Times of crisis become moments when we examine what is important to us. This year, for better or worse, has forced everyone to abandon business as usual, ask tough questions and focus on our top priorities.
This is true for citizens as well as decision-makers. This week’s fiscal update gives us insight into the new reality and future thinking of the federal government as it navigates the risks and realities of a pandemic and its aftermath.
The measures that were reiterated or announced in Supporting Canadians and Fighting COVID-19, as presented Monday by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, reinforced critical lessons for facing short- and long-term environmental and economic challenges ahead.
This update reminds us that in order to have a resilient Canada, we need to meet times of crisis with strong, smart ambition.
We are not yet out of the woods of the COVID-19 pandemic and its widespread impacts, and that was evident. Announcements of extended financial support for individuals and businesses were made in order to help Canadians weather the next phase of this storm. Policy has helped protect citizens and our economy from the worst of a devastating global crisis, and this latest fiscal update seeks to continue that protection for Canadians well into 2021.
While the fiscal update made clear that it is not yet time to turn to an economic recovery, there were indications that critical climate action will be a part of the recovery, with frequent reference to Canada’s ambitions of achieving net-zero by 2050.
Freeland announced support to advance public transit, expand the presence of zero emissions vehicle-charging stations and clean energy grids and incentivize homeowners to make home energy retrofits. In order to capture and sequester carbon, nature-based solutions such as extensive tree planting, agricultural investments and ecosystem restoration were included, and they will be necessary to reach our climate goals in the long term.
This is smart ambition. By advancing a clear, ambitious and unified vision for meeting our commitments to the Paris climate accord by 2030 and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Canada can advance stable economic and environmental policies that drive foreign and domestic investment towards innovative technologies, products and services. This is what is needed to remain globally competitive into the future.
The jobs promised in the fiscal update — one million of them — are directly connected to building a greener and more inclusive economy. The intersection between job creation, inclusivity and climate action in the update is an important one, and one that deserves ongoing attention when the government releases its plan announced in the throne speech to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal and when that plan is put into action.
The uneven impacts of the pandemic were also, rightly, a focus. Women, Black and racialized Canadians, Indigenous people and young people have been disproportionately affected, and these inequities were identified as needing to be addressed through measures like access to affordable child care. As was shown in this update, it is critical that measures addressing this and future crises need to break down barriers if they are to be effective in building a just economy that works for all Canadians.
While we don’t know when we will emerge on the other side of this pandemic, we do know that it will not be the only market shock and crisis we face. Growing risks of climate change, biodiversity loss and severe weather will impact Canadians’ health and jobs. While the challenges ahead are considerable, the fiscal update shows that we can respond quickly and comprehensively in times of crisis.
"While the fiscal update made clear that it is not yet time to turn to an economic recovery, there were indications that critical climate action will be a part of the recovery," write @CircularLiving and Mike Wilson of @SP_Inst. #COVID19 #cdnpoli
We can look to the future with ambition. It is worth paying attention to how this now rolls out, so that we turn the plan into action while at the same time learning lessons on how to unite and build a strong, clean economy in challenging times. We will need to do it again after this pandemic, and it will bear remembering that we know how.
Alice Irene Whittaker is director of communications at the Smart Prosperity Institute. Mike Wilson is the institute's executive director.