The Growing Scope

As we come into the Easter Weekend, it’s almost hard to believe that we’ve been into this pandemic for close to a month now. For those infected, we’ve seen the number of cases of Covid-19 grow every day. For students, most haven’t been in school for going on their fourth week. For fortunate workers, it’s been four weeks of working from home. And for the unfortunate ones, it’s been weeks since their layoffs hit, or hours were reduced. It’s been a sobering time, something that the vast majority of us alive have never faced.

The facts have been striking and as the days have gone on, we’ve gotten a better idea of the growing scope of the crisis that we’re facing regarding public health, and how it’s affecting all aspects of everyone’s lives. But now we’re reaching the point of this crisis where a lot of the usual statistical measures that governments do on an ongoing basis are starting to capture the effect of what’s happening out there. With that in mind, today Statistic Canada released their monthly jobs figures for March, a report that the Prime Minister told us yesterday that we’d need to gird ourselves for. That was sage advice, because the numbers were stunning:

Wow! Over 1 million jobs lost and the unemployment rate rising to 7.8%. Those are the worst month over month changes that Canada has ever seen since the Great Depression and the highest unemployment rate we’ve seen since 1976. Literally, these are things that the majority of Canadians alive today have never experienced. But when you dive a bit deeper into the Stats Can release, there are other numbers that leap out at you. Of those people who were employed, the number who did not work any hours increased by 1.3 million, while the number who worked less than half of their usual hours increased by 800,000. That brings the total of Canadians who were affected by either job loss or reduced hours to 3.1 million. 3.1 million people folks. That’s around 10% of our population, and that’s happened in less than a month.

When you break that out by province, you see that employment fell in all provinces, with Ontario losing 403,000 jobs, Quebec 264,000 jobs , British Columbia 132,000 jobs and Alberta 117,000 jobs. Another stat that jumped out at me was the effect on youth, a group that came into this crisis with an already high level of unemployment or underemployment. For youth between 15 to 24, employment decreased by 392,500 jobs in March, the fastest rate of decline across the age groups Stats Can measures. That decrease brought the employment rate for youth to 49.1%, the lowest on record using comparable data beginning in 1976. Given that youth are also more likely than the rest of the population to work in the service sector, that exposes them even more. And even for those who have kept their jobs so far, approximately 20% of employed youth lost all or the majority of their usual hours. I could go on, but the report speaks for itself and is just a taste of what’s to come. That also wasn’t the only release today, as we saw more figures come out to help put everything into greater perspective:

That figure from the Parliamentary Budget Officer is not shocking, given everything that’s happening, nor does it frankly matter as much as it would in the past. Government needs to spend in this moment, so it will, and we’ll have to deal with the deficit figures at another time, once we are clear of this crisis and well into the recovery phase, whether if that is months or a couple years from now. And of course the steep drop in the price of oil hurts that too, making it all the worse. But still, the number is striking on its face, because it still is the biggest budget deficit in Canadian history, and we’re just at the start of this.

The other figure there that gives a good light into where things are going is the number of people who have applied for the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB). Applications opened just on Monday and as of this morning, over 5 million Canadians have applied. Think about that folks; that’s closing in on 15% of all Canadians applying for the benefit for people not covered by Employment Insurance (EI). On top of that figure, you can add everyone who’s applied for EI during the crisis and those figures are going to balloon by probably a few million more. By then, we’re talking about over 20% of all Canadians, and we’re just ending the first full week of April.

All this is to say that while todays employment numbers are shocking on their face and sobering to say the least, it seems that they will pale in comparison to what will come in the next month or so. That should also help to focus the minds of our politicians as they respond to this crisis. These are not normal times and there is no partisan blame to lay for us ending up here, as it was been events totally beyond the control of Canadian governments and leaders that brought us here. But how we do going forward will lay on their shoulders. To date, we’ve seen a good, unified response from most governments at all levels, despite the strains and pressures of the moment. For them, I hope that these figures released today will help them keep that focus, as the scope of this generational crisis grows and continues to come into greater focus. Our futures depend on it, so I pray that they do.

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You’re Talking About What Now?

We’re living through exceptional times, that’s become clear. Many people have risen to this moment, given back to their communities and have really forced us to see so many things in a different light. When we’re focused on life and death, that can’t help but change the way we look at so many things that have been a regular part of our day to day life prior to this, for better or worse.

