The Ottawa Citizen April 20, 2020 by Councillor Theresa Kavanagh
It’s been a little over a month since everything about life in Ottawa changed overnight. COVID-19 has had far-reaching impacts on every aspect of our lives. Every day our city identifies and works on new solutions to the latest issue arising from the pandemic. Already there are some stark lessons we’re learning about what we have.
• First of all, let’s be grateful for what is already in place. We currently have a strong trusted public health system in our city. We’ve learned that health is no longer a personal matter. Our behaviour directly affects the health of people across our city, let alone the globe. The fact that we have competent public leadership, good communication systems, access to the latest research and capacity to respond quickly to new information has enabled us to achieve unprecedented behavioural change across our community in six short weeks. This is a good time to remind everyone that the public health care system that we are totally relying on commands only two per cent of the total provincial health budget. Public health is an investment we must continue to build for our future.
• We learned the value of our public spaces, especially our parks and walking paths. For the overall good of our citizens, we have temporarily limited our use of these spaces, and that’s been heartbreaking. The loss of those spaces has been especially difficult for those with limited personal property of their own. But in a time like this, everyone needs to respect physical distancing guidelines because it’s the fastest way to return to the freedoms we all share in this beautiful city. Let’s make a commitment that we’ll work to cherish and protect our trees, our river, our parks, our paths, our air. Not only have we been reminded about how they contribute to everyone’s health and quality of life, but we have seen that they are especially critical for families and individuals with less means.
• We’ve learned to pay more respect to essential workers who are now in the spotlight through this pandemic. They need to be appropriately compensated so they can pay their rent and feed their kids. Personal care workers don’t want two or three jobs. Pay them responsibly for one job. It’s not a coincidence that these workers are disproportionately women, another inequity that we need to address. They are also the ones who need scarce affordable housing. The very people who are holding our society together can’t afford a home in our city.
• Along with personal support workers, seniors have been the victims of the perfect storm: under-resourced, overcrowded long-term care homes with staff who are forced to move between several high-risk locations. It has taken a pandemic to expose that putting profit before quality standards of care has meant the neglect of our aging citizens as well as our hard-working caregivers.
In the end, the big lesson is that we need each other. We have to make sure that we have strong sustainable systems in place in our communities to take us through the inevitable ups and downs. And those systems are all about people. We all take turns giving and receiving care. We all benefit from the natural beauty around us. The days of thinking unilaterally are long gone. We’re in this together so let’s think collectively.