The consequences of a pandemic federal election

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A long line-up at an election polling station. Image: Can Pac Swire/Flickr.

Justin Trudeau wants an election because his government -- a minority government -- wants the chance to win a majority. With it, Trudeau and his ministers would gain the ability to pass bills and make decisions without having to be held accountable to the people who have voted them in until the next election.

What Trudeau and the Liberal party have failed to consider is that calling an election before Canada is out of the woods with the global pandemic prioritizes the needs of middle-class Canadians over those who have been most impacted during this pandemic.

The Waterloo region has been hit hard by the Delta variant, making it Ontario's number one hot spot for new COVID-19 cases. Health officials have told us that the variant is highly transmissible and will likely spread further. In fact, health care officials are telling us that this is what is happening in Waterloo is just a case study of what could happen soon happen across Canada.

Despite progress with vaccinations, this pandemic is far from over. Calling an election during concerns around citizen's health and safety is irresponsible and inequitable.

This election will disproportionately impact Black, racialized, Indigenous working class people, seniors, students and children. Those living with disabilities, worried about making an income, working, studying, or staying alive as the variant spreads are the ones who will be hesitant to head to the polls, putting their vote ahead of their personal safety.

The risk of a pandemic election will be highest in densely populated regions. It took Toronto months to get its spread under control. Would a national election send us spiralling backwards?

While I certainly won't blame people for prioritizing their health and well-being over an election, the consequence for these already vulnerable communities is that they lose their electoral voice. They will suffer a reduced level of representation in institutions that are already harming them. This is not the fault of those who may not vote. 

The fault falls squarely on the shoulders of our prime minister, the Liberal party and any other political party looking to score partisan points off the backs of working class and vulnerable communities. 

COVID-19 has proven to us time and time again that big decisions in the House of Commons should be made bringing in the widest possible lens and perspectives. We need more coalition-style governance in Canada.

If the Liberals had formed a majority government in 2020, we wouldn't have gotten the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (subsequently the Canada Recovery Benefit) or other social services that made it possible to simultaneously stimulate our economy but also take care of people living in Canada. Now, on July 17, the Liberals will slash the benefit from $500 per week to $300.

And none of it was enough. We've labeled the workers we feel are the most disposable as "essential." We've taken the least action on climate justice in a decade. There is nothing about this political moment that makes this an opportunity.

So many in this country have been decimated by COVID-19. Whole families have died, living together in impossibly crowded situations. Many of our seniors and elders have died with little accountability or responsibility from multiple levels of government.

People have closed the doors on businesses they've operated for decades while unemployment continues to rise. Mental health service providers cannot manage the increase of users with no additional long-term funding and food banks are seeing more people than ever come to access food to feed themselves and their families.

Canada has a hard long road to recovery -- and an election right now just isn't part of it.

Stacey Abrams reminds us: "Our ability to participate in government, to elect our leaders and to improve our lives is contingent upon our ability to access the ballot. We know in our heart of hearts that voting is a sacred right - the fount from which all other rights flow."

When people are too worried about employment, systemic racism and a pandemic to cast a ballot -- what then?

It's not the time, but it's also certainly not in the best interests of struggling Canadians. The country needs more than a break, we also need some time to simply breathe. We certainly don't need politicians looking to make their lives easier by rushing us to the ballot box.

The responsibility lies with the government to stop its rush for power and think about the tens of thousands of people put in harm's way to stand in a line to cast a ballot they have every right to cast.

Holding an election now creates the conditions for a low voter turnout. Perhaps though, that's the point for a government that's still not given us an action plan on systemic racism, and thinks apologies amount to action.

As the Principal Consultant at HYMIRE Consulting, Hawa Y. Mire is a proven strategic senior leader, equity consultant and community organizer with two decades of non-profit experience focused on high-impact community development. In 2017 she completed a Master’s degree in environmental studies from York University where her research examined community storytelling as a place of transformation. Hawa is a critical writer, commentator and columnist with Ricochet Media who has been featured on Macleans, Briarpatch Magazine, Metro Morning, CBC, CityTV, and among others. She is the federal NDP Candidate for York South—Weston. 

Image: Can Pac Swire/Flickr

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