The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for reflection. Things once blurred within the frenzy of activity have sharpened into focus. Priorities have become simpler and clearer. There is an emerging call for change.
As a public policy organization, CPJ has considered what we have learned as a society and how those lessons can help us rebuild a healthier future.
There have been obvious lessons.
Inequities have become more apparent. Not all essential services and workers have been substantially recognized and equally compensated. This has resulted in hazardous vulnerabilities allowing a virus easy access to those most susceptible to infection, especially in our long-term care homes.
The importance of immigration to Canada has further manifested itself. Most of the frontline health workers caring for the vulnerable elderly are immigrants. We need to improve their working conditions. Medical professionals that were sidelined have been allowed to practice temporarily. In the aftermath of the pandemic, Canada needs to work to permanently recognize the foreign credentials of these immigrant professionals in the health and other sectors. Furthermore, we must work to end systemic racism in Canada.
We have learned that there is a cost to achieving a clean environment. Less travel has made a noticeable difference resulting in cleaner air. But this has come at a huge financial price, both in loss of business and significant, necessary government grants. We must pursue a vision of climate justice that enhances, rather than neglects, people’s well-being.
COVID-19 generated a collective response. Neighbours showed concern for each other. People embraced sacrifice for the sake of the most vulnerable. These are the marks of a healthy society. But this communal unity is starting to fade.
General welfare for all is being pitted against the need to re-establish a strong commerce-based economy. But this would maintain the unjust disparities of buying power. These old norms are not acceptable.
There is an increasing criticism that businesses and civic society groups alike appear to be taking advantage of the pandemic. Some are accusing them of using the pandemic to force big, societal, structural changes.
But these accusations miss the point. This is an opportunity for change. In fact, we know that change is necessary and inevitable. Structural changes are coming whether we like it or not.
The future to which we return must look different from the past. Not just in defending against an infectious virus, but also in resisting a society marred with poverty and ecological devastation. Some things we have gone without—daily commutes to office jobs, frequent short-haul air travel, unnecessary face-to-face meetings, disposable fast fashion—we should probably continue to abandon. While things we have embraced—spending more time with family, gardening and cooking together, supporting local businesses—we should continue to hold on to.
This is an important time for reflection. Let us use this time to reconstruct a society where all of life can flourish together.