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August 31, 2020

Investment key to post-pandemic recovery - op-ed by Linda Silas

Linda Silas | President, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions

The following opinion editorial by Linda Silas was first published in the Winnipeg Free Press on August 31, 2020.

With Canada continuing to battle COVID-19 and its profound impacts on our economy, the timing is less than ideal to appoint a new finance minister. However, Chrystia Freeland’s new role provides a key opportunity to make her mark and set Canada on a course toward recovery post-COVID-19.

To achieve this, Canada will have to make significant new investments in the basic building blocks of a healthy society, including making it possible for everyone to earn a living wage, as well as ensuring access to quality health care at all ages, mental health supports and essential services.

Failing to address these significant challenges could have a serious negative effect on Canada’s future prosperity and security.

As part of the federal government’s 2021 pre-budget consultations, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) proposed investments targeted towards these social determinants of health to ensure a high quality of life for present and future generations of Canadians.

The real possibility of future health crises poses a particularly grave risk to the many Canadians without drug coverage, as well as to our economy. A universal single-payer pharmacare system is an investment in Canada’s future and an effective bulwark against future disease outbreaks.

Other key takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic include the lack of mental health services and affordable quality child care options for families across the country. We must also address the disparities faced by workers in largely female-led sectors, including child care and long-term care, which have long been plagued by low wages and precarity.

With so few affordable options, parents – mostly women – are forced to choose between quality child care and going to work. This is unacceptable in a country as wealthy as ours.

Similarly, decades of neglect resulting in inadequate staffing and substandard conditions across the country led to seniors bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have an obligation to build healthier workplaces, create permanent jobs with fair wages and benefits, reform employment insurance provisions, and ensure that all workers in Canada have access to strong and effective occupational health and safety protections – including migrant workers and those who are faced with precarious and unsafe work.

Our future health and economy also rely on our natural environment. With our window to prevent catastrophic events closing fast, our collective goal must be to build climate-resilient communities. Canadians are feeling the impacts of climate change, yet we continue to lag in terms of our international commitments.

The massive changes required to shift our infrastructure and technology to a green economy would result in profound impacts on energy sector workers, their families and communities. Labour unions have long called for the rapid implementation of a just transition strategy; we stand ready to collaborate with government towards a solution that guarantees dignified work and clean energy.

All of these critical challenges demand that our governments invest in health care and essential public services to better support families and communities. These long-overdue investments are necessary for our country to pave the way towards a healthy economic recovery.

This pandemic has shaken every facet of our lives. Undoubtedly, there will be many lessons to be learned from our experience with COVID-19, and a crucial one will be the importance of investing in crisis-proof systems. In a rapidly changing world, our resilience depends on it.

Canadians are counting on us. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.