If there is one thing this crisis is doing to me, it’s to solidify my political beliefs.
Canada is not a fully Democratic Socialist country. It really needs to be. The things that I am seeing that give me comfort are all about making sure that the basic needs of everyone are taken care of. Canada has arrived on a course of action where it is recognized that “the economy” is nothing if the people behind that economy aren’t able to survive and flourish. There is strong social pressure to get on board with this agenda, and to recognize this isn’t the kind of enemy that “rugged individualism” or “self-reliance” can fight. Every dollar of profit made by every company is a result of the work of the employees. Not only that, our dependencies on each other go much deeper. There are so many things about a functioning society that absolutely cannot be outsourced. Sure, the business model may change–I wondered just a few weeks ago at how many spots in the Fortino’s parking lot had been given over for pick-up order parking, and now, there aren’t enough of them–but employees are still needed to put those orders together.
I thought the idea of universal basic income was a fabulous idea the first time I heard it, and I am even more convinced now. During a pilot a couple of years ago in Hamilton, those receiving it were able to stop worrying about those basic needs of food and shelter and could start focusing on upgrading education or being able to afford money to look for a job.
Anyone who’s taken a basic psychology course knows Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The bottom two levels – physiological needs (e.g. water, food, air) and safety needs (e.g. shelter) have to be there before anyone can really progress any further up the pyramid. Here in Canada, we’ve recognized the importance of the second level with a universal health care system (which has gaps and deficiencies, for sure, but generally meets basic needs). Currently, programs like (in Ontario) ODSP and Ontario Works partially address the first level, but too many people are in precarious or low-income jobs right now–and so many of these are those same jobs that we’re apparently now discovering are “essential.”
But for me, it goes beyond merely making sure people have enough for food and housing. If you make these part of the social safety net, what does that allow us to do as a society? It makes it more probable that people are going to be able to reach their potential–and we absolutely need both scientists–to keep us and the earth healthy–and people in the arts–to keep our souls healthy. We need people who understand how to analyze and understand both qualitative and quantitative data critically. And we need teachers at all levels of the educational system.
I made the choice twenty years ago not to go into post-secondary education. With two people to support, I had to forgo something I was good at and loved in favour of something that I was good at that paid the bills. In the world that is coming, I would love to be able to return to the world of education–but the question would be, how? What options are there for me? What options could possibly be created if we looked at education differently? I would equally love to be in a position to use my project management skills in the arts or humanities sector. And I think we need to acknowledge that we have to rethink those so-called “shit jobs” that pay shitty wages. Any job deemed “essential” is not a ‘shit job’and deserves a living wage, because all of those so-called “good jobs” depend on that essential work being done. “Good” jobs are not morally superior. Remember that pyramid at the top? If those jobs at the base of the pyramid don’t happen, those at the top cannot, either, and this situation has only exposed that basic truth.
So that brings me back to socialism of the variety that the Scandinavian countries practice. We need to see every person in this country as an important part of our society, worth having not just health care, but food and shelter and an opportunity to contribute-because look at those next two layers in the pyramid–love and belonging, and esteem. Ensure those bottom two layers, and you give people a fighting chance. And the Canadian government needs to also continue to increase their investment in anything that benefits us all–including infrastructure and scientific research. And if that involves higher taxes, and a lot of effort to do right, it’s worth it.
We know that now.