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Opinion

Maintaining the mood of collaboration and cooperation

Published on 29/09/2020

At the onset of the pandemic, we saw a surprising, and welcome, mood of collaboration and cooperation: across party lines, among orders of government, and in partnership with civil society. It was a glimpse into how we truly can work together when we need to.

Listening to the reactions to the Speech from the Throne this past week, it looks like the sheen has worn off. We were struck by the negative, and often cynical, tone taken by the media and other commenters.

Many reactions focused on the scale of spending, which some described as reckless. Or, they were critical of the plan’s ambitions, arguing that they were only words, even empty promises, without a clear path to action.

Our reaction is different. We continue to see the promise of investing in the recovery, building relationships with all orders of government and civil society, and outlining commitments that will take us to a more prosperous post-COVID-19 society.

Much in the throne speech aligns with our focus on ending poverty by safeguarding and realizing everyone’s social and economic rights, so that every person in Canada can live in dignity and participate fully in society. We’re thinking about those rights that relate to, among others, secure and safe employment, access to housing, food and water, education, health, and an adequate standard of living.

One of the most ground-breaking promises in the speech was the commitment to eliminate chronic homelessness in Canada. Far too many people don’t have access to safe, secure, and affordable housing in Canada. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and as it was before, realizing the right housing is a matter of life and death.

Of course, this is nothing new. But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of housing and homelessness to the forefront. Ending chronic homelessness can be done. And with the virus’ second wave upon us, we need such a bold commitment to get it done.

The recent City of Toronto call for a Federal-Provincial-City partnership as part of its COVID-19 Housing and Homelessness Recovery Response Plan is an opportunity to jumpstart and accelerate the efforts across all governments to create new affordable homes for everyone, including residents experiencing homelessness, newcomers, and essential workers. It’s a one-billion-dollar plan that calls for 3,000 new permanent, affordable homes, and funding to assist 2,000 people with the supports that will help them to maintain stable housing.

Two days before the throne speech, the federal government announced additional funding to create new affordable housing and support across Canada through its Rapid Housing Initiative. This first investment is an important answer to Toronto’s call, and it shows a commitment to being a strong partner in ending homelessness.

The throne speech also pointed to other ways the government will try to address the gaps in our social safety net. It looked at extending emergency response benefits, and in so doing laying the foundations for a modernized employment insurance system. It also announced that the government will introduce free, automatic tax filing for simple tax returns, which is a big step towards ensuring that everyone receives the benefits they are entitled to.

Further, the speech addressed support for people with disabilities, another segment of our society that has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The federal government committed to put in place a Disability Inclusion Plan, including a Canadian Disability Benefit modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Federal-provincial cooperation will be required to effectively develop and deliver this benefit.

Yes, the throne speech did not have details about how these ambitions will be implemented. But it is a road map that can lead Canada in the direction of a more just society where the social and economic rights of every person are respected and realized. Yes, implementing this road map will not be cheap. But it has the potential to save lives and protect the dignity of individuals and communities across the country. And done right, it can save us money in the long run. The alternative is unfathomable.

The initial responses by the federal government got off on the right foot, focusing on meeting people’s essential needs. But even with these efforts, there were still pressures to lean into more austere responses. This is not the time for half measures that fail to deliver on people’s fundamental rights. Now more than ever is the time for adequacy, fairness, and timeliness.

If we’re going to build a better post-pandemic future, we cannot fall back into our pre-pandemic cynicism and division. Instead we need to return to that initial response of collaboration and cooperation and hold onto that as we head into the second wave.

Summary

If we’re going to build a better post-pandemic future, we cannot fall back into our pre-pandemic cynicism and division. We need to have all orders of government working together. And we need civil society to rediscover the spirit of cooperation.

Topic(s)

Disability, Housing and homelessness, Human rights, Poverty