This all happened so fast that it’s understandable that some people would take longer than others to come around to this new reality and act accordingly. Let’s face it, people don’t have the patience for some of the usual crap that would come from our politics. Whether it be over the top rhetoric, personal attacks or just all-around pettiness, people aren’t standing for that because their minds are focused on much more important things. Their jobs, their health, their loved ones and their communities, that’s where their thoughts are right now and rightfully so.

We don’t want to be bothered or have any time or energy wasted on the petty crap that we regularly saw before this time. We can’t afford it either, because every moment wasted on that stuff is simply taking attention away from where it belongs. After a month or so of our current crisis, most politicians have figured that out. But sadly that’s not been universal, as two stories I’ve seen in the few days have shown us. Let’s start with one that was printed in today’s Globe and Mail, one that left me shaking my head:

Okay folks, this story…. If this story had come out in December, it would have infuriated me because of the pettiness of it. But put it in this environment, and it’s just that much worse. Today we have a story, in Canada’s leading daily newspaper, about grown men moaning about someone being “mean” to them by blocking them on a social media platform. People are dying, businesses are shut down, workers are being laid off, all of these things happening in the ridings that these MPs represent. And what are they on about? “Ohhh that mean Jean-Yves, he won’t let me troll him on Twitter!!!”

Oh yes, the horror for those Conservative MPs quoted in the piece, who are not known for holding their own rhetorical tongues in the House or online, that someone might not want to be bombarded by those words. And as for M. Blanchet, while I somewhat agree with his sentiment that “partisan attacks, insults and fake accounts do not belong on these sites, especially in a time of crisis”, as a party leader, that’s part of what you signed up for. I am not opposed to blocking random Twitter trolls with eight numbers in their name, but blocking a fellow colleague of the House of Commons? Yeah that might be a bit much.

But the bigger point for me is “why in the Hell are we even having this discussion right now?” If you’re really all about dealing with the current crisis, tell the fine journalist who wrote the piece that. As for the Conservative MPs quoted here, they should have said the same. Of course, the nature of stories like these being what they are, I would expect that someone brought this to said journalist, which means that someone seeked him out with this social media “outrage”. Which again, raises the question of that party or individual “What in the Hell are you doing talking about this now?” It’s political malpractice and as tone deaf as it comes, to think that anyone wants to hear about another leaders alleged social media “Mean Girls” act. Come on man, seriously. Now if that were the only piece of political malpractice on social media in Canadian politics, we would have been fortunate. But oh no, no, no. We have another example that just made my stomach turn and I doubt I was alone:

So it’s Monday morning, the start of a brand-new week. You’re the social media manager of a Canadian political party and it just happens to be the day that nearly a million people will apply for emergency benefits because they’ve lost their jobs, in all sectors. This is also at a time when over 3 million people have applied for employment insurance. These are dark days for so many households across this country and you’re thinking about a message that you want to send out in the name of your party, to the whole country. And in that moment, you write that. You write such a torqued, rhetorical and factually questionable Tweet, basically telling a huge segment of people who work in certain sectors that “we don’t give a damn about you.” It also says to those who haven’t been laid off or fired yet in those sectors “we can’t wait until you’re out of a job too.”

That tweet is the political equivalent of dancing on the collective economic graves of thousands of Canadians, while at the same time openly rooting and calling for others to be piled into them. It’s ugly as ugly gets in the best of times, let alone in such dark and dangerous ones. And you know that Tweet was not an accident or anything that the Green Party doesn’t believe, because as of writing this blog, that Tweet is still there. More than two days later, that Tweet hasn’t been deleted or anything. No, it’s still there as if it’s a mark of honour for them, judging certain workers and industries in these hard times. Instead of making a constructive suggestion or statement about how to improve the current situation or help make people safer, the Greens decided to go for rhetorical shock value and put out words that serve no purpose other than to inflame and gaslight certain peoples. That’s the last thing we need right now and makes you really wonder where their heads are at.

