If I were a car, I’d vote Conservative. But I’m not a car

Posted on May 22, 2022 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Business/Opinion
May 20, 2022.   By Armine Yalnizyan, Contributing Columnist

The Conservative approach to recovery includes lots of physical infrastructure, yet our biggest deficits are in social infrastructure, Armine Yalnizyan writes.

The platforms on offer in the Ontario election — two years into the pandemic — provide a fascinating window on how post-pandemic recovery will unfold, and for whom.

The ballot box question for Ontarians appears to be: Will you vote for cars, or will you vote for care?

The biggest difference between Doug Ford’s Conservatives and everyone else has its roots in the she-cession, and how this economic anomaly — the first of its kind in modern history — was understood by each party.

Historically, every recession has been a he-cession.

More men than women have lost jobs (since the 1981-82 recession, between 93 and 97 per cent of all jobs shed during recessionary periods have been lost by men), mostly in higher-paying jobs in manufacturing, mining and logging.

This time, containing the contagion meant pressing pause on all non-essential business.

That included hospitality (restaurants, bars, hotels), personal services (nail and hair salons, fitness centres), and non-essential retail.

The majority of these jobs are low-paid, and staffed by women.

Women accounted for more than half of job losses in Canada (going up to 75 per cent of all losses), as the she-cession unfolded.

While the U.S. is struggling to regain its lost jobs, Canada saw the head count of employment return to pre-pandemic levels by October 2021.

But the he-covery here was earlier and more complete than the she-covery.

Despite steady job growth everywhere since the fall, tens of thousands of women aged 55 to 64 years old have dropped out of the job market entirely (at last count, almost 30,000 older women were neither working nor looking for work), while more men of that age are now employed.

While we are not quite sure why that is happening, there are three theories:

How do the party platforms address these structurally skewed realities?

Conservatives peppered the pre-election period with “Working for Workers” rhetoric and legislation (while creating a new class of worker not entitled to the full protection of labour standards and labour laws).

So it’s notable that the platform itself, designed for an election campaign that appeared at the outset to be a cakewalk for Doug Ford and his gang, benefits more men than women.

It plans to build lots of physical infrastructure, and these new highways, hospitals and schools create jobs almost exclusively for men.

Yet our biggest deficits are in social infrastructure, made evident by Ontario’s more than 13,000 deaths due to COVID-19.

Most of these people didn’t die because of a deficit in physical infrastructure.

They died because of a deficit in care in long-term-care homes.

Nurses are burning out and dropping out because of understaffing at hospitals.

The Ford government signed a child-care deal with the federal government promising to add 86,000 spaces — but we are losing early childhood educators because we pay many of them less than we pay pet groomers in this province.

Virtually every other party understands the problem, and addresses it through their individual combination of strategies for more training, better wages and working conditions, and improved ratios of staff to people who need care.

These are not just problems that may end with the pandemic.

They are problems that will plague a society scrambling to deal with population aging, and weaken the foundation and driver of the economy: the Care Economy, encompassing health, education and social assistance.

The Care Economy generates 12.6 per cent of GDP (more than cars and oil and gas combined! rivalled only by real estate!), and accounts for more than one in every five jobs (unrivalled).

The Care Economy is not a “nice-to-have” add-on; it’s a must-have, and destined to grow as the share of the population that is too young, too old or too sick to work grows.

How it grows matters.

Every election is an election about culture.

This election will define what we, the voting public, thinks should drive society.

Do we want a car society, or a caring society?

Without question, if I were a car, I’d vote for the Conservative platform.

But I’m not a car.

Culturally, this is a retro platform. It’s about cars, not care.

It’s about traditional male interests: build highways to cater to cars.

The difference in the other platforms is that they cater to people.

Yes, many Ontarians need to drive to survive, but just consider; the vast majority of Ontarians live in the province’s biggest cities where public transit options are lousy and expensive. (More than two thirds — 68 per cent — of Ontarians live in just five cities: Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Kitchener and London.)

In that regard, the Liberals’ “Buck-A-Ride, Provincewide” campaign promise to slash transit fares across the province to $1 per ride might be the most surprising and surprisingly progressive policy out there, both for those with less money, who don’t have cars, and for those with more money, who do.

Less gridlock and lower carbon emissions for everyone. What’s not to love?

Yes, we need more hospitals and facilities to care for one another, but a bed without nursing staff is just a mattress.

Yes, we need more child-care facilities and smaller class sizes, but more spaces without trained caregivers is just a warehouse.

We can deliver a strong recovery, for everyone.

Armine first we have to care for people as much as we care for cars.

Armine Yalnizyan is a leading voice in Canada’s economic scene and Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers.


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