In My Opinion: MP reflects on lessons learned during COVID-19 pandemic as federal government resets agenda

Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith reflects on the lessons learned during the COVID-10 pandemic in advance of the federal government throne speech on Sept. 23.


As we manage a second wave of COVID-19 and as our federal government resets its agenda, it’s important to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned so far. Here are 10:

First, we face an economic crisIs because of the health crisis, so the best economic response is also a public health one. In the short-term, that means a massive rapid testing program, and in the long-term that means a vaccine.

Second, our social safety net wasn’t fit for purpose for millions of Canadians. Our government’s new EI recovery benefit will ensure that most people are supported for the next six months, but we need a permanently strengthened social safety net and basic income that leaves no one behind.

Third, we have undervalued essential workers in our society. We need stronger labour protections, including a decent minimum wage, portable benefits, and actions to address systemic exploitation of migrant workers.

Fourth, a lack of supportive housing has undermined isolation efforts, and existing supportive housing – especially for-profit nursing homes – has failed our seniors. We need more supportive housing, national standards for nursing homes, and increased staff and training levels with a focus on non-profit.

Fifth, the economic fallout has disproportionately affected women, and we know that child care is a significant answer. Our federal government has taken important steps to support child care since 2015, and we need to build on these efforts.

Sixth, the twin health and economic crises have both disproportionately affected people of colour, and we need to double down on efforts to address systemic racism and reconciliation. Work to end poverty will make the biggest inroads, but we also need serious criminal justice reform. On reconciliation, we should ensure that clean water issues are fully addressed, that we move forward with UNDRIP, and that urban Indigenous issues are on the agenda.

Seventh, we’ve listened to public health experts to save lives in this pandemic, and we need to continue to heed their advice to address the opioid crisis. That work should include a federal task force to reset our national drug strategy, and action towards decriminalization and safer supply projects. These ideas are supported by public health experts and by police chiefs across our country.

Eighth, our government can respond quickly and successfully to a crisis, and we need that same level of determination brought to a green and resilient recovery. It’s about future jobs as much as it is about delivering on climate change for our kids.

Ninth, infectious diseases represent an incredible threat to our collective well-being, and we need to be proactive in order to prevent the next pandemic. Public Health’s Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response should issue a public assessment of how Canadian activities, domestic and abroad, contribute to pandemic risk and how we can take steps to reduce such risks.

Tenth, the pandemic isn’t over and there will be more lessons to learn. The summer offered us a reprieve, but as cold weather sets in and we move increasingly indoors, we need to maintain our bubbles, keep our physical distance with others and wear masks when distancing isn’t possible. If you need a mask, our office will mail you one for free.

And if there are other lessons learned that you’d like to add, please send me a note at

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