When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Canadians were admirably quick to adopt massive behavioural and policy changes to protect themselves and help flatten the curve of infections.
Income support was rolled out for millions suddenly out of work, social distancing was implemented, streets were closed off to make room for pedestrians and, overnight, workplaces were transformed from physical to virtual.
Elected officials across Canada have, on balance, responded effectively to the pandemic and bolstered trust in science-based public health decisions.
Philanthropic foundations have also adjusted swiftly. Collectively we provide more than $50 million in charitable grants annually and represent approximately $1.5 billion in assets. Across Canada, we are supporting health-care institutions, housing and social services, poverty reduction, decent work, the arts, education, environmental action, tackling racial inequality and assisting a range of other community organizations in our COVID-19 emergency response efforts.
Just like governments, the priorities of foundations have, by necessity, shifted in the short term to target support for pandemic response efforts. In addition, many foundations have made the decision to increase their spending to support communities most affected by the crisis.
However, while responding to the clear and present challenges related to this pandemic, we also cannot lose sight of the broader climate emergency.
Climate change remains the greatest threat to human health in history, and like COVID-19, we must address it directly and vigorously before it spirals further out of control.Like COVID-19, it disproportionately affects racialized, Indigenous, and economically disenfranchised communities.
As Canadians look to recover from the worst of the pandemic, we also have an opportunity to advance climate-related solutions that build up just industries and livelihoods, that generate green jobs as part of a low-carbon economy, that support well-being economies and protect workers’ rights, eradicate poverty, distribute wealth equitably, and uphold human rights. In order to "build back better," these communities need to be at the front and centre of recovery programs.
As leaders of philanthropic foundations, we are asking governments of all levels to invest in short- and long-term recovery efforts that are green, clean, resilient, and just for all.
We only have one Earth and we only have one recovery: This is our chance to tackle climate change.
We believe that Canada’s recovery efforts should take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to align economic growth with climate action. Canada must focus support on action that will move our country forward: housing retrofits that create good local jobs; public transit; electric vehicle infrastructure, including electric buses that are built here in Canada; investments in alternative fuels like green hydrogen and in our competitive clean tech sector; and investments in Indigenous guardians programs, natural climate solutions and natural infrastructure projects that benefit diverse people, communities, biodiversity and the environment.
"Climate change remains the greatest threat to human health in history, and like COVID-19, we must address it directly and vigorously before it spirals further out of control."
As our political leaders plan Canada’s economic recovery, they should pay heed to the advice of scientists and public health experts warning of the growing impacts of the climate crisis, just as they have done to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections.
The European Commission has heeded such advice and has clinched a historic green stimulus package that earmarks billions towards a green economic recovery. Several countries, such as France and Germany, have also recently adopted ambitious green recovery packages that will create even more new green jobs.
Canada has an opportunity to lead in much the same way. We only have one chance at this green recovery, and we urge all levels of government to make this economic recovery one that not only will make us proud and prosperous in the short term, but will keep us healthy and safe for generations to come.
Claire Barcik, Catherine Donnelly Foundation
Andy Chisholm and Laurie Thomson, Chisholm Thomson Family Foundation
Kevin Leonard, Echo Foundation
Sherry Campbell, The Gordon Foundation
Bruce Lourie, Ivey Foundation
Stephen A. Jarislowsky, The Jarislowsky Foundation
Jehad Y. Aliweiwi, Laidlaw Foundation
Marcel Lauzière, Lawson Foundation
Sandy Houston, Metcalf Foundation
Peter Kendall, Schad Foundation
Carolynn Beaty, Sitka Foundation
Eric St-Pierre, Trottier Family Foundation