Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, CHASE Executive Director, November 20, 2020
In a few weeks, the Federal Government will release its new budget; a budget that will help us respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 pandemic. As public health professionals, we see this as a pivotal moment; as an opportunity to re-create our society into one that is healthier, green and just.
While many of our colleagues are focused on the immediate threat posed by the pandemic, we know that they are deeply concerned about both, the climate crisis which threatens the livability of our planet, and the inequities in our society that have been thrown into sharp relief by COVID19.
We all understand the need to address the funding shortages in our public health and health care systems, but let us not lose sight of the imperative to shift our economy away from the extraction and use of fossil fuels which are destroying the ecosystems upon which all life depends. We know that global warming is fuelling heat waves, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires. We know it is melting glaciers, increasing sea levels, and driving plant and animal species into extinction at an alarming rate. We know it is reducing agricultural yields in countries that are already struggling to feed their people, while disrupting populations of salmon and other animals that we rely upon for food.
We have squandered the last four or five decades when we could have been gradually winding down our dependence on the fossil fuels that are driving global warming. We now have a small window of time in which we must take dramatic action.
Energy experts have determined that the Federal Government could put us on the path to a net zero future by investing $10 billion per year over the next decade to green Canada’s power grid, electrify the transportation sector, and upgrade our homes and workplaces. These investments would save Canadians $39 billion per year in fuel costs and create millions of high-quality jobs. They would also produce significant health benefits. Chronic diseases cost Canadians nearly $200 billion per year in treatment and lost-time. By investing in renewable energies, public transit, active travel, zero emissions vehicles, and energy efficient buildings, we can prevent many early deaths, reduce rates of heart disease, asthma, lung cancer and diabetes, and cut healthcare costs by reducing air pollution and increasing the levels of physical activity among Canadians.
These investments could also help us create a more equitable society. COVID-19 has shown us how precarious work, poor working conditions and over-crowded housing can place low income households at greater risk for death and disease. The workers deemed essential workers during the pandemic – many of whom are women, people of colour, new immigrants and migrant workers – are among the lowest-paid and least protected workers in Canada. If properly directly, these investments could ensure that those who grow our food, care for our elderly, and tend to our health, live in healthy homes, have safe and efficient transit service, and live in neighbourhoods with safe walking and cycling infrastructure.
We all agree that our Federal Government must spend our taxes to stimulate the economy; to help people weather the storm; to put people back to work as the pandemic subsides. So let’s make sure that money is well spent; that it is used to re-tool our economy and re-train our workers; to create a sustainable economy that does not threaten life on the planet; to create a more just society that allows all people to be safe in their homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces. Let’s use this budget to create a healthy, green and just society.