We’re not all in this together

POLITICIANS AT EVERY LEVEL in Canada have been giving some version of the “We’re all in this together – we need to share the sacrifice” speech since the COVID19 Crisis began.

But, the reality is we are not all in this together. We are not sharing the sacrifice.

Not, by a long shot.

The government expects there will be between two and four million Canadians unemployed by the end of this crisis. Almost all of those lost jobs will be in the private sector.

Which is a massive economic problem because it’s the private sector that drives our economy – and pays for our government and the benefits it doles out.

But, it’s more than an economic problem. It’s a fundamental flaw in modern-day Canadian society.

With the COVID19 crisis wreaking havoc across the land leaving no Canadian untouched in some way, I hope the day of reckoning is at hand. That’s a good thing.

Canada needs to redress the growing divide between public and private sector workers because it is fundamentally unsustainable. The crucible of crisis is exactly the right environment to make change.

There are other divides that draw more attention and also need changing. The gulf massive gulf in compensation between CEO and executive pay and that of frontline workers is real, and needs addressing. But, the number of CEOs is small. Knocking them all down to minimum wage would have no net effect on the wealth of the working class.

The gulf between public and private sector wages, pensions and benefits is a much, much larger problem – and it’s growing unsustainably.

The number of public sector workers in Canada is large and growing rapidly. And, they live in an entirely different world than their private sector peers. That’s a fundamental problem.

The COVID19 Crisis has made this glaringly obvious and I tweeted about it today.

Predictably, the Twitterverse erupted with condemnation of my right-wing, anti-teacher, make everyone poor, government-hating perversions.”What always concerned me is how we obsessed with the race to the bottom.

“Oh boy, here we go again. Are you afflicted with, to use a former friend’s expression, teacher’s derangement syndrome? (Replace “teacher “with a favorite target)”

“Some people are worse off so let’s make everyone worse off! Love that logic. Are you a United States Senator?”

… or, in celebration of what they mistook as a call to fire the teachers.

“Lay them all off. No work, no pay, just like anyone else.”

I intended neither.

My hope was to underscore this fundamental divide between Canadians.

Healthcare workers who are on the front lines in this COVID19 Crisis are public sector workers at the cutting edge of risk and sacrifice. They rightly deserve our respect and appreciation. Without them, we’d be in Hell.

But, the financial sacrifices of the nation will be borne almost exclusively by private sector workers. Masses of them have already lost their incomes. Many more will lose their businesses. Most of them will never, ever be made whole again.

Has any public sector worker been laid off? Has any public sector worker been asked to give up his salary? Every public sector worker can expect to continue in – or return to – their job after the crisis ends.

We are not all in this together. We are not all sharing the sacrifice.

Almost 1 million Canadians applied for Employment Insurance Benefits last week alone. Source: Bloomberg

And, when the crisis ends – it is the private sector that will bear the cost of increased taxes to pay the public debts rightfully incurred during this emergency.

But there’s hope for a brighter future

In every crisis, there is opportunity.

One of the things, I’m hopeful for is that we use this crisis as a catalyst to make change. That it motivates us to find a more equitable balance between public and private sector Canada.

That would a great and hopefully lasting benefit for our society.

I’m not asking for teachers – or any public sector workers to be fired or laid off en masse. This is not about “bringing them down” to the miserable standard that rules the private sector.

It’s about finding a way for the public and private sector to share the risks and rewards of employment more equitably.

A little more job security for private sector workers – a little less for their public sector peers.

Somewhat richer benefits and pensions for private workers – somewhat poorer benefits and pensions for the public workers.

Then, we’ll truly be in this together.