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  • Trish Hennessy

The road to a just recovery

Mid-September is upon us—but it doesn’t look like previous Septembers.

The kids are masked up and education workers are attempting a back-to-school like no other.

In many provinces, COVID-19 numbers are on the upswing.

Small businesses that managed to re-open during the summer risk disappearing once the cold weather hits.

Nothing is as it was, and this fall and winter promise to challenge us further.

In my essay for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ (CCPA) magazine, The Monitor, I propose that COVID-19 gives us the opportunity to rethink how we organize our systems to address the inequities embedded within them.

I outline key tools to get there, which I drew from the CCPA’s Recovery Plan report—a comprehensive agenda to ensure the transition from COVID-19 is a just one. Recovery Plan includes measures that would result in transformative change on the social, economic, and ecological front.

As we navigate living amid a global pandemic, there is increasing discussion about the need to transform the economy to make it more inclusive. Couple that with pressing climate emergencies (as California wildfires burn), the urgent need for ecological transformation is also picking up speed.

There’s a new book that every Canadian should read: A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the climate emergency by Seth Klein, former director of the CCPA’s BC office. Klein, who considers himself a peacenik, draws lessons from wartime efforts to show how Canadians have galvanized to make transformative change in the past. Climate change requires a similar effort.

You can be a part of that change. In partnership with many organizations, including the CCPA, Seth is hosting virtual book launch events in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. Details about dates and times here.

The third area in need of transformation—the social—is something that’s been getting less airtime, but a new paper by Hilary Cottam, with the UK’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, presents a plan to reform the welfare state.

She calls it Welfare 5.0. I watched a super informative webinar about the book, in which Cottam explains how this “painful moment of disruption…is also a moment of profound opportunity.”

Cottam says: “We can’t invest in a system that was designed in another era” and likens this moment to the post-war Beveridge report, which influenced the design of welfare state not only in the UK, but in Canada, too.

Initially, the welfare state served as a social safety net and improved the lives of many Canadians. But it was never perfect and after decades of austerity governments, that social safety net is very frayed.

COVID-19 revealed the inadequacies of Canada’s Employment Insurance system, which excludes far too many workers. There has long been a need for reform, which the CCPA lays out in detail in its Recovery Plan.

Social assistance systems are also long overdue for transformation. They continue to be punitive, to keep people locked in poverty, and to reinforce the notion of the deserving and the undeserving poor.

Cottam says the welfare state needs to be re-designed around a new social code—one that encompasses whole, connected human beings; one that grows our capability to thrive in a social economy that benefits all and is supported by horizontal, networked institutions.

As summer winds down and the smell of autumn (and, in the west, smoke) is in the air, I think of these transformations as seasonal change.

“Though a tree grow ever so high, the falling leaves return to the root.” – Malay proverb

We are entering a season of much-needed economic, ecological, and social change. Maybe we can take a lesson out of Klein’s book: Adopt an emergency mindset.

Trish Hennessy is director of Think Upstream, a project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Follow Trish on Twitter: @trishhennessy


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