Posing the point that, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, life was challenging for many and the global health crisis only made things worse, a local group will present to District of Squamish (DOS) council how the bounce back could create a fairer society environmentally and socially.
The group, Squamish Just Recovery — made up of climate writer Nick Gottlieb, river scientist Daphnee Tuzlak and social scientist Heather Mann — has launched a campaign with five key principles for pandemic recovery, as well as three questions for council to ponder. The principles centre around creating policies that: put people first; create system interdependence; are inclusive; create resilience, and; create empowerment.
The group is collecting endorsements from individuals and businesses on its website at https://www.squamishjustrecovery.ca/
Gottlieb said that several climate change issues were exacerbated by COVID-19 and must be considered as part of the bigger picture.
"First and foremost, COVID disproportionally affects marginalized communities that were already far worse off than others, in Canada and around the world. Black and brown people are far more likely to die because of COVID and the people who kept their jobs during COVID are white-collar people who already had a good income and were able to work remotely," he said. "COVID made the existing inequalities in our society was more obvious and problematic."
Gottlieb noted that the International Energy Agency estimates a global spend of $9 trillion on COVID recovery, with a domino effect of leaving less funding available to tackle climate change if it's not directly included.
"The infrastructure that we're building now in response to COVID is locking in our carbon emissions for the next 10 years, so what we're doing now is incredibly important," he said. "What we do now matters more than what we've done before because of the sheer amount of money that's being spent."
With those global concerns in mind, the group is operating locally. Here in Squamish, Gottlieb was impressed with some DOS initiatives, such as working with developers to find housing for people experiencing homelessness shortly after precautions were put in place, removing transit fares, and instead of furloughing employees, utilized them to support local non-profits.
Still, there's more to be done, and the group will present to council on July 21.
"This is such a transformative change in the way we're doing things — and it comes at a time when we need transformative change because of climate change. I think it's important that the District takes a stand and redefines the values that we're pursuing as a community," he said. "That's what we're trying to help them do here."
Among the initiatives, Gottlieb hopes to see within Squamish are moves to permanently offer free transit, opening more streets to public use and including people from marginalized communities in economic recovery discussions from the beginning.
"The municipalities have a lot of say in terms of what happens above them in provincial and federal governments, especially with a lot of municipalities around B.C. and around the country are struggling financially," he said.
The group has been in discussions with Mayor Karen Elliott and several councillors, Gottlieb said. Regardless of what happens at the meeting, the trio — and, Gottlieb hopes, those who sign on as endorsers — will continue to pose more specific policy actions to council and at higher levels.
"If they don't go along with it, that's OK. We're also advocating for a just recovery at the provincial level," he said. "From a local perspective, I would be really excited if they endorse these principles, because I think they're an important set of guidelines for how we transition to a new way of doing things."
Gottlieb noted that there is a national Just Recovery For All that is working at the federal level as well as more than 400 organizations operating as part of the movement. There's no official affiliation with the national group, though Gottlieb said the values are aligned.
"Their principles are slightly different than ours because we wrote ours with Squamish in mind, specifically, but I would say that in general, they're calling for the same things," he said.
A District of Squamish spokesperson confirmed that the delegation will present on July 21. Elliott also said in a statement: "We are already thinking along these lines and we welcome community conversations and engagement on the topic."