Canada needs a national task force on how best to reboot the economy

May 11, 2020

By Hassan Yussuff and Perrin Beatty as published in The Hill Times.

Canadians remain physically distanced but the COVID-19 pandemic has tied our well-being to one another like never before. Our fellow Canadians are relying on collective effort to overcome this crisis.

Indeed, we are at our best when we work together. Over the past month, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Labour Congress united in our crisis response efforts and witnessed this truth first-hand.

We brought together labour and business to help maintain relationships between employers and employees. We suggested Canadians should receive income supports when we could not avoid job losses. We saw businesses retool to make supplies for frontline workers. Together, we applauded companies that provided free meals and facilities for the long-haul truckers risking their health to keep our supply chains moving.

While Canadians continue to focus on supporting each other today, we must also start looking over the horizon to the post-COVID-19 world and start planning how our country and economy can emerge stronger.

Partisan divisions are starting to appear again after an all-too-brief moratorium. Provinces are considering going their own ways when reopening their respective economies. As the infection rate trends down and as various jurisdictions begin to restart their economies, calls for an orderly reopening sector-by-sector and region-by-region will inevitably grow.

Yet, as we prepare for recovery, Canadians must not forget the collaboration and solidarity that got us to this point. That is why we are calling on the federal government to strike a task force to develop recommendations on how to reboot the economy. The sheer scale of these decisions requires a variety of perspectives, not least of which will be accommodating the varied needs of the vastly diverse sectors. When it comes time for recovery, we will need broad engagement with governments, labour, businesses both large and small across sectors, public health experts, Indigenous groups, non-profits and academics.

While the decision on when to reopen rests with governments and public health experts, the timing will depend on civil society’s ability to protect employees, customers and the public at large. We should start drawing up these plans now.

The immediate goal is clear: ensure the return to work is as safe and productive for the economy as possible. Indeed cooperation on this front is already underway between federal and provincial governments. These governments will decide the schedule — how to minimize the risk of future spikes in cases, establishing a system for testing, tracing and responding to new infections, worker guidelines for personal protective equipment and physical distancing, and how to maintain consistent supply chains across provinces. These are plans that, in normal times, would take months to devise. However, the shortened crisis timeline means we need to develop a well-designed strategy within the coming weeks.

A task force will help filter the best ideas and build consensus across civil society when it is time for implementation. Industry-specific tables can ensure decision-makers take the specialized needs of each sector into account.

Over the longer term, this group can serve as an arm’s length external advisory committee for government in order to contribute towards the creation and implementation of a post-recovery economic plan.

Canada’s workforce will not be the same. The pandemic will change how we live, how we work and how we use technology. We will enter recovery with substantial new public and private debt. The reversal of decades of economic globalization and international supply chains will create challenges for a trading nation like ours. We will need to revisit policies on health care infrastructure, strategic reserves of key supplies, and ensuring domestic production facilities for critical medical equipment. Canada requires a process to discuss these transformational changes and to avoid stakeholders going off in different directions.

While no one can predict with any certainty the economic, political and cultural changes that this crisis will create for Canada and the rest of the world, we know that they will be significant. The high level of collaboration among governments, labour, businesses and civil society in managing this pandemic should give Canadians confidence about our collective ability to meet the challenges ahead.

None of this will be easy. No playbook exists to help guide us. Governments around the world are struggling to balance economic needs with public health.

Nevertheless, over the past few weeks, Canadians have risen to the task through collaboration, innovation and community spirit. This is the momentum we need to power forward toward recovery; a task force focused on the well-being of all Canadians will provide a necessary jumpstart.

Hassan Yussuff is the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Perrin Beatty is the president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.                             

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