How the pandemic has revealed privilege

Too many people are being left behind in the wake of COVID-19

There is nothing like a pandemic to grimly illustrate the divide between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. The cracks have been there for years, growing with every dollar billionaires gained and the middle and lower classes lost, but the virus has starkly illuminated just how deep and how wide these cracks are.

When people with money stopped going downtown and to the malls, people on the margins suddenly became visible because they were the only ones left in public spaces. So highlighted, the provincial government funded the EXPO Centre so they had somewhere to go other than Tim Hortons and mall bathrooms.  

Later, when the weather got warmer, the EXPO Centre was closed as a shelter and people without homes were again forced into the public eye. This time, they weren’t taking it sitting down, and had a massive four month sit-in at Pekiwewin camp. Orange tents and blue tarps blossomed like flowers in the very heart of the city, shocking some, disturbing others, and generally creating conversation about homelessness in a way that had not been done before. It was hard to ignore the tent city. Some people were so disturbed by this colourful display of poverty and homelessness that they demanded the police remove them. Rational people asked “to where?”  

The pandemic started with people banging pots and pans to honour essential workers. Not long after, the Health Minister announced that 11,000 people who make sure that items like hospital bed sheets are clean would be laid off. They’ll be rehired by a private company, but we all know that private companies pay their shareholders first. Sorry healthcare workers we know it’s a pandemic, but you get the opposite of a raise. 

Of course, raises were given to other essential workers—grocery store employees—$2 per hour. We love those essential workers for putting their lives on the line. Meanwhile, they had to contend with hysterical shoppers, spitting in anger because they were asked to follow public health orders. Within two months, the raise was rescinded, despite the fact we increased the networth of Loblaws by $1 billion with our grocery buying. 

Schools are staying open because people have to work to pay their bills. The most fortunate are able to work from home. While it is no fun being stuck in a house with the same people for months on end, at least these folks are at less risk of contracting COVID-19. Those who are in service, whether it is pouring our coffee, cleaning floors in the hospital, or packing grocery store shelves must continue to go to work and cross their fingers every day hoping not to get the virus.  

Despite spending over $7 billion on a pipeline ($1.5 billion preferred equity investment and $6 billion loan guarantee) whose certain completion depended on the now former president winning the American election, the UCP put a halt to the Emergency Isolation Support Benefit after only a short time when the federal CERB replaced it. Many hoping to access the one-time provincial fund could not due to frustrations with the website application. As usual, they blamed the empty provincial treasury on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose government managed to put together emergency funding of $2,000 a month, keeping millions of Canadians fed and housed. God forbid those people might get ahead financially, so the UCP clawed back provincial benefits of anyone receiving CERB payments. Roughly 10,000 fewer households received provincial benefits. The UCP, being pro-business, gave out grants of 15 per cent of a company’s gross income. However, for a small business owner making $3,000 per month, three hours spent filling out paperwork for a $450 grant is a spit in the bucket. 

Meanwhile, the poor help the poor. In a thrown-together Facebook group Yeg Community Response to COVID19, a bunch of women figured out how to feed a bunch of people, because it always comes down to food. One single mother makes 100 plus meals a week to share with people who have nothing. According to the Pekiwewin website, the camp was “led by Indigenous 2 Spirit women and femme folks working in solidarity with Black, LGBTQ2S and settler allies.” These people operated the entire camp for 170 people on a relatively small budget for the whole summer. The Bear Clan patrols our streets, handing out hot soup, sandwiches, naloxone, and love. 

It’s disturbing that deaths from COVID-19 keep increasing and there is no mention of planning for the long-haulers. Ten per cent of people who get the virus become disabled—and we have no idea how long for—with crippling headaches, body pain, exhaustion, strokes, or heart attacks, What of these people? How will they be supported? We cannot allow the long-haulers to fall between the cracks. 

We all just keep staggering along, hoping we’ll make it through. This is a pandemic. It is hard. But there are lessons to be learned here. Capitalism doesn’t take care of people, and when the shit hits the proverbial fan, caring for one another is what is really important.  

Be well, friends.  

Feature Image: The pandemic has made the divide between the rich and poor very evident. | Photo by Benjamin Disinger on Unsplash

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