We live in unprecedented times.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the advantages and disadvantages of the global public health system. Necessary responses to this pandemic are testing the wider social safety net, many of which have been undermined by years of austerity policies. As many economies are likely to fall into recession, governments are showing the ability or lack of capacity to meet this huge challenge.
The health effects of coronavirus are very serious. The same is true of the potential economic consequences. Its impact may exceed the impact of the 2008-09 financial crisis.
Remember, many governments were slow at the time. Canada promised to spend 2% of GDP to start the economy. The United States, Australia, Italy, Germany and South Korea have all spent more money.
This time, the government has the opportunity to act faster and become smarter. They should commit to a more ambitious and strategic stimulus plan-4% or 5% of GDP-and ensure that as much as possible goes directly into the hands of workers in order to initiate consumer spending and provide assistance in paying individuals.
Economic losses are rapid. In just a few days, stock prices plummeted and resource prices plummeted. In workplaces across the country, shifts have been cancelled and layoffs are approaching. Some factories have temporarily stopped production.
We have two main government requirements. First, protect public health and improve workers' rights by ensuring that all workers have paid, work-protected sick leave, and appropriate health care and income assistance. Second, move quickly to provide fiscal stimulus packages to reduce job losses in the short term and bring people back to work in the long run.
The federal government's first step in accelerating EI sick leave benefits and expanding work sharing is welcome.
Employment insurance must be made more accessible by reducing or even disabling the time required to qualify. In an emergency, it is also necessary to increase the welfare rate to make up for a larger share of the lost income, such as 80% or even 100%.
The government must also take special measures to compensate for the loss of income of a large number of unstable workers who have historically been deprived of EI benefits, including some part-time jobs. Based on work and temporary workers, the government must also take special measures to make up for lost income. .
Certain emergency measures may be so effective that they become permanent measures.
Once this severe stage of the epidemic subsides, the government must double its investment in social infrastructure. Support such as universal parenting is an important economic stabilizer that promotes
gender equality and job creation, and it would be a good choice if the government concentrated its funds on higher wages and benefits. They must also be delivered immediately on Universal Pharmacare.
Any fiscal stimulus plan must also act quickly on overdue investments in physical infrastructure, including the expansion of public transportation systems and wastewater treatment, road construction, public utilities, and others under the guidance of the new National Public Transport Strategy Important public works projects. They should use this opportunity to end long-term drinking water consultations on indigenous reserves. Requiring tools, materials and equipment to be sourced from Canadian suppliers as much as possible will stimulate domestic production. To be clear, because of historically low interest rates, Canada has plenty of fiscal space to do all of this and more.
As governments plan their responses, they must also recognize that crises will become more common. Climate-related events will have comparable destructive effects on our economy in the future. It is time to come up with a bold idea to stabilize our economy with a focus on sustainability.
Canada needs large-scale historic investments in clean technology, green infrastructure and related employment opportunities. Focus permanent transit funds on non-emissions technologies, build and transform affordable housing, invest heavily in zero-emission vehicle technologies and production capacity, and clean up abandoned oil wells in Alberta while investing in oil sands workers Skills and capabilities to meet our future energy needs.
This pandemic has put pressure on frontline workers for a chronically underfunded health care system, which has left us all vulnerable. Our opportunity-an opportunity that governments must seize-is to invest in plans and infrastructure to strengthen our ability to survive the next crisis.
Jerry Dias is the country president of Unifor