March 9, 2021 marks the opening of the Nova Scotia legislature and an opportunity for the new premier and cabinet to face questions in this democratic chamber.
It is important to underline that this is the first time that the legislature will sit since it adjourned on March 10, 2020. The only legislative assembly in Canada that did not sit, except briefly to prorogue the legislative assembly in December.
The elected body of our democracy did not sit during an entire year—during a health crisis that caused an economic crisis, in a province that is already facing a housing crisis, high levels of poverty, and food insecurity.
A province that has ensured that there is very little slack in a health care system that was not up to the task of curative care, let alone long-term care, home care, mental health care, preventative or wholistic care. More people in this province have reported higher rates of anxiety levels than anywhere else in Canada.
While the premier took questions during COVID-19 briefings, the media was restricted in what it could ask and the media are not our elected officials.
Speaking of significant dates: Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a day to reflect on the status of women in our province. Aptly timed, CCPA Senior Researcher Katherine Scott released a report that showed decades of progress has been wiped out due to pandemic legislative responses: “low-wage women and their families are in the fight of their economic lives while high-income earners have continued to prosper.” Meanwhile Black, racialized, and Indigenous women working in hard-hit sectors and occupations bore the brunt of first wave employment losses.
Recent decisions in Nova Scotia to invest in venture capitalists, no matter who they are, suggests a lack of understanding of what is needed.
Had our legislature been sitting, perhaps questions could have been raised about the lack of support for those who were bearing the disproportionate burden of the pandemic’s impact. Women can now add pandemic shock absorber to the long list of essential services that they provide to our society.
The evidence of the pandemic’s impact must be used to create policies to respond to it. This seems obvious, but recent decisions in Nova Scotia to invest in venture capitalists, no matter who they are, suggests a lack of understanding of what is needed.
The reality is that as the pandemic hit, women’s position in our society meant that many more of them lost their jobs or most of their working hours. When schools and licensed child care facilities closed, many were forced to abandon their jobs or try to juggle paid work at home with unpaid caregiving and homeschooling.
Essential workers were left struggling to make child care arrangements of their own, with no time to call their elected officials to tell them that child care is indeed not “organic”, as the former premier assumed.
Women also struggled with the caregiving that they were providing to their family members, who needed additional, often specialized care, whether in long-term care or at home.
Of course one of the most significant days in the past year was March 10, 2020, the day that the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. We were still unsure what that meant for our province. On that day, we went ahead with our planned press conference in which we released the social policy framework for Nova Scotia. This report and the framework were created many months before there was any sense of what was to come.
The social policy framework could have been used to design a response to the pandemic because it is a tool to address or remedy the injustices and harms that we see daily and to get at the root of this change. It creates a road map for arriving at a fair and just Nova Scotia.
We need to expect much more than no cuts. Inflationary adjustment is a bare minimum.
Here are questions for the new premier as we remain in a state of emergency going on a year:
All workers deserve paid sick leave. When will you act to ensure that workers have access to at least 10 paid sick days a year without need for a doctor’s note? Essential workers were left with very few options and difficult decisions to make. All workers deserve this minimal protection.
It is essential that an affordable, quality, public child care system be available to all families in Nova Scotia. Will you commit to continued investment to build a system of comprehensive, high quality, publicly managed child care? Such an investment would not only extend vital support to children and their families, it would significantly increase the employment of women, resulting in higher economic activity and higher government revenues.
All people deserve housing that is affordable, safe and secure. There are many hundreds of people who have absolutely no home across the province and many thousands more who are not sure how much longer they will be able to afford to stay in their homes. Will you provide some immediate rent relief to those who have fallen in arrears? Will you support the purchase of existing infrastructure to end chronic homelessness?
Many thousands of people in our province rely on your government to provide them with income to survive for a myriad of reasons. The $50 one-time top up was rather insulting when we know that the rates for income assistance don’t even come close to covering very basic needs, let alone the challenges related to the pandemic. Will you provide an immediate increase to social assistance of $300 per month until the state of emergency is lifted with a commitment to bring it to the poverty line permanently?
Employers need workers and consumers to get the economy back on track. Workers need decent wages and benefits to enter and remain in the workforce and to purchase what they need. Will you commit to raising the minimum wage to $15 in the next year?
Lastly, the Minister of Finance has reassured Nova Scotians that there will not be cuts to services or staff in this budget. We need to expect much more than no cuts. Inflationary adjustment is a bare minimum. Will you bring forward a bold investment plan that tackles the climate crisis by investing in green infrastructure and the public services and social infrastructure that we need to ensure that we build a stronger, healthier provinces?
These investments, such as in child care, health care, education, in housing and to support those who live in poverty in our province, have a return on investment that will see us recover from the pandemic and address the multiple crises, inequities and gaps in services. These investments will ensure that we are all in this together.
Such a plan, built on the social policy framework principles, is what is needed. Our alternative budgets for Nova Scotia also offer many solutions to address these crises.
Are you with us is the question we asked in May in our first analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on Nova Scotians. Whether the new premier is with us now will be most evident in the upcoming provincial budget and we will be watching.