Future ‘normal’ will be different if we learn our lessons

Carolyn Bennett logoThere is now a growing understanding that asking “When will things get back to normal?” is the wrong question. For many it would signal a failure to learn.

Kehkashan Basu and our Toronto-St. Paul’s Youth Council were pretty clear with me that going back to normal is unacceptable for them. They are urging us to use this COVID-19 pause to take us forward to better policies — socially, economically and environmentally.

COVID-19 started out as an outbreak of a novel virus on the other side of the world. Rapidly, we found ourselves responding to a global pandemic.

Canadians quickly understood how important it was to heed the public health advice of washing our hands and staying home. We soon learned how important it was to “physically distance” when outside. We learned new ways of staying socially connected while staying home.  We came to understand that the phrase “flatten the curve” meant each of us had a responsibility to do everything in our power to keep the number of sick people within the capacity of our cherished health care system. We came to know that the best way we could help those essential workers on the front lines was to stay home.

COVID-19 quickly became much more than a health threat. Our economy has been almost literally shut down resulting in heartbreaking job losses. It has threatened the viability of so many of the small businesses who make us who we are as the vibrant community of Toronto-St.Paul’s.

Our government has responded, putting speed ahead of perfection. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit, wage subsidies, rent subsidies and other supports have had to be flexible as we listened to Canadians and adjusted. We know there is still much more to do.

From the start, our neighbours have responded. They are making donations, sewing masks, planting their “victory gardens” and checking in with those who may need their support. We all now recognize that supporting local businesses is our responsibility to maintain our vibrant neighbourhoods. It’s heartbreaking to see boarded up storefronts and For Lease signs on our main streets.

Calls to reform long-term care

We now recognize the need for a focus on public health between crises. COVID-19 has also revealed the serious weaknesses in the care of older persons, and especially the residents of our long-term care facilities. The tragedy in Nova Scotia has also shed light on the urgent need to address the ongoing ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic abuse.

In Mental Health week, it felt like we had already taken a giant leap forward. There is a palpable recognition of the toll that the fear of COVID-19 and self-isolation are having on us and particularly those who were struggling before. We are getting better at asking for help and checking in with others to make sure they’re OK.

Everywhere there are calls for real reforms to long-term care, ageing in place, and the financial and personal security of seniors.

There is a growing consensus that #BuildBackBetter must mean a focus on the social infrastructure. Early learning and the child care sector must be part of building a future that creates great jobs for women and allows families to have real choices.

The young people in our youth council were also clear that they believed that the collective sacrifice of COVID-19 should now be applied to the real changes needed to address the climate change emergency.

I am inspired by the conversations that are taking place. This COVID-19 pause has meant that many with shared concerns are coming together online or on the phone while apart, plotting and planning for a better future. I am inspired by the innovation and creativity of  people like Chris Trussel and Leslie Stolgen of Apple Tree markets as they have morphed their weekly Appletree Market into the fun and therapeutic virtual Tuesdays in the Park to keep us all together as we still have to stay apart.

We can do this. We need your ideas for all the ways we can #BuildBackBetter.

In the meantime, we have to keep our distance. Stay Safe. Stronger Together While Apart.