Crises as a catalyst for change – Government really matters

By Dian Cohen
Crises as a catalyst for change –  Government really matters
Dian Cohen (Photo : Courtesy)

This week I want to back-track and dwell on a couple of issues we barely touched in past articles.
Let’s start with how we’re governed – something we don’t think about very often. It’s important, first because whether or not we succeed in transforming the economy depends on what kind of government we get after this crisis — one that wants a speedy return to the old “normal” that rebuilds the economic structures that marginalized or discredited many Canadians — or one that wants to remake the fundamentals of our social and economic life so that everyone has a home they can afford to stay in, food to nourish them, and means to acquire the necessities of life. In other words, a society that works for everyone.
As an authentically global crisis, this is also a global turning point. In Canada we need a government – in alliance with the emerging businesses that challenge the existing system – to move Canada in the direction we need to go at the rate necessary to overcome the time wasted when important decisions were kicked down the road and the game was rigged to satisfy the ruling party bagmen.
So who gets elected matters – a lot.
And how government policy gets implemented matters a lot too. So let’s take a quick look at the public service – Canada’s single largest employer, with 289,000 employees last year and Quebec’s single largest employer with 78,000 employees. They run the country and province day-to-day and implement government policy. Your tax dollars and mine foot the bill not only for their salaries but for about 5 million square meters of office space. Why?
The public service has been creakingly slow to embrace technology – some systems are more than 50 years old and on the brink of failure; taxpayer money pays to maintain them. But for the last several weeks and possibly the next few months, public servants are working remotely from home. What an opportunity this is to jolt the bureaucracy into new ways of working – rethinking the need for massive office buildings and embracing digital government.
Historian Guy Stanley, author of Rebuilding Liberalism: Social Justice with Individual Freedom says, “Canada is way better off than a lot of countries in that many Canadians are actually looking at ways to achieve the forward bounce the country needs. Creating the new institutions and making them work effectively will not be easy. But the good news is that some reflection is taking place. Some politicians are beginning to understand the problem, but they are still missing important points like the necessity of ensuring some competitive national capacity and capability at each point in the design, build, operate, cycle for the key elements of the new 5G Industry 4.0 set up. “
Ann Fitz-Gerald, Director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs adds, ”The COVID-19 outbreak has not only demonstrated the value of strong and competent government institutions and public confidence in those institutions, but also the importance of policy informed by evidence-based analysis… This requires countries to identify what sort of civil society organizations they require and would therefore support. This will need to be done in a context where the bigger question is “what sort of society do we want?”
Dian Cohen is an economist and a founding organizer of the Massawippi Valley Health Centre.
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