While Canadians stay home, corporate lobbyists are working overtime to siphon off federal cash

This morning my son and I tied twine to the four corners of a plastic bag. We taped the string to a dead battery and threw it off the porch. A parachute! That bought my partner and me an hour to check e-mails and make some calls.

I fed the sourdough starter, stacked some firewood, did some pushups, checked social media, heated a can of soup. All across Canada, families are figuring out similar routines. For the first time in my lifetime, the whole world is experiencing something together. I find it oddly comforting.

Meanwhile, the death toll rises. Millions of people are out of work, wondering how they’ll pay their mortgage or rent April 1. Millions of others — nurses, warehouse workers, grocery store clerks, construction labourers — put themselves at risk to keep basic services functioning.

Depending on the decisions made today, tomorrow and the weeks to come, the COVID-19 pandemic could inflict the devastation of the Great Depression and World War II rolled together. Or it could force us to rapidly transform our society for the better. It’s up to us.

The threat of “disaster capitalism”

Politics has always affected our lives, but now it’s impossible to avoid. Who’s in charge, who they listen to, who they prioritize — all these decisions are now life-and-death. And they’re coming at us fast. If we become numb or overwhelmed, I guarantee there are powerful corporations ready to use the situation to their advantage.

Recently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it will no longer enforce environmental laws during the COVID-19 crisis. Protecting air and water from pollution will be up to companies. It’s what the oil lobby has dreamed of for years, but the pandemic made it possible.

In Canada, oil companies have been particularly hard-hit by the sudden drop in fuel demand, because our heavy sour crude is more expensive to refine into diesel and gasoline. With the value per barrel approaching zero, the Alberta business lobby is calling on Ottawa to inject billions of taxpayer dollars into floundering oil companies.

Support for workers is one thing. We should pay for EI, retraining and a massive transition to renewable energy. But giving that money to oil companies, like we did with auto manufacturers in 2008, would be a terrible mistake. We need to fight this “disaster capitalism” with everything we’ve got. So here’s the battle plan.

The battle plan

Job one is survival: taking care of your health and household as best you can. That means hygiene, food, shelter, money and maintenance of your closest relationships, including children.

If your basic needs are met, you can expand your circle of care. The risk factors for COVID-19 include poverty and economic exploitation, poor health and inadequate housing. So in a very real sense, flattening the curve — and preventing the overwhelm of our healthcare system — requires taking care of our most vulnerable community members.

Some of this can be done through “mutual aid”: neighbourhood or family groups taking care of each other. But our resources pale in comparison to the power of governments. So to truly take care of people, and blunt the ferocity of this pandemic, we need to push our elected decision makers to invest in people, not corporations. The poor and not the wealthy. And thanks to phones and computers, we still have tools at our disposal to organize and influence our politicians.

That’s why Dogwood, Leadnow and others are fighting hard to stop the publicly-funded Trans Mountain pipeline and oil tanker expansion. Every dollar that goes to expanding oil infrastructure is a dollar not available for pandemic response or recovery. This is a $16 billion dollar battle we can’t lose. If the government uses this emergency to double down on the old economy and fatten the pockets of billionaire CEOs and investors, we are headed toward a very dark horizon.

However, in this moment where anything is possible, I can also imagine a much better future.

A glimpse into a different world

What if we all lived in comfortable, affordable homes, heated by renewable energy? What if most of our trips were replaced by electric delivery vehicles dropping off essential supplies? What if we worked less, traveled less, bought less and spent more time with family? What if it was normal to take care of everyone in our society, and leave no-one behind?

The recent weeks have opened the door to a different way of living. It happens to be consistent with fighting the other looming global threat, climate change. It’s no coincidence that our collective efforts to fight the virus have slashed global pollution.

No matter what, we will need extraordinary amounts of public money and years of effort to rebuild our economy after this pandemic. What if this is the turning point, the moment in history where we choose not to “return to normal” — because normal was taking us down the path to disaster?

That’s the dream that keeps me focused as the days blend together and the walls start closing in. At the same time, I know powerful corporations are working overtime to pull governments back toward the status quo — no matter the cost in human lives.

We need to stay vigilant, stay organized and keep our eye on the future we want. We can get there. We must get there. I’m happy to be in this fight with you.