With the federal budget just a day away, Bay St. CEOs and senior bankers are stumbling over themselves, rushing to declare mission accomplished and claim the economic crisis is over. They are determined to fill up Canada’s opinion pages with arguments urging the government that it’s time to go back to normal. Let’s remember what normal really looked like.
In 2019, Canada’s poverty rate was over 10%. In 2020, it plummeted to 6.4%. The rate of children living in poverty was cut in half. This was a result of governments at all levels providing emergency support, help that overwhelmingly went to low- and modest-income workers. This not only helped reduce poverty, but it also prevented our economy from falling into a depression.
Contrast that to 97 million more people falling into poverty worldwide in 2020.
For the last two years, it has been hard to think about the next quarter, let alone the next year or decade. But this week’s budget presents us an opportunity to learn from our pandemic experience and carve out a better path forward, to build the kind of Canada we want.
We must recognize the years of cutbacks and underfunding that left supports like paid sick leave or Employment Insurance in shambles. The pandemic led to a series of improvised patches and ad-hoc fixes to help workers and families left with nowhere to turn. Now we must fix these programs for good.
We must acknowledge the deep-seated inequality that hurt women, racialized workers and recent immigrants. We must address these inequities and better protect precarious workers left vulnerable to the whims of giant companies.
With the rising cost of living, families are struggling to pay for so many daily essentials, Budget 2022 must provide concrete support for families with action on pharmacare, dental care and support for low-income families alongside investments and action on climate change and Just Transition, so no workers are left behind in the new low-carbon economy.
I hear you, right-wing naysayer. You are asking: “Who’s going to pay for all of this?” That’s easy. We must all contribute, based on our ability to pay.
A cornerstone of a more equitable society is fair taxation. Giant corporations and the richest Canadians, who profited tremendously during the pandemic, must now be asked to contribute their fair share to our country’s rebuilding effort.
I hope our finance minister is mindful of the wisdom of the old saying, ‘fix your roof when the sun is shining.’ With our economy improving, now is the time to build a solid foundation for the future.
The alternative is listening to the Conservatives and their right-wing friends and go back to the old normal. Remember that the last time Conservatives were in power, Canada had 782,000 more children and 187,000 more seniors living in poverty.
I believe people want their governments to strive to do better, not go back to a whole lot of worse.
Bea Bruske is president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Follow her on Twitter @PresidentCLC