Moncton — As we gradually start returning to a new normal after the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to think about our economic recovery.
Two key questions should guide our planning: How did we get here? What can we change to create a more equal and fair society and economy?
Existing inequalities became obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic. We saw enormous gaps in many practices, policies and laws that benefited some people at the expense of others. Sadly, our community heroes who kept us all safe, are some of the most undervalued and vulnerable people in Canada. The pandemic should lead us to do better for them.
As we emerge from this long health crisis, it is clear that the economy will face an even longer economic crisis. The federal, provincial and territorial governments will be asked to develop measures to get the economy back on its feet.
Interestingly, during the pandemic, nobody asked for less government or less taxation. Workers, students and businesses — all depend on governments to help us to survive the pandemic. Governments provided the necessary income support, wage protection and other measures. They provided a much-needed bridge that allowed 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 most of us, and with predictions of high unemployment, business closings, and steep declines in gross domestic product (GDP), we will need governments to shoulder the responsibility of investing and growing our economies.
The New Brunswick Federation of Labour believes that means investing in a strong public sector and quality public services. We already know the private sector will not be able to invest what will be required to get our economy rolling again. 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 these services are important to growing the economy and supporting local businesses, communities and people.
History tells us it can be done. Government investment rebuilt economies after the Second World War. We have a great opportunity to address the gaps and inequities we have seen throughout this global pandemic.
We applauded our front line and essential worker hero’s. We can now finally put our money where our mouth is and improve our social safety net so that economic growth works for everyone, not just the wealthy.
We have a great opportunity to turn this country into one where the engine runs full steam ahead with investments to create a society where everyone is looked after. We can fix our ailing healthcare system and create national standards in health care and long-term care. Now is the time to invest in a universal, single payer national Pharmacare Plan.
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 — all 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. 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.
If this pandemic has shown us anything it’s that we need to act differently. We can’t listen to the same old mantra. 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 that brought us to where we are now – an economy with a widening income and gender gaps, ever-increasing rates of poverty and homelessness, increasing violence and inequality, and poorly-funded and inadequate public and community services.
Critical to our recovery will be bringing all stakeholders to the table, including business, labour, community and those voices traditionally left 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.
Daniel Légère is President of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour.