For the sixth consecutive year, Canada has ranked first in the U.S. News & World Report’s Quality of Life ranking. Topping this list is an accomplishment in any year, and for Canada to do so in a year of pandemic is no small feat.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put living standards and quality of life under threat around the world. If Canada has succeeded in maintaining a high quality of life, it is due in large part to the heroic efforts of the people of this country. Every day, in big and small ways, Canadians were challenged to demonstrate what we were willing to do to protect life and to preserve its dignity, and we rose to this challenge by showing up for each other, even in the darkest moments of the pandemic.
In 2020, we were reminded that governments still play an important role in preserving and maintaining quality of life for people in their countries. Without immediate and profound government intervention, the quality of life for many Canadians would have been severely threatened last year. Government was the first place that many turned to for protection and solutions when the pandemic hit, and the bond between people and government has grown, along with our expectations for government action.
We also learned that quality of life is not just something governments provide, but something communities help to create for themselves. Overnight, and without government involvement, community projects spontaneously sprung up: community fridges to help meet the needs of those experiencing food insecurity, medication and grocery deliveries to neighbors who could not shop for themselves, and countless volunteers and workers who risked their health every day to provide essential services to others.
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to reconsider the true meaning of a high quality of life. We can see clearly now that the metrics that are often used to measure quality of life – safety, economic and political stability, a good job market, and well-developed public education and health systems – do not tell the whole story, and that there are other key metrics to consider. We now see the importance of mental health, of spending time with our loved ones, of caring for one another as a supportive and cohesive community, and of connecting with the natural world and being responsible international citizens, given the global scale of this pandemic.
The question we face now is: What will it mean to have the highest quality of life in a post-pandemic world? What will it take for Canada to maintain, and to even improve, its quality of life in the years ahead? The choices we make, as a consequence of our answers to these questions, will shape our country for generations to come.
Canada has the opportunity of a lifetime to reassess what a high quality of life looks like for every single person in this country, and we must do so in a way that prioritizes the value and well-being of every life in the decisions we make. Now is the time to imagine what the best possible society looks like for Canadians, and to act on that vision to make it a reality. I see three key areas where decisive leadership now will set the stage for a future we can be proud of.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only crisis we are facing – the greatest threat to Canada’s future quality of life continues to be the climate emergency. We are running out of time to prevent the most dangerous consequences of a warming planet. The good news is that the post-pandemic economic recovery offers Canada a tremendous opportunity to decisively bend the curve on rising greenhouse gas emissions. By committing to a post-pandemic Green Recovery, Canada can rapidly move away from fossil fuels and toward a net-zero green economy that not only would contribute to limiting global warming, but also would put in place the building blocks for our future economic prosperity and quality of life.
Securing our future quality of life also will require ambition to complete Canada’s social safety net. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing gaps in that safety net, with issues ranging from unaffordable housing and homelessness to mounting student debt and a drug-poisoning epidemic. In a country ranked with such a high quality of life, how is it possible that so many people still get left behind? The solutions are clear, feasible and interconnected – all that is left is the political will to enact them. If we are daring enough to embrace further universal and progressive social policies – a guaranteed livable income, affordable housing for all, universal long-term care, free post-secondary education, universal pharmacare, and drug decriminalization and a safe supply, among others – we can guarantee a high quality of life for all.
Racial and social equality are key metrics of quality of life for any country, and their absence inevitably undermines a country’s social cohesion. In Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact low-income Canadians, Black Canadians, Indigenous peoples, people of color and women. Even before the pandemic, access to a high quality of life was unevenly distributed in our country. Canada cannot hope to deserve to remain in first place without ensuring an end to systemic racism, as well as true reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation peoples.
Over the past year, Canadians have shown their extraordinary capacity to meet the challenges of this moment. They have led by example, demonstrating the determination needed to fill the gaps that the pandemic exposed. As we move to secure Canada’s quality of life post-pandemic, it is time for the government to prove it can match the ambition of its people. We have the chance of a lifetime to be daring in our policies and unapologetically ambitious in our vision for the future of our country. In the months to come, Canada can lay a foundation we can be proud of, one that will ensure we are remembered as the generation that was bold enough to accomplish what others did not.
This is Canada’s moment to raise the bar on what the highest quality of life in the world can look like. As we exit this unprecedented time, if we let hope and ambition guide us, we just might have everything to gain.