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  • Think Upstream

Hindsight is 2020

2020 is almost behind us now, but the challenges remain. How to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. How to address the health inequities that COVID-19 exposed. How to transition to a new reality once COVID-19 vaccines are in place.

It was a year like no other, 2020. And while we're all glad to put this one behind us, many challenges remain. We asked some bold thinkers to look back on 2020, share with us their thoughts on the year that was COVID-19 and what Canada should do in 2021. Here's what they have to say:

Let us not forget

It has been said so often that it is now a cliché—the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed cracks in society, as chasms. From economic inequality to racial justice, workers’ rights, housing and gaps in health care services, this infectious disease has shown the entire country what many who have been marginalized knew for far too long. We are far from the ‘just society’ we imagine ourselves. With a vaccine on the horizon, the talk has turned to a new aphorism—build back better. When the pandemic ends, it will have felt as if we were frozen in time, while simultaneously having run the longest marathon of our lives. In the midst of celebrating reaching the finish line, will we succumb to collective amnesia? Will the minds of those who saw societies chasms for the first time, return to leisurely weekend brunches? Or will those of us least affected by the pandemic actually get serious about building a fair society in partnership with those who were most impacted? If there is one thing Canada must do in our post-pandemic recovery, it is to not forget. Going back to normal is not good enough.

— Danyaal Raza, family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital (Unity Health Toronto) & Assistant Professor (University of Toronto)

Accessible, adequate income supports

My biggest fear as we move beyond the COVID pandemic is that we forget what happened. We will all remember the lockdown, but will we also remember the resulting dramatic shift in approach to social supports and social understanding?

Within weeks, governments directed huge resources towards protecting those at risk of falling into poverty and at risk of the severe impacts of this illness. And the problems they didn’t immediately seek to address were quickly thrown in their faces—especially systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and homelessness. And, whether or not they were ready, policy makers had to answer for these huge social inequities, and fast.

We have a chance to avoid history repeating itself. Canada can use the foundation of its emergency income support programs to create fair, accessible, and adequate permanent income support programs. We can learn from the scramble to move people out of shelters that the cure for homelessness is affordable housing. And the tragedy of the disproportionate impact on racialized communities can be prevented by uncovering, acknowledging, and correcting the systemic racism built into our social and political institutions.

We must also reckon with how we will pay for a more just, healthier society. Our leaders could use the cost of the pandemic response to justify a return to neoliberal, neoconservative policies of austerity. To prevent a recurrence of this period, we need to pay up front for a robust social safety net and for an undoing of systemic injustice, through increased taxes on the wealthy. This is the conversation to come —and our ability to engage with it will determine whether the next pandemic will play out in a different way.

— Dr. Gary Bloch, a family physician with St. Michael’s Hospital

What we measure matters

As we think about recovery, we need to measure what truly matters. In addition to tracking our GDP and job growth rate, we need to be looking at whether income inequality is dropping and if the jobs that are coming back have decent working conditions.

The roadmap to recovery must be guided with investments in what has already been saving us during this crisis—care in all its forms. From child care to affordable housing to a robust social safety net, let’s invest in the social infrastructure that makes building back better work for us all.

This pandemic is one unlike anything the world has ever seen. So the old way of doing things is simply not enough. We need a new playbook to tackle this crisis head on. And that’s what the Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada offers.

If there is any country in the world that can make it happen—it’s Canada. But it won’t happen by itself. The decisions we make today will be felt for generations to come. So we need each part of society to play its part by investing in care, championing the social determinants of health and measuring what truly matters.

— Anjum Sultana, national director, public policy and strategic communications, YWCA Canada

Tackle the climate emergency

The vital and urgent challenge now is to ensure that, as we emerge from the coronavirus crisis, we use this experience and the opening it creates to catapult our societies into the post-carbon economy.

We must not return to yesterday’s normal, with all its inequalities and fossil fuel reliance.

This pandemic has the potential to dramatically jumpstart our efforts to decarbonize—to accomplish massive emission reductions in a few short years. But this is not assured. We are certain to see a great battle over what the return to post-COVID “normal” looks like.

The new denialists in industry and government are seeking huge public bailouts for the fossil fuel sector, airlines, traditional auto manufacturing and more. Will we seek to quickly restore the main industries of before, or will we embrace this historic moment and the massive government expenditures any rebuilding efforts will inevitably require to permanently remake our economies?

Just as the Second World War ended the Great Depression, as we rebuild from this pandemic, an ambitious climate plan with massive green infrastructure spending—the Green New Deal—can be just what the doctor ordered.

— Seth Klein, author of A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, available at

Address housing insecurity

Canada has failed to directly and decisively address housing insecurity during the pandemic.

The Canada Emergency Recovery Benefit (CERB) provided much-needed income support to renter households, but provincial governments didn’t do their part in ensuring people remain safely housed. Across the country, we have seen only partial and temporary eviction bans, late and piecemeal rent freezes, and clawbacks on provincial housing supports for CERB recipients.

We haven’t seen rent controls on vacant units, which would have removed the market incentive to evict tenants to increase rents.

We haven’t seen measures demanding financialized and corporate landlords to absorb their share of losses in this unprecedented crisis.

In short, we haven’t seen any changes to the free-market approach to housing that makes so many Canadians housing insecure while costing governments dearly.

Provincial governments ought to extend eviction bans for the entire duration of the pandemic; implement full rent controls, now and moving forward; and step in to ensure tenant households don’t bear all the financial burden of this pandemic-induced recession.

— Ricardo Tranjan, senior researcher, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Ontario office


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