Sun op-ed: Pandemic teaches us to overcome challenges together


In a Toronto Sun op-ed, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says the pandemic has taught us that “we have to take the profit motive out of vital and essential public services.”

“The long-term care tragedy has sadly driven home that message,” he writes.

Here’s the full text of President Thomas’s op-ed:

Pandemic teaches us to overcome challenges together

By Warren (Smokey) Thomas

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot.

Some of those lessons involve immediate problems that we have been forced to learn with our backs against the wall, but there are other more profound things that we are being taught.

We have been taught that all we hold dear cannot be taken for granted.

We have been taught that without health we have nothing. That our economy and our health are inextricably linked. And that we are all truly in this together.

We have learned that confinement is not easy and that the basic freedoms we casually exercise can disappear temporarily and maybe even permanently. And that customs and traditions are subject to change.

The pandemic has also taught us of the need for the development of a modern industrial strategy linked to the notion that public services have to be for people — not profit. And that government has a role to play in our day to day lives.

I agree with leaders like Premier Doug Ford and UNIFOR President Jerry Dias. We have to make more things in Ontario. We have the infrastructure. We have the people and we have the public services necessary to support that manufacturing expansion.

And we have to take the profit motive out of vital and essential public services. The long-term care tragedy has sadly driven home that message.

And speaking of traditions that need to change, the private and public sectors have to work cooperatively, not competitively. It’s time to move forward as one, the private sector doing what it does best, creating wealth and opportunity, the public sector supporting that activity while ensuring we are all safe and healthy.

There have been many heroes in this crisis.

Retail store clerks, nurses, truck drivers, doctors, corrections staff — to name a few — all mentioned in the same sentence as being essential to the survival of our communities.

And now, as we collectively poke our heads above the crisis, I will be demanding that both government and business play the long game.

No slashing. No cutting. No budget deficit austerity.

I will be calling for investments in the front lines, always mindful that dollars invested in public services are invested back into our communities and our economies as stimulus to kickstart the private sector.

Yes COVID-19 has laid bare the cracks in our society. But it has also taught us the great things we can accomplish when we pull together.

In many ways, both our premier and our prime minister have led the way and set the example for what can be done when we sheath our weapons and work together.

We have a lot of work in front of us. We will face hurdles.

But together we will rise from the ashes. Saddened. Chastened.

But a lot better prepared for the next crisis.

Together, my friends. Together.

— Thomas is president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union