• Liberal Caucus

Stark Social and Economic Differences are Beginning to Appear

As the impact of COVID-19 begins to sink in, stark social and economic differences are beginning to appear.

This is especially true of Islanders deemed to be providing ‘essential services.’

It is very important to remember what those ‘essential services’ include:

grocery and convenience stores; gas stations; retail workers in pharmacies; health care employees; truckers, first responders and volunteer firefighters – and the list goes on.

In virtually every case, these hard-working Islanders are headed to their employment every day – and placing themselves in situations that are much more difficult than those required to work at home. As a community, I believe it is important to keep this in mind and thanks all essential services workers for their service.

And let’s be crystal clear on this matter: Many Islanders are heading to jobs because they need to support themselves and their families. Many Islanders simply do not have a choice – and during this difficult time, I believe we need to recognize and reward that reality.

For that reason, I believe our province needs to look at appropriate measures to support all those people who are doing their best to help all of us. This should mean financial recognition for essential workers, who are going above and beyond what many of us are called upon to do.

Some employers are already doing this, including banks and large grocery chains. In my view, any large national or multinational should be compelled to do the same – and at their expense. And, if large companies are receiving federal payroll assistance, they should certainly have the flexibility to add to their employees’ wages.

But in the case of small Island businesses – and public sector workers on the front lines – there should be a “wage top-up program financially supported by government.” After all, it is possible some employees working for minimum wage are taking home less than what the Federal Gov’t is providing (Canadas Emergency Response Benefit 2000.00 per month). It is government that designated certain businesses and services as ‘essential’ to all of us and therefore, it should be government that supports that decision to declare certain jobs as ‘essential’ and ensure appropriate compensation. And we also need to understand this reality: During the current crisis, we will need to support many workers in their jobs – or they may opt for federal programs during this difficult time in our province’s history, leaving our small business community with labor shortage.

Additionally, I hope that the current crisis produces a new debate on the way we compensate Islanders for their hard work. This could include greater public support for health and dental benefits and appropriate support for caregivers and child care.

Look at this way: During the current crisis, we have learned that many Islanders are essential. Well, if they are essential right now, then they have always been essential. And as a province, I believe we will soon need to have a very serious discussion about supporting Islanders in those positions.

Before this crisis began, two of my colleagues had the opportunity to meet with federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu. Both Sonny Gallant and Rob Henderson were struck by one of her comments:

“One of these days,” Minister Hajdu said, “we are going to have to recognize that we need to help the people who help us.”

It’s a difficult and frightening time, but we will get through this crisis together. And when that time comes, I believe we will need to be prepared for a new discussion. We will learn from our mistakes and grow stronger as a Province.

That discussion should be about fairness. It should be about specific programs, like the provision of health benefits for all Islanders and adequate support for retirees. It should be about how today’s essential workers aren’t just essential now – they always have been, and always will be.

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