Communities across Canada are holding their collective breath awaiting the expiration of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The reason is simple: what comes next is unclear.
For significant periods during the pandemic CERB was both a life-saver and an emotional boost in a time of deep concern. It successfully rounded off the harsh edges of COVID 19, providing Canadians who applied with $2,000 each month. It made sense, since lengthy periods of unemployment and businesses closures were a given.
But when it was announced weeks ago the CERB would be ended and migrate to Employment Insurance (EI), it was inevitable that the confusion would place many Canadians in distress. That particularly applies to women already attempting to juggle numerous responsibilities, not the least of which is the security of their children.
It is no guarantee that those moving from CERB to EI will, in fact, be able to keep their jobs. Many have already been informed not to bother returning to work. Food banks are already preparing for the increase in numbers seeking their assistance once the governmental supports – local, provincial, federal – are pulled back. Even at this moment, millions of Canadians are without work and fretting over what will transpire in the coming months.
The problem for governments at all levels is acute. Businesses are encouraged to open in certain regions, but health standards like social distancing and masking apply and there is no assurance that such establishments can fully protect their staff and patrons. And will customers arrive as hoped? No one knows for certain. And news south of the border isn’t encouraging. The discovery that young people are now at the front line of virus transmission throws into open doubt whether schools can possibly provide the protections needed as they open their doors next month.
As ever, opinions are everywhere as to what should be done, leaving politics itself on the verge of tipping over into ripe partisanship in order to take advantage of the situation to secure support. There is present a new sense of urgency in such opinions, however, the variety and quality of which
just might point this nation in a new direction. Our national and provincial capitals are designed for power. Terms like “democracy,” “the people,” “freedom” and “justice” live and die there on a daily basis because they are manufactured by some people seeking power and keeping it instead of equality and achieving it.
But for the first time in perhaps decades, voices from outside of such corridors of endowment are weighing into public debate with such insight and a common rationality that they have become an eloquent cautionary tale concerning “government as usual.” They speak as though these precious moments as we emerging from COVID are our last, best chance to get the effective balance between economy and society right before the forces of a resurgent history drown us in elitism, racism, hatred, and, God forbid, violence.
A hopeful sign emerged yesterday when BNN Bloomberg reported that Mark Carney, former head of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, will be appointed head of Prime Minister Trudeau’s economic recovery plan. Over the years, Carney has proved himself to be no mere water carrier for corporate interests but a surprisingly prophetic voice of economic reform in light of the approaching desolation of climate change. His challenging of business and global finance to wake up and lead the change won him begrudging respect in those communities, but with little result.
That’s the environmental challenge, but what of employment? On this, numerous advocates are using the pandemic pause to remind Canadian leaders of the need for an efffective CERB replacement, the need to put human resources above profits, and, above all, to finally put an effective gender lens on the problems women have historically faced in the workplace and which, perhaps overwhelmingly, threaten their very ability to provide for their families should the CERB replacement go horribly wrong.
In all the vital issues which confronted this country long before COVID 19 – the addressing of historic racial bias and racism, including of indigenous communities, environmental degradation, an ineffective and divisive partisan politics, the lack of support for cities and municipalities, regional tensions, gender inequality, the cheapening of the public space and institutions, infrastructure decline – there is yet to be effective redress.
What we have is a government-sponsored intermission which has kept the Canadian lifelines moving while not necessarily changing their direction. That must change or our future will resemble much of our past – a capitulation that will only bring on more voices for effective reform. What will be decided in these next few weeks could well spell the difference between effective reform or angry revolution.