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Life in the COVID "Aftertimes"


It's pretty clear to us that life will be different once COVID-19 lockdowns are over. Daily life will still require certain precautions to be in place until the risk of a major recurrence has passed. I know leadership at all three levels of government are discussing how this will work. All options are being weighed: which rules and recommendations are actually implementable, enforceable, equitable and affordable in every facet of our normal daily lives? These are called "active discussions," and there are lots of them happening right now in every COVID-19 response centre.

In the meantime, I’ve begun looking further out into what I call the "Aftertimes." On paper, Canada makes its way through modern types of financial crisis pretty well; the mid-90s recession, the post 9/11 dip, SARS and even the Global Financial Crisis were followed by pretty healthy recoveries. If you worked in the "right" field, you did okay. But if you didn't, your family struggled longer and is no doubt still struggling now. How can we change this time? Can governments apply new measures to reset our economy so more of us recover? The usual strategy The usual government response to an economic crisis is to stimulate the economy with major spending on public infrastructure and a few breaks for the private sector to keep it afloat. This is usually met with public support. The electorate seems to worry less about deficits at the beginning of a crisis and applauds investment into areas where jobs will be generated, like in construction, engineering and auto-working. These are great middle-class jobs but they aren’t where most of the current economic devastation is taking place.

Later, as a more conventional economic crisis carries on, we can expect the media, lobbyists and large private interests to raise concerns about the deficit that stimulus spending leaves behind. This results in a hard push against the very governments that may have helped you through the crisis. A campaign to cut spending, reduce deficits and keep business taxes low begins. The focus shifts away from those who were most hurt by the economic crisis, resulting in more families failing to get back on their feet. Private sector This time, we must push ourselves to stay focused on those who are hit the hardest and allow ourselves more time to lift them up. When people stop buying homes and cars, the economy takes a huge hit and we expect action. But we must also help the former employees of closed restaurants, beauty salons, boutique stores and even independent daycare centres and nursing homes. We’ll have to maintain the survival of as many businesses as possible through inter-governmental support measures. For those that don’t survive, we will have to replace them with start-up businesses equipped with the right tools — phased wage subsidy programs can help small businesses succeed by keeping people working instead of receiving Employment Insurance.

Over the long term, we need to make a case for less precarious, full-time work. Businesses that have struggled through this crisis will argue that the fewer the rules, the faster they will succeed. That is their go-to request whenever the economy takes a turn — but really, it's full-time employees earning livable wages who build businesses and brand loyalty. If we are going to offer government-financed programs to help private businesses, there must be strings attached. Businesses receiving support need to be prepared to start treating employees like the key components of our service economy they are. Public sector I’m not just picking on private sector businesses. The current crisis in long-term care (LTC) is a perfect example of another troubling path. The government got into the business of delivering LTC in order to set the bar for quality of care. Turns out, that costs a pretty penny. Over time, publicly-funded homes cut costs by privatizing parts of the service and shedding full-time positions to save on employee benefits. LTC workers now find themselves having to split their work week between two homes and a private client or two to earn a living wage for their families. These people do the hardest work of all. They care for our loved ones when we can't, sometimes at great personal risk.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll see the curve flatten in the community but not in LTC. Outbreaks will continue there for some time longer. We are going to have to find the resources in the post-COVID economy to properly compensate the everyday long-term care heroes who are fighting for our parents’ and grandparents’ lives. I know many of us want things to return to normal — frankly, the global impact of this pandemic has made it clear things will never be the same. But if we do things right, our new normal will be better.

I visited my dad's long-term care home with my daughter and granddaughter to say hi to him and thank our healthcare heroes. And don't worry, I'm not breaking any distancing rules here — they're both isolating with me for the duration of the lockdown.


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