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Aug 2020 | July-August Issue

Tyler Sutton, Editor-in-Chief




The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet in sight, but policy makers around the world are already making plans for recovery – and for good reason. First, there is nothing like a healthy dose of optimism to help a community, organization, or entire nation through an incredibly difficult time. Second, it is quite evident that COVID-19 cases will continue to rise and fall through multiple waves, affording the opportunity to introduce measured steps of “recovery” during the intermittent periods of pandemic decline. Third, we know that the silver bullet solution of a vaccine is still a distant reality, allowing for more time to plan and debate policy options for recovery.

So, as we imagine the day when COVID-19 is no longer a threat to our lives and livelihoods, many of us are starting to ask what the recovery ought to look like. Is a global pandemic and an international movement against systemic racism, layered on top of the pre-existing threat of climate change, enough to make governments rethink the status quo? Do we want to return to “normal” or rather forge a new path to sustainability, resiliency, and inclusion? It’s difficult to anticipate what policy options will be available to us with the final tally of the economic, social and human costs of COVID-19 still unknown. But despite the inherent limitations of proactive planning during a pandemic, searching for solutions to the underlying policy challenges exposed by the virus is still a worthwhile endeavour.

In this issue of the Digest, a diverse set of editorial contributors present their ideas for achieving a “better normal” post-COVID-19. Some proposed policy solutions would be best implemented by local, sub-national or national governments, while others require a complete societal transformation. Iffat Damji, Data Analyst with PSD, writes about the role that technology can play in not only improving citizen engagement efforts post-COVID-19, but also as part of the current pandemic response. The rise of community-based data collection tools and platforms means that governments can harness the power of citizens to gather the comprehensive data required for targeted policy response. With a web-based Citizen Request Portal, for instance, local governments can make it easier for residents to report neighbourhood-specific concerns related to COVID-19, which in turn makes it far easier for resource-strapped municipalities to respond.  

Authors from MLR (Moving in a Livable Region) write about the dawn of a new era of mobility and land-use planning – one in which planners must account for the rising costs (and fears) of public transit in a post-pandemic world. Gara Hay, President of MTB Transit Solutions, offers a complimentary case study illustrating the role that refurbished and repowered fleets can play in reducing service costs and lengthening the lifespan of public transit assets.

A second case study, this one from the District of Guysborough, discusses the four-day workweek pilot currently underway in the Nova Scotia community. Beyond the benefits of increased staff productivity, increased spending in the local economy (due to longer weekends), and extended service hours for the public, the District makes the compelling case that their bold pilot is a long-term investment in “human infrastructure.” The City of Hamilton Ontario’s Manager of Community Initiatives, John Ariyo, makes it clear that government and community organizations also need to invest time and resources into addressing systemic racism wherever it exists: “Community institutions that harbour systemic racism will never reach their full potential as an employer of choice, sustaining their reputation and ensuring the best of racialized staff is harnessed.”

Diane Kalen-Sukra, our Civic Resilience Columnist, argues that during the pandemic, local governments in particular have exhibited the values of thriving organizations and, “if sustained through conscious leadership, [these values] will help local governments and communities weather the daunting challenges before us.” Finally, Dr. Kate Graham of the Canadian Urban Institute, wraps up this issue’s exercise in policy-based optimism by asking: “Is a recovery where we ‘return to a normal state’ what we want? Or in a moment where change and transformation is unusually possible, can we aim for something more?” I, for one, would like to hope so.

Tyler Sutton, Editor-in-Chief
Public Sector Digest