Most people don’t expect perfection at the best of times, and this is at least equally as true in hard ones. But as time goes along and we become more accustomed to difficult times, we rightly expect parties and politicians to change their behaviour. We are a month into this now, and an action that might be deemed to be a mistake in the early days when people didn’t know what to do can now be easily seen as tone deaf now, a month later after they should have learned how to be better. If these two stories show us anything, it’s that the instinctual political behaviours of some are obviously stronger than common sense. As with everyone else, we hope that changes and they do better going forward. But in the meantime, they look like their heads are in completely the wrong headspace and under any circumstances one of the most dangerous places for any politician to be is one that is completely disconnected from the reality of the people they represent. That never ends well, for those politicians, their parties or the public they serve.

Talking Canada/US Tensions in the Age of Covid-19 with Kristy Cameron

Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Katlyn Harrison and Lindsay Maskell on the “Political Heat” panel. We talked about the latest developments on Covid-19, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson being admitted to ICU and the moves by the Trump Administration to deny vital medical equipment to Canada. You can listen to the audio below starting at the 14:00 minute mark. Enjoy!

Talking Canada/US Tensions in the Age of Covid-19 on “The Arlene Bynon Show”

This morning I joined Arlene Bynon on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM’s Canada Talks 167, along with Alise Mills. We spoke about the moves by the Trump Administration to deny vital medical equipment to Canada, about how different politicians are responding to this new crisis in the age of Covid-19 & the Prime Minister’s announcements this morning on the global pandemic. You can listen to it all below. Enjoy!

Shirley Douglas – April 2, 1934 – April 5, 2020

In every party, union or movement, there are names and people who loom large in it. They leave a huge imprint on the memories and souls of those who are a part of it, becoming synonymous with the movements themselves. It can be hard for anyone to follow in those footsteps, let alone to be born into them.

Being the child of such legendary people can be a burden onto itself, depending on how they view it. Inheriting not just the name of your legendary parent but also their political legacy can understandably be viewed that way too by those who inherited it. For some, that inheritance can be too much or nothing they want to be a part of. But for others, it becomes not just a point of familial pride, but becomes their own crusade to build upon, to continue to move forward and improve upon, not just for themselves but for all of society. Today we lost someone who viewed their political inheritance as a life’s crusade of her own, and in the process made an indelible mark all her own, beyond the name of her famous father:

Shirley Douglas made a career of distinction of her own beyond the life of her father Tommy. She became a renowned actress, at home and aboard, and let her art speak for itself. But the values that she was raised with never left her nor were tarnished when she left for Hollywood. The values her parents raised her with, of helping one another and being thy brothers keep her, stayed ever present in her life. Sometimes that lead to controversy, like the ones involving breakfast programs in Los Angeles. But even in those moments where that could have made some parents cringe, you could see just how proud her father was of her work. It even led to famous moments like these, that stick in the mind:

Beyond that work though Shirley dedicated so much of her life’s mission to the protection and growth of the program her father brought to our country, Universal Medicare. Between her advocacy with the party her father first lead, the NDP, and the Canadian Healthcare Coalition, she led with the determination and fire that was the equal of her father. To hear her speak, you could see the passion in her demeanor, hear the fire in her voice and feel the dedication that she felt towards her fellow people. While she spoke with a voice all her own, her words echoed the voice of her father. Rather than feel tied down by her father’s history, you could see not only her pride in his work but her duty towards her fellow Canadians to keep fighting. You could really hear that in this speech that she gave to the Canadian Auto Workers back in 1999:

For me personally, I only met Shirley twice in my time with the NDP, briefly having shaken her hand. I’ve heard her speak at NDP conventions and found myself hanging on her words and passion. My only other odd connection to Shirley was the old CBC show “Wind at my Back”, of all things. She played one of the main characters in the show, while the school I taught at for three years, Central Public School in Bowmanville, ON, as one of the scenes for it. Small world, right?

Maybe one of thing that we can say about Shirley with pride is something that many have been able to say about her own parents; that not only that she followed the good example set by them, but has made sure to pass along the same values, qualities and passion into her own children. We have seen that time and again in her son Kiefer Sutherland, not just pride in the legacy that his grandfather Tommy left us, but the legacy that his own mother added to it. She clearly succeeded in passing along the same lessons and values that her parents passed along to her, and we are all better off for it. But for now, Shirley, rest well and thank you for your strong voice that spoke up for all of us. Rest in Peace.