The Morning Brief – 05.06.20

By Bruce Carson


Leadership in a Time of Uncertainty

Mental, Physical and Financial Health in the Time of COVID-19 

Can Canadians Look Forward with Trust and Optimism; some Questions?

The past few weeks have become even more stressful impacting the mental health of Canadians. The stress and anxiety continues with no end in sight even as our political leaders talk about relaxing the strictures brought in to deal with COVID-19 in the middle of March.

It is obvious from the uptake of the benefits provided by the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, over seven million and counting, and the numbers who will benefit from the wage subsidy that Canadians experiencing job losses and watching businesses close have reached out to sign up for whatever aid is available as they should. This is not a time to stand on principle and reject what is offered and available.

It is not the fault of Canadians that they are presently unemployed and they should not be punished or criticized for being in their present state. This can’t be emphasized enough during this uncertain period. In fact playing the blame game should not include Canadians who are presently suffering.

Being unemployed for the majority of Canadians is a hard concept to grasp and cope with. One day, one is going well over the human speed limit to complete tasks and the next day, that speed is reduced to zero.

The reaction for many could be to lie in bed or sit at the breakfast table, the next morning, trying to make sense of it all, where does one fit into this new world and asking what to do next?

Over the last number of years suspicion of government has developed manifesting itself in populist movements in Europe and in the United States, but not to the same extent in Canada. The belief is that government is there to serve itself and not those who elected it and it is supposed to serve.

Fortunately in many countries including Canada plans to cope with the new reality of COVID-19 were put in place relatively quickly and as the recent Leger poll illustrates, at least for now, and perhaps for the foreseeable future, trust in leadership exists and continues.

CERB and the wage subsidy are at a level where they are seen as significant by those receiving them and the support arrives regularly showing that in times of unprecedented crisis government can be a help, not a hindrance.

As we move through this crisis and it is not  clear that we are even at the mid-way point, Canadians to maintain that faith in their governments will have to see them as caring, supportive and understanding what Canadians are going through as a result of complying with government edicts. A balance among leadership, caring, empathy and support should be achieved. If this does not occur, leaders may look behind them and discover they are without followers.

Yesterday, it was the needs of farmers, the agri-food industry to be dealt with as the federal government’s cash carousel was sent spinning again.

The agriculture community which was described as vital to Canadians being able to continue the fight against COVID-19 received only a fraction of the money it believes it needs to carry on supporting the anti-COVID-19 effort.

On another day, in the pre-COVID-19 universe, $252 million might have been seen as acceptable, but farm owners and workers sitting around that ubiquitous kitchen table must wonder why after making the sacrifices that farmers make, why they are not good enough or the sector isn’t important enough to get at least close to what they believed was needed. In that, they join the energy sector looking at what might be considered a good first step.

What does this do to an already fragile economic situation?

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau echoed the words of the prime minister saying that this payment could be looked upon as a first installment with more to come. Bibeau was asked by Vassy Kapelos on Power and Politics if it was acknowledged that more will be coming, why not provide it now to stop the bleeding sooner than later. While the answer was unclear, at least for the farming and agri-food industry, it wasn’t a ‘no’, you have all the money you are going to get.

When people believe, that through no fault of their own, their livelihoods are at stake are half or quarter measures really appropriate? These, like other workers hit by the results of COVID-19 deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, as noted with much of the government’s response, it has been through half and quarter measures. This is not to criticize the measures taken, but there always seems to be cracks which negatively affect segments of Canadian society needing help.

Are legislators out of touch with the needs of the people they are to represent and serve? Does the bubble in Ottawa or in other capital cities place a wall between those who are there to serve and those who need service? Are legislators by definition inoculated against the common every day needs and cares of those they serve?

Obviously if much of the above is true, it does not apply to all who serve, but it presents a problem that bears watching.

Perhaps in the midst of this chaotic time decision makers should take a pause, a quiet moment, to reflect on what they are trying to do and actually doing. They should not get caught up in the amounts of money being spent, but should make it clear what good that money will do. Prime Minister Harper, at least in the days I was there, use to implore ministers not to talk about amounts of money as if the one who spends the most wins, but emphasize why the money is being spent and the good that may come from an announcement.

Perhaps Canadians need to hear more about the effect of an announcement and less about amounts of money so large that no one can grasp the total.

This is a fragile time for many Canadians, they may be sick, they may have lost loved ones to the virus and all are worried and anxious about what is coming next.

Fortunately at this crucial time the federal government and provinces have begun to address the mental health problems that are present now but will keep multiplying as we move farther into the unknown. The key for Canadians who are worried and anxious is that these services continue to expand to meet increasing demand.

As COVID-19 begins to subside, and provinces open up their economies, new levels of stress will arrive as Canadians try to fit within this future. Will there still be manufacturing jobs or will the economy move from tangibles to intangibles and what does that mean for those seeking a job?

Will the 76,000 jobs promised by the federal government for students actually materialize, or was this just a number thrown out for the purpose of a press release? And if they exist, where does one line up to get one?

What is the single mother of two, who has a job to go back to, but can’t access daycare to do? Once again, it is not her fault she is in this predicament, so there must be an answer.

Seniors, who are worried about their health and their finances and may be mourning the death of a loved one, will need support as we move forward. This group keeps hearing that support is on its way, just not now.

There are those still around that kitchen table wondering how long the financial supports might last, will they be replaced and by what?

And we haven’t dealt with Canada’s most vulnerable, the homeless and Indigenous groups, particularly those in remote locations.

It is time for policy makers at all levels to take a step back from the confusion of the day and genuinely reflect on what is coming and the policies that are needed to help Canadians survive, cope and grow in this new paradigm.

These policies need to be conveyed to Canadians who don’t know what is on the horizon or over it. While Canadians have often been described during this period as ‘resilient,’ a number will need support; physical, mental and financial, as they approach this future.

It is time that leaders share their views of the future with Canadians, setting out the supports that will be in place to ease the transition.

Canadians need to believe that those who are in leadership positions have Canadians’ best interests at heart and will do what is right for them. Trust in leadership underpins Canadians’ belief in a viable future.

Our leaders must realize that failure is not an option as that would mean failing Canadians at this critical time.

To Come

  • House of Commons meets in person
May 7
  • First Ministers meet by conference call
May 8
  • Job numbers for April to be released
May 20
  • CPI numbers for April to be released
May 22
  • Retail trade numbers for March to be released

Due to scheduling conflicts The Morning Brief will return on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.