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Save our Cities

This week on the “Save our Cities” edition of Political Traction, host Amanda Galbraith speaks with Toronto Beaches-East York City Councillor Brad Bradford to unpack the role of municipal planners when pandemics hit, and discuss what cities can do to prepare for unprecedented changes to urban life, including physical distancing circles and bike lanes.

The ‘she-cession’ may be new but its underlying causes are not

This article was originally published in the Toronto Star on May 24, 2020.

Of all the inequalities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is none more glaring than the profoundly unequal effect it has had on the lives of women.

The impacts are felt everywhere. Primary caregivers have been forced to balance their professional and personal lives like never before, as children stay home from school and work comes home. The psychological and financial pressures of the pandemic have exacerbated the conditions for domestic violence, which impacts Canadian women at a disproportionate rate. Most workers in Canadian long-term care facilities — a group uniquely vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 — are women.

But the fact is, these issues did not arrive with COVID-19 nor will they disappear with a vaccine.

First, the role of women at home. As we look ahead to the reopening of our economy, the wildly unequal division of labour in most households, along with the expected phased nature of reopening, will pose additional challenges for women seeking to return to work.

While some daycares in Ontario have reopened, schools and camps will be closed until the fall. How can we expect parents to return to work without any feasible options for child care?

Second, in public health terms, women face a crisis with unequal repercussions. Over 50 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 cases and deaths are women, making us an exception among nations where the prevailing trend is one of majority-male cases. The apparent reasons are that Canadian women live longer than men and many high-risk jobs (like long-term care work) are done by women. But the trend is disturbing nonetheless.

And third, there is the troublingly unequal economic impact for women. Unlike previous recessions that have mostly impacted goods-producing sectors, COVID-19’s devastation has been largely focused on the service economy.

In the 2008/2009 recession, widespread hits to manufacturing and construction meant that a male workforce bore the brunt of the downturn. But, this time out, rather than job sites and warehouses, it is hospitality and retail that are hurting most. As a result, the majority of jobs lost due to COVID-19, in both Canada and the United States, have been held by women. From mid-February to mid-March, nearly 62 per cent of Canadian job losses were experienced by women.

But those numbers hide an even more significant challenge. Many of those women were let go earlier than their male counterparts and their return to the workplace will be a more significant uphill battle.

It’s now clear that what we face in 2020 is not simply a recession but a “she-cession”; one that will impact the economic life of women in a very unequal way.

So what does this mean? It means our governments need to ditch the playbook they used in 2008/2009 and create one that responds to the needs of this particular crisis.

And they have begun to do just that. So far, Trudeau and his cabinet have shown a promising commitment to addressing some of the issues facing women across Canada: $50 million has been provided for services that support women, children and victims of assault and last week; Minister Mary Ng announced a $15 million investment to help female business owners through the pandemic. The augmented Canada Child Benefit announced by the prime minister this week is another step in the right direction.

But compare this to more than $280-billion in overall COVID-19 relief and the case is made that much, much more is needed.

And there are other considerations. Rather than simply focusing on social supports and targeted pandemic spending, the Trudeau government must take a holistic approach that considers the role of women in our wider economic recovery. That means proper tools to track and analyze the unique impact of this crisis along gender lines as well as innovative options for bolstering our service economy to ensure that unemployment trends no longer impact female earners so profoundly. It also means a genuine commitment to tackle the gender inequalities that predate COVID-19 but have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Getting this right — resolving our systematic challenges as well as our temporal ones — will allow us to come out of this crisis as a stronger, more caring and more successful country.

We’re Just Not That Into You

This week on the “We’re Just Not That Into You” edition of Political Traction, host Amanda Galbraith sits down with Queen’s University Professor Jonathan Rose to discuss the trials and tribulations of our former politicians in their political afterlives. Then, the two go head to head in our rapid fire round on Biden’s running mate, Netflix watch lists and the best place to grab a drink in Kingston.

