Trevor Hancock: New Year's resolutions, and how we choose the right recovery

It’s the time of year when we think about the New Year’s resolutions we will make, and how long it will be before we break them. It is also the time of year when columnists turn to wish lists. So in that noble tradition, here is my list for 2021 and beyond.

First, and very obviously, a wish that might actually come true in 2021: That COVID-19 be over. If the vaccines are as good as promised, and if we can vaccinate around 60 to 70 per cent of the population there is a good chance we can return to something like normal.

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With any luck we can start to dance again and go to the pub — something very important for the well-being of the amazing 70- and 80-year-olds I dance with every week — perform in public and congregate at festivals. But until then, we need to do as Dr. Bonnie Henry says — be kind, be calm, be careful, be safe.

Second, and following on from the first, I hope Canadians keep on being Canadians. By that I mean being generally low-key, polite and compliant with the public health orders that protect us. We seem to have been particularly good at that here on the Island.

Let’s keep on apologizing to anyone who treads on our foot, and fulfilling the pleasing image that the way you get a hundred Canadians out of the swimming pool is to blow the whistle and ask them to please get out.

We certainly don’t need the kind of anarchic libertarianism we have been seeing in the United States and elsewhere, where “give me liberty or give me death” has become “I take the liberty to be maskless, gather in large crowds and travel around, and I give you death.”

My third wish is that we not forget some of the lessons we have learned from COVID — what I call the COVID Reveal. One of those is the one implied by my second wish; there is such a thing as society and community, from which we can take great comfort, and that we have responsibilities and obligations as well as rights.

Another thing we have learned is that many of our most essential workers are undervalued, underpaid and have poor job security, issues we need to remedy.

Fourth, in 2021 we need to start the Great Reconnect, a term inspired by the recent showing of the Canadian documentary The Great Disconnect by the Neighbourhoods section of the City of Victoria.

Our awareness of the importance of social connections has been heightened by their absence or weakening due to COVID, so we need to make a conscious attempt to rebuild and strengthen our social connections with each other and with our community.

Fifth, and perhaps most ambitious — but also most important — that we choose the right recovery.

And here I have to take issue with my fellow columnist Lawrie McFarlane, although he is far from alone in his opinions. In his Dec. 13 column he wrote “we sure as hell can’t afford greening the economy. For a country reliant on the export of resource-based products, that is the equivalent of suicide.” And he went on to say: “What we need now is a resolve to get on with rebuilding the economy. Nothing else matters … Just hard, unrelenting work to recover from the worst natural disaster of our time.”

The problem is that pursuing a rapid recovery by bouncing back to what we had before is to create a far larger disaster, one that far from being natural would be entirely human made — and largely by high-income countries such as Canada.

If we don’t “green” the economy — that is, create an economy that lives within the natural limits of the Earth’s ecosystems — then we will be moving inexorably towards the collapse of those vital life support systems. That really would be suicidal. We need what many health, environmental and social justice organizations have called for: A green, healthy and just recovery.

So getting over COVID, keeping on being Canadian, valuing our undervalued workers, reconnecting with our community and each other and choosing the right recovery: Is that too much too ask for in 2021?

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

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