If I was to describe 2020 it would be the year that we would most like to forget but should not.
I don’t believe any of us will forget the work of Ottawa Public Health in this precarious situation under the leadership of Dr. Vera Etches. We were all in uncharted territory as we learned what we could and could not do. We learned what was important to us and that keeping in contact with each other via telephone and zoom was as important as it had been in person. We have a new respect for the safety of our seniors as we realize their vulnerability and the need to protect them with better services. If we did not know this before, we can now clearly see that public health is an essential service that we need to build instead of dilute. Going forward, we need to be vigilant about ensuring our province re-builds a better public health care system.
2020 was challenging because it gave no notice of what would happen and for how long. It took us by surprise like a tsunami heading towards us, not only in the city of Ottawa but for the entire country and world. It was hard to predict or imagine ahead of time that many of us would be spending most of our time in our homes and away from our work and social networks. Some of us worked from home while many essential workers continued to go out to make sure the rest of us had groceries, the lights worked and the water ran, and those needing care were looked after. Many families balanced caring for children at home while continuing to try and earn a living. If we did not see the value of childcare and a public education system before, we certainly did this year.
The pandemic was further complicated by the economic impact of an unprecedented loss of jobs that relied on in-person service such as sit-down restaurants and hair salons. We, as a country, have learned the value of having a social safety net with a guaranteed source of income for those who are out of work through no fault of their own. Although the CERB and other programs kept many afloat, the lack of affordable housing was more of a challenge to those on the lower end of the economic spectrum. We have learned the importance ensuring decent housing for all, especially as the cost of housing continues to escalate, fewer can afford to rent or own what they need. We should not accept homelessness and the lack of affordable housing as the norm.
In 2021, as more and more people get vaccinated, we will see a positive change. However, it will still take a long time before we get back to anything close to normal. As a city we will need to examine our services as we evolve out of isolation to a more comfortable degree of social integration. I fully expect this will be a slow process that will take many months (or perhaps years).
As we move forward our city needs to ensure that our growing vulnerable population is not left behind, particularly seniors, racialized, and low income persons, who have been the most directly affected by the pandemic. Another shocking statistic is the drastic increase in calls by women experiencing violence at home during the pandemic. As the City Council Liaison on Women and Gender Equity, I am concerned that this is a big step backward as we see women trapped in situations that they can not escape. We need to work with our community partners to address the imbalance of power that perpetuates gender based violence.
Let’s take our lessons from this year and remember that if we do not help those who are left behind, we will all suffer as a society. The pandemic has demonstrated that we can pull together quickly and effectively to face unprecedented challenges. It has also brought into stark focus the areas of our collective life that need significant change and improvement. As we move into 2021, let’s work together to be the city that leaves no one behind.
I wish you all a happy 2021!