Column: What about the other 99%?
As I head into week 5 of the stay at home mandate, it gives me far too much time to think about the current state of affairs and where we may be headed. With record-breaking unemployment levels reported across the country and around the world, followed by government assistance programs heaped out from above at record levels, there continues to be the chorus of “it will be fine; we just need to wait this out.” And we keep waiting. The problem I have with this assessment is that there is the baseline assumption that there will be the same jobs to go to that were there before this began, and that the inflationary environment that has been so absent in the past, will remain so going forward. But what if it isn’t? I just got off the phone with a friend in Ontario who explained to me that the agricultural sector is now being squeezed, with dairy farmers being asked to pour out their milk and protein producers seeing materially lower calls on production. Restaurant closures are being cited as the cause for the demand destruction, and for those that know the hospitality business, one knows all too well that they are not typically built to withstand long periods of revenue disruption. For that matter, neither is a lot of the agricultural sector. Across the economy, we are seeing the impacts of COVID-19. The biggest long-term impact is the ability to generate taxes so that we can pay for this “interruption”. More recently I hear comments about the underinvestment in health care and the challenges that are increasingly being felt by fields such as education and the social safety net that we enjoy. All of this is a critical part of our infrastructure and helps define who we are as Canadians. But this is, in large part, paid for by taxes in various forms. The path we are currently on is unsustainable over any duration. Rising debts have to be repaid. To pay taxes one has to have a job. To generate an economy, one needs to have disposable income. I believe that Governments need to find a path to restoring normalcy to the world, lest there not be a world for many to return to, and I think that timeline is reasonably short. Any material lengthening of this stay in place order will result, in my opinion, in a mental health crisis not only from the isolation impacts but potentially from the stresses of what is to come. We need a plan that provides hope, not uncertainty, in the coming weeks. We need something to strive for, not to fear. Mask up. Wash your hands. Safe distance. We need to get back to work while we still can.