Lessons from the pandemic

When the pandemic first hit we saw a real Team Canada approach. Parties set aside their differences and worked to pass emergency legislation and create supports to help keep Canadians safe, healthy, and secure. But the pandemic has also exposed many cracks in our health and social systems. As we recover, we must fix the problems with these systems.

COVID-19 hit long-term care homes the hardest. A report by the Canadian Institute for Health Research found that Canada had the highest record of deaths in long-term care of all the OECD countries during the first and second waves of the pandemic. Thousands have died. Our seniors and long-term care workers deserve better.

I was blowing the whistle on poor conditions in long-term care and calling for national standards even before the pandemic. Seniors in our region were living in horrific conditions at certain foreign-owned, for-profit homes in our community. This is completely unacceptable. We must remove the financial incentive to provide substandard seniors care. Long-term care homes should shift to not-for-profit or government-owned models. No corporation, and certainly no foreign-owned corporation, should be permitted to warehouse seniors for profit.

In March of this year, I introduced Motion 77 calling for a series of measures to fix long-term care, including:

  • Creating a long term care act to establish national standards for care and staffing

  • A basic care guarantee to ensure a base number of care hours per resident

  • Fair pay and benefits for long-term care staff

  • Better support for families and caregivers

  • An end to private for-profit care

  • A shift to community care and ageing in place

Last month, the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) costed my motion. The PBO’s report shows that we are seriously underfunding long-term care. The PBO estimated that approximately 52,000 people are on wait lists for long-term care, many of whom are waiting in hospitals. They said that adequate pay means raising the wage of long-term care workers to $25 per hour.

I was happy to see that the Liberals are starting to listen, and included parts of Motion 77 in their election platform. They said they will enact a long term care act and guarantee a minimum wage of $25 per hour for personal support workers. But this is a small part of the complete series of measures that need to be taken to fix long-term care. I will continue pushing the other parties to adopt all the measures I put forward in Motion 77.

Another area where we’ve seen serious gaps is in our social safety net. When the pandemic first hit, I immediately began contacting government ministers, flagging issues and gaps with emergency pandemic programs. I compiled lists of issues I was hearing from community members in Nanaimo-Ladysmith and sent them directly to government ministers to advocate for improvements.

My work directly contributed to better COVID supports. For example, in March 2020 I urged the government to increase the wage subsidy amount from only 10% to 75%. The Prime Minister later announced an increase to 75%. I also called for expanded eligibility for the government’s interest-free loan program because I had heard from many local small businesses, sole proprietors, and startups who could not access the program. While the program was not perfect, the government eventually expanded eligibility to include those groups

But many people still fell through the cracks in COVID supports. The Green Party called for an emergency Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) immediately in response to the pandemic. A GLI is similar to the concept of a universal basic income (UBI). It would create an income floor under which no Canadian could fall, and would replace the patchwork of social assistance programs with confusing eligibility criteria that are currently leaving far too many behind.

The Green Party has been calling for a GLI since 2006 and I am the #1 MP calling for a GLI in the House of Commons. I am pleased to see that both the NDP and the Liberals have started to discuss the benefits of a GLI/UBI at their party conventions this year.

While the pandemic has taught us hard lessons, it has also shown us what’s possible when we work collaboratively. I am committed to continue leading on these issues and working across party lines for the change we need.