Canada’s official residences deserve our care and respect

This article was originally published in the Toronto Star on May 17, 2020.

This week, a furor arose on a topic that feels remote to most Canadians, even more so amid the upheaval of COVID-19: the prime minister’s cottage.

In the context of unprecedented layoffs, a health-care crisis and a looming recession, there are many who find such a conversation tone-deaf. But they miss the point — Harrington Lake and the other official residences do not belong to any politician, rather they are symbols (or should be) that belong to all Canadians.

Though most of us would be hard-pressed to name them, the National Capital Commission maintains six historic official properties. In addition to the iconic Rideau Hall and the famously decrepit 24 Sussex Drive, there is the Opposition leader’s home, Stornoway, the House of Commons Speaker’s Gatineau getaway, “The Farm,” a place for visiting dignitaries to crash, 7 Rideau Gate, and — subject of the latest furor — Harrington Lake.

As sure as the swallows are to return to Capistrano each year, on cue, opposition parties shame the sitting prime minister for spending even a red cent on upkeep of these official residences. And it matters not who is paying the bill. Trudeau Sr. was attacked for allowing supporters to build a swimming pool at 24 Sussex — critics called it a bribe from shadowy donors. When Brian Mulroney dared to spend $308,000 on renovations — much of it funded by the PC Party of Canada — he was accused of “Imelda Marcos-like” extravagance.

Now it is Justin Trudeau’s turn. Since mid-April, Conservatives have been using Google Earth photos to speculate that the prime minister has been secretly building himself a “lakeside mansion” at Harrington Lake. Not so, says the National Capital Commission: they are proceeding with a planned $6.1 million restoration of the main cottage. The prime minster is simply using a newly or — depending on who you ask — ostentatiously rebuilt “farmhouse” in the interim; one that will revert to use by official guests once renovations are done.

As the Liberals have faltered in disclosing information about this latest renovation and the NCC has been forced to play cleanup, the country’s chattering classes or “notables” as they like to call themselves in Ottawa, plunge once again into a familiar pond of rancour; fear of which has dissuaded government after government from keeping these residences in livable condition. And talk about pound-foolish and penny wise. With each delay, the eventual cost increases as the buildings sink further into disrepair.

As a result, the historic properties intended to house our country’s elected leadership are in a sorry state. At 24 Sussex, the wiring is a fire hazard, the boiler is broken, the plumbing jams often, the brickwork is crumbling; the entire place is cooled during the summer months by security-compromising window-mounted air conditioner units. The dining room is too big for a family, but too small for a state function. Asbestos is everywhere, as are rodents. And not the hamsters favoured by the Harper children.

That Canada has allowed these properties to degrade into squalor is a national shame. Across the world, there is a distinguished tradition of official residences for heads of government. Just as 10 Downing Street does for the British or the White House does for the Americans, 24 Sussex should serve as a metonym for our elected government itself.

Yet the disrepair is so bad, the current PM has chosen to abandon it and decamp across the road to Rideau Cottage, which his daily coronavirus updates have made famous.

It’s clear no leader has the political guts to make the obvious case that any renovation would not be in his (or her) personal interest; indeed, the necessary fixes would take longer than any prime minister’s term to complete.

So, it is also clear we need a different approach. We need to take this whole business out of the hands of the politicians and entrust these properties to an independent commission of experts.

Just as we have relied on health care professionals to help guide us through this pandemic, we should rely on architectural experts to help determine the future of these important buildings.

After all, these residences, emblems as they are of our system of government, deserve better. They deserve our care and our respect.

Stocked and Loaded

This week on the “Stocked and Loaded” edition of Political Traction, host Amanda Galbraith sits down with her good friend and political reporter Marieke Walsh to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic stockpile, or lack thereof. Then, the two will offer their thoughts on the May long weekend, Premier Ford’s cherry cheesecake and Canada’s Drag Race.