Opinions

COVID-19 has further highlighted the disparities that exist in our society. Photo: Matt Gergyek/Fulcrum

COVID-19 is a kick in our collective ass to build a sustainable and just future for all

Celebrities and other members of privileged society have made it a habit to claim “we’re all in this together.”

The reality is, we’re not.

While every person on earth has felt its impact, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused exceptional amounts of stress and anguish for those in low-income, racialized, and vulnerable communities. It has exacerbated already existing difficulties like living paycheck to paycheck and a lack of affordable housing in major cities.

There are many people for whom the pandemic has made it impossible to save money or take time off work while maintaining the ability to afford food and rent. Even with the establishment of the Candian Emergency Relief Benefit ($2,000 per month) and Canadian Emergency Student Benefit ($1,250 per month), the amount barely, if at all, covers rent in twenty of Canada’s major cities. That’s assuming you’re eligible in the first place, and not considering food and other necessary costs such as medication.

For those without a home, the risk of contracting COVID-19 rises by 35 per cent.

This pandemic has made the pre-existing and glaring inequities in our society crystal clear. Yes, Canada does have some major issues, and it’s dangerous to sweep them under the carpet as we continue to act as if they only exist in the United States.

Although this widespread clarity paints a grim picture of the state of our city, country, and world, it doesn’t mean we can’t build a positive future to look forward to. If this is truly ‘the new normal,’ we ought to make it a good one for everyone.

Over 200 organizations have endorsed a set of principles towards a ‘Just Recovery’ from COVID-19. The principles include putting “people’s health and wellbeing first,” prioritizing “the needs of workers and communities,” building “equity across communities [and] resilience to prevent future crises,” and strengthening “the social safety net” while actively upholding indigenous rights.

Some countries are already considering changes such as a four-day workweek, so what could this look like in Ottawa?

Ottawa is home to 7,500 homeless and 55,000 low-income individuals and families, yet has just 15,000 affordable housing units. In March, an unused University of Ottawa building was converted into housing for vulnerable families during the pandemic. Initiatives like this, and further investment in affordable housing across the board, provide people with the means to seek employment and prioritize their health and wellbeing.

Seeing as 24 per cent of homeless individuals are Indigenous in Ottawa, an investment in affordable housing is also an investment in one of the most underserved groups in the country.

On Wednesday, rather than invest in affordable housing, Ottawa city council voted to expand the city’s urban boundary. This means further urban sprawl, rather than sustainable development in communities already in dire need.

Affordability, walkable neighbourhoods, and sustainable infrastructure are vital factors towards a resilient city, and are all within reach for Ottawa. The city has the opportunity and responsibility to prioritize its residents over corporate interests, especially during a pandemic. Residents must make their voices heard to city council and guide the discussion towards a sustainable and just recovery for all.

You can find your city concillor’s contact details on the City of Ottawa website.

Photo: Leyla Abdolell

Leyla Abdolell is a second-year History and Creative Writing student who has worked in digital media and advocacy at TVO, Planned Parenthood Toronto, and the Toronto Youth Cabinet. She is also a vice-president of the U of O’s History Students’ Association.