror story of a wedding-turned-superspreader event in rural Maine was enough to churn my stomach. If someone got sick or died because of my wedding, I could never forgive myself. Upon news of the cancellation, one vendor responded to me by lamenting the impact this would have on their finances. I stared at my screen, feeling a mix of surprise and hurt. 

Not for the first time since the state of emergency was initially declared in Nova Scotia, I wondered why I was made to feel personally responsible for keeping a business owner’s pockets full. Since the beginning, those in politics and the tourism industry have urged us to spend money within the province. It falls to us, the public, to dole out the cash for our fellow community members. This is a problem.

This is not to  downplay the impact the pandemic has had on small business owners. It’s a scary and challenging time. That said, I do get concerned when someone’s bottom line becomes more important than “flattening the curve” or looking after employees. Much earlier in the pandemic, for instance, the Atlantic vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business spoke out against government-mandated sick day policies in an interview with CBC. We need only look to our neighbours in Ontario and the recent, confusing messaging from Premier Doug Ford for a more extreme example. Phasing out of lockdown while there are still hundreds of thousands of people ill will no doubt cost lives.

Consumerism will not save us from COVID-19. When people gather in droves to support a struggling eatery (see: Tako Loko in December), it’s a short-term solution to a long-term issue. Many Nova Scotians, whether they run a business or not, are navigating trauma and financial difficulties, even when taking the Canada Emergency Response Benefit into account. The increase in minimum wage—$12.95 per hour effective April—is a pittance compared to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ assessment of a living wage for Halifax: $21.80 per hour. And the temporary, retroactive rent cap? That’s only helpful if your landlord cooperates with it. Else, you’ll need time and money to file a complaint. (Yes, I am speaking from experience here.)

Put simply: it’s the people in power, such as politicians and landlords, who have the real ability to help in these situations. They’re just choosing not to. Instead, we’re left with corny slogans like “Stay the blazes home” and marketing campaigns like “take your winter back.” It’s insensitive at best. Nobody should be pressured to go out to a restaurant if they aren’t comfortable doing so, or feel guilty for going to the fast food drive thru instead of opting for pricier takeout elsewhere. We are all simply trying to survive.

If we are hit with high numbers again, I hope the government doesn’t shy away from another lockdown in favour of “the economy.” Human life is more important than the economy. 

As for me, I’m prioritizing my health, and the health of those I care about. That’s how I’m showing my love to my fellow community members. Right now, that’s the best I can do.

See also: Overpriced and underserved: St Mary’s University’s response to COVID-19 gets a failing grade

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