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  • Trish Hennessy

Roaring '20s?

As COVID-19 vaccines begin to roll out across the country and we can count the number of days until spring on less than 10 fingers (!), there are green shoots of hope.

"Charleston dance contest"by Missouri Historical Society is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 I don’t know about you, but I could use a little bit hope these days. My colleagues at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and I have been talking about the Roaring ’20s, sparked by this column suggesting that young people, in particular, might want to kick up their heels post-pandemic. There may be some similarities to the 1920s, where a generation of young people had survived the influenza pandemic of 1918 and emerged from World War I. The 1920s ushered in an era of hope and prosperity. But the Roaring ’20s weren’t all flappers, gin parties and Charleston dances. It was an era of deep income inequality, racial and Indigenous injustice, and women’s inequality (sparking a wave of feminism). That generation also lacked the social and income supports that, for instance, helped get many through COVID-19. In fact, those of us who look at the world through the lens of the social determinants of health know full well that while COVID-19 has impacted everyone, some groups were harder hit. In this sweeping report on how COVID-19 impacted women in Canada, CCPA Senior Researcher Katherine Scott shows that 90,000 more women weren't doing paid work at the end of 2020 compared to last February, pre-pandemic. Their economic recovery has been stalled—especially among low-income, racialized, Indigenous, and immigrant women. For women to return to the workforce and share in the post-pandemic economic gains, we’re going to need a national, universal child care plan, for starters. The evidence also shows that access to early learning and child care programs helps to hardwire children for success—and after COVID-19, goodness knows that children and youth deserve all the support that we can muster. Regardless, there will be many people in Canada who lost their job or working hours during the pandemic who aren't bouncing back. They won’t be partying like it’s the Roaring ’20s all over again. Canada needs a labour strategy that ensures a just and inclusive recovery. Lars Osberg, McCulloch Professor of Economics at Dalhousie University, just published a comprehensive report with the CCPA looking at 75 years of income inequality in Canada. He predicts the combination of the COVID-19 crisis and the looming climate change crisis will necessarily upend the policy status quo in Canada. In this smart blog, Osberg writes:


“Canada’s millennial generation was hard-hit by the Great Recession of 2008, entered the gig economy and rising top-end inequality of the 2000s, incurred much of the earnings loss of COVID-19 and can anticipate bearing the costs of climate change. The pandemic is the formative experience that will shape the lifetime political perspective of a generation. Its core lesson is the interdependence of the community’s health and well-being and the importance of an adequate social safety net. Climate change has a longer time scale, but its core issue is also our common shared fate.”

I don’t know about you, but I truly believe that Canada is at a new crossroad. COVID-19 pushed us this way; climate change will seal the deal.

Over the course of 2021, I’ll be working with my colleagues at the CCPA and a growing network of thought leaders to promote more upstream approaches to Canadian public policy—to truly address the social determinants of health and embed that thinking into government solutions at the federal, provincial and local level. We’ll leave no stone unturned. Maybe—hopefully—we’ll find new tiny green shoots of hope under each of those stones.

Worth reading/listening:


Food security is another COVID-19 casualty: New Statistics Canada data show that food insecurity rose in Canada as a result of COVID-19 impacts on the economy and people’s livelihood. Food insecurity is also linked with being a victim of crime, suffering serious illness or injury, and stressful life events. In other words, the social determinants of health. Read here. What to do about it? We’ve got you covered. Read this study published by Canadian Public Policy here.


City-level determinants of health: An important study from our friends at the Urban Public Health Network (UPHN) looks at health inequities in 19 cities across Canada and finds one disturbing common element: the poorest neighbourhoods tend to experience significantly worse health outcomes than their richest counterparts. Find out how your city fares here.


Check out this podcast: How has COVID-19 exacerbated the social determinants of health? Listen to this all-star lineup—Dr. Andrew Boozary, Dr. Andrew Pinto, and Dr. Kate Mulligan—in this new podcast: listen here.


About the COVID-19 vaccine: On the thinkupstream.ca blog, Pete Hudson makes the case for a publicly owned vaccine plan in Canada. If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that we need domestic capacity. Read here.