Let’s have dignity in life as well as death

Posted on April 18, 2020 in Inclusion Debates

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial

Canadians are rightly outraged by the appalling conditions in long-term-care homes with COVID-19 outbreaks. Seniors, everyone is quick to say, deserve to live out their final years and die with dignity.

That’s clearly not the case now and making it so requires immediate action. We need to “refocus our efforts to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to age in dignity with the care they deserve at the end of their lives,” says federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

She calls this a “project for Canada.”

But surely our collective aspiration must be greater than that. Canadians should have the opportunity to live their entire lives with dignity.

This pandemic has laid bare the deep social inequalities, distortions in our economy and frayed social safety net that means that’s not the case for far too many people long before they reach their care-home years.

There’s nothing like governments telling people to stay home to focus attention on the fact that tens of thousands of people don’t have a room of their own, let alone a home. In fact, with libraries, shopping malls and so many coffee shops now closed, the homelessno longer even have access to a bathroom. Where is the dignity in that?

On First Nations reserves housing is so badly overcrowded, and there are such high rates of poverty and pre-existing health conditions, that governments are essentially keeping their fingers crossed knowing how devastating it will be if COVID-19 tears through those communities.

When public health officials told people to stay home when they were sick it highlighted how many people have no workplace benefits to let them do that.

When politicians urged essential workers to stay on the job we were all confronted with the uncomfortable reality that many of the people vital to keeping food on our tables and caring for the most vulnerable among us were precariously employed and poorly paid.

Indeed, the pay and conditions of some work has fallen to such depths that Canadians don’t even do it. That’s why the federal government is scrambling to accommodate the migrant farm labourers we rely on to plant and pick our crops.

The battle against COVID-19 has affected everyone, from CEOs to cashiers. But the divide between Canadians is revealed in how we ride out the storm.

Some are hunkered down in comfortable homes with secure jobs that continue to pay them whether they’re working normally or not. They have benefits, pensions and savings in the bank.

Others are struggling even more than usual to afford the rent. If their jobs weren’t deemed essential they’ve likely lost them entirely. They have little savings to fall bac- on. They must rely on federal assistance and are, no doubt, piling up debt.

Years of low-paid, part-time and contract work coupled with high housing prices has left many Canadians ill prepared for any kind of economic upheaval. Trying to recovery from this will be that much harder as a consequence.

Our economy has not been working for an increasingly large number of people and our governments, either through regulations or programs, have done little to fix that.

Having been brought together through this crisis, Canadians have an opportunity to decide that we should not simply go back to the old way of doing things. We should strive for something better.

Working together we can push governments and businesses to build a more inclusive economy that offers full-time jobs with decent wages and benefits. We can repair the frayed social safety net.

This crisis has already demonstrated that governments — provincial and federal — can quickly alter policies and programs to better suit the needs of Canadians when they are highly motivated to do so.

One school of thought suggests our eyes have now been opened and it’s almost a given this will continue. Sadly, it’s not.

Our experience with COVID-19 should change everything and it’s easy to spot signs of hope that it will. Cashiers and cleaners have achieved hero status and even a fiscal conservative like Ontario Premier Doug Ford says we’ll make things here from now on, even if it costs more.

But how long will Ford maintain that view once the crisis passes? Will he and others apply it beyond manufacturing personal protective equipment to areas where doing the right thing costs more than governments and businesses have so far been willing to pay?

Once this lockdown on our lives and the economy finally ends there will be a powerful push to just get back to normal. It’s very likely the economic inequality and social justice issues, thrust into the spotlight by the fight to contain the coronavirus, will be seen as less urgent and, once again, put on the back burner.

It’s taking active governments willing to spend money and supported by citizens to get us through this pandemic. And that’s what it will take after this is over to make Canada a place where people can live and age with dignity.

Now that would be a worthy “project” for Canada.


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This entry was posted on Saturday, April 18th, 2020 at 10:00 am and is filed under Inclusion Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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