After the coronavirus pandemic descended on Canada in March, hundreds of companies shuttered, thousands of people lost their jobs and the nation’s gross domestic product fell 8.2 per cent in the first quarter — the worst quarterly showing since 2009.
The virus also laid bare stark inequities in health care for marginalized and racialized communities, proving that some people are harder hit by the virus and its economic impact. Earlier this month, Global News reported a strong association between high rates of COVID-19 and low income, visible minority status and low levels of education in cities like Toronto.
Now, as the economy begins to reopen, there could be a chance for Canada to undergo deep economic and social reform, ensuring no one gets left behind in the new, post-pandemic economy.
Fifty-nine per cent of Canadians are optimistic the country will work together to ensure everyone is included in this recovery, according to new data by Ipsos.
However, experts worry life will remain relatively unchanged for marginalized people.
“What COVID-19 is showing us is nothing new … it’s simply amplifying a lot of things we already knew,” said Kathy Hogarth, an assistant professor in the school of social work at Renison University College.
“All COVID-19 did was amplify those who are in the margins and their poor outcomes of health.”
This is due to the social determinants of health: social and economic factors like income, discrimination and access to quality food, health care and education, all of which can impact a person’s health and how long they will live.
“We can see that COVID-19 is hitting communities that are socially and economically marginalized or disadvantaged hardest,” Nicholas King, a McGill University associate professor who studies public health policy and ethics, previously told Global News.
King says this impact has to do with a number of “structural disadvantage or cumulative disadvantage” factors, including living in “high-density” environments and working certain jobs deemed essential during the pandemic.
“They have families to support, and now their occupations have been deemed essential,” King said of people living in such communities. “They have to go to work both to put food on the table and also because they’re in jobs where they still will be going to work.”
Is now the time for radical change?
The majority of Canadians (59 per cent) are optimistic all groups will be included equally in the recovery process, the poll suggested.
To conduct the data, Ipsos spoke to 1,450 Canadians 18 years and older online.
Women (63 per cent) and people born between 1997 and 2012 (75 per cent) — or Generation Z — are the most likely to think recovery will be equal and inclusive of all groups.
When it comes to making radical social and economic change, 52 per cent of respondents believe the pandemic is the perfect opportunity to better prepare Canada for the future. However, 48 per cent of Canadians believe now is not the time for change, but rather a focus on “getting back to normal.”
However, 41 per cent of Canadians believe it’s “inevitable” that there will be an uneven recovery, creating “winners” and losers” of the pandemic.
Hogarth says an uneven recovery with racialized “losers” is a more likely outcome.
“We know that many of our racialized bodies are in precarious positions, whether it’s precarious employment or precarious housing, and we see all of this complicating the health outcomes for these bodies,” she said.
Unfortunately, Canada has yet to collect data about the disparities between communities when it comes to health care, access to social services and more.
Until we are able to get the data and analyze the differences based on race, said Hogarth, we won’t understand why this is happening — or how to fix it.
How the pandemic amplified Black voices
Predominantly Black communities in Canada have experienced higher rates of the virus.
Black and other racialized people are more likely to have precarious employment in jobs deemed essential during the shutdown. This forced Black Canadians to leave their homes when people were told to stay home, making them more vulnerable to contracting the virus.
And then, amid all of this, Black people were forced to look on as video circulated of a Minneapolis police officer using his knee to pin down George Floyd, a Black man, as he cried out for air and lay dying.
“Black bodies had to deal with (the virus) in a way different than other bodies, then we had to witness another assault,” Hogarth said.
“By witnessing that act of brutality, all the injustices faced by Black bodies during COVID-19 were laid bare.”
The protests in support of Black people won’t have any lasting impact until governments step up to the plate, Hogarth said.
“By in large, history tells us there is a rhythm to social movement … We’ve seen the rise and fall of social movements. This one is going to be no different,” Hogarth said.
Sustained change would only be possible if Canada were collecting race-based health data, she said.
“If we have no data, we have no problem. If we have no problem, we need no solutions.”
Economist Michael Stepner agrees. A new faculty member at the University of Toronto, Stepner recently launched a real-time tracker of the U.S. economy designed to give policymakers up-to-date data.
“Canadian governments have hesitated to collect and release data on the racial breakdown of COVID-19 cases and deaths,” Stepner said.
“Measuring these disparities is only a first step toward ameliorating them, so it is unfortunate that our governments have delayed taking even that small step.”
‘Equity-based approach’ to recovery
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) pays $2,000 every four weeks to workers who have lost all of their income as a result of COVID-19.
The benefit is open both to Canadians who qualify for employment insurance (EI) and those who don’t, including employees who don’t have enough work hours to meet EI requirements and the self-employed.
This means everyone — regardless of their original salary, race, sex, gender or age — is getting the same amount of money, and Hogarth says that’s not good enough when it comes to helping racialized groups.
“Equity is not equality. When we give everybody the same thing, we are absolutely missing the point, because everybody doesn’t start at the same place,” Hogarth said.
She is calling for an equity-based approach to financial support, especially in the time immediately after the economy begins to reopen.
“The changes needed right now are not about all communities getting the same thing,” she said. “It’s looking at where the greatest disparities are and who is hardest hit.”
Without considering people’s starting points, the Canadian government will “continue to widen the gap in equity,” Hogarth said.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun & Allison Vuchnich