Canada’s workers engage MPs during first-ever Virtual Action Week

November 5, 2020

By Hassan Yussuff, as published in National Newswatch

On any given day of a normal year, Parliament Hill is buzzing with people lobbying elected representatives. According to the federal government’s lobbying commissioner, there were 18,728 monthly communications reports submitted in 2019 20.

Those communications reports were generated in large part by paid, registered lobbyists working with large corporations.

This year, there are far fewer meetings on the Hill but that doesn’t mean that elected representatives aren’t hearing from anyone. They are. And we want to make sure they’re hearing from workers, too. We know that pressing issues are mounting for many workers and communities across the country. In the past six months, people have seen their livelihoods disappear or they are staving off disaster, all while worrying about their health and the health of their families.

Workers want to see governments make decisions that will improve their lives and move Canada forward. They want to trust the government will make decisions based on the needs of everyday working people and of their communities. We only need to look South to see what can go wrong when governments let down their citizens.

In 2019, a study done by the OECD showed trust in government is falling worldwide. In 2019, only 38 per cent of Canadians said they had confidence in the government. The good news is that it has gone up since the pandemic made government more central to our lives than ever, according to a report from Samara Canada. Trust in government now stands at 59 per cent. This should not be taken for granted.

One of the best ways to maintain trust is to encourage citizen engagement in decision making.

This is why we are organizing the first-ever virtual lobbying effort, National Action Week. It’s an opportunity for workers from across the country to participate in our democracy, even in the midst of a pandemic. We are helping them reach out to their elected representatives to tell decision-makers what needs to happen in their communities.

Our hope is that our week of action will not only allow for conversations that will build trust in our democracy, but that these meetings will open the door for further conversations. Knowledge sharing is also essential for trust in democracy, meaning elected representatives should provide information and answer questions from their constituents – and constituents should know to ask questions.

After all, so much has changed and Members of Parliament need to hear from their constituents on what they need to focus on. Millions of people who were employed in March are now dependent on the government for support. As we continue to respond and as we move towards a recovery stage, the Minister of Finance has indicated the government is willing to make more and longer-term investments to provide economic stimulus, given historically low interest rates.

The most important thing right now is to move government investment into those sectors that will offer the most benefit to the most people across the country. The Prime Minister talks about building back better, and there are priorities that can’t be ignored if this government plans to improve the lives of those most affected by this pandemic.

The government made clear in September’s Speech from the Throne that it is listening to the concerns of workers and their families. The speech promised investments to create new jobs, accelerate the implementation of universal national pharmacare and focus on child care and long-term care. Workers across Canada are trusting that the government will include all these investments in the next federal budget and go even further, including raising the federal minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour as promised in the last federal election.

Those who have been working on the front lines without proper protective equipment, those who have watched their loved ones suffer in for-profit long-term care homes, parents who have been stuck with no options for child care, women forced to choose between career and family after all these years of progress deserve support. These workers know where investments need to go and so should their representatives.

They are ready to bring their stories and experiences directly to policy-makers. It’s up to those making decisions to listen carefully and act accordingly in the best interests of the nation’s workers and their families.

Hassan Yussuff is the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Follow him on Twitter @Hassan_Yussuff

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