By Michael Lashley
As we confront the massive inequality in incomes and lifestyles and as our economy serves up horrible realities on the employment front, we have the additional good fortune of having a new prime minister, belonging to the younger generation, who is willing to listen and who, with our pro-active involvement as unrelenting agents of positive change, will be even more willing to act.
In writing, I generally answer three questions. What is the challenge that we face? Why is this challenge significant? What can we do about it?
I need not repeat here the hundreds of answers to the first two questions which we at The Caribbean Camera have provided in the last two years or so on subjects like inequality and the evils of our labor market.
On the contrary, I now have the great pleasure of highlighting some of the existing solutions.
I am comforted by the growing evidence that the incoming federal Liberal government can only and will only implement its mandate for change if it focuses on structural change.
Here is one reason for that philosophy which Justin Trudeau cannot avoid in both policy and process:
“We cannot fix deeply entrenched social problems with the same logic that created them in the first place … More growth in the absence of structural change is only going to worsen the lives of the majority.”
(Alnoor Ladha and Thomas Pogge in their comments on the UN Sustainable Development Goals)
Such thinking has been extremely difficult for the outgoing Conservative government for ideological reasons. Since the incoming government campaigned and won on a platform of meaningful change formulated after listening to the wishes and concerns of the electorate, our time for structural change is now.
I refer here to change in ourselves, in what we do and how we do it. This is not just theory and principle, this is about action based on practical approaches already implemented in Canada, with commendable success.
Let us start with a look at an example of a small initiative that works well and that is easy. A few years ago, I read about individuals who got together to identify and reap fruits and vegetables on private properties whose owners lack the labor or money to do their own very small-scale harvesting. One third of the produce went to the owner, one third to non-profit entities and one third to the “not so solitary” reapers.
The second example is the co-operative venture. One of the most telling experiences for me was to explore the benefits of co-operative banking. In the face of obscene profits being reaped by the large banks even as they lay off thousands of workers, I strongly recommend co-operative banks.
On a wider scale, the social enterprise is a concept whose time has come. It involves setting up commercial activities within a not-for-profit entity to raise money to finance part of its programs by producing and selling goods and services. My favorite is the Elpeth Heyward Centre for Women, a community organization for immigrant women which offers interpretation and translation services through its subsidiary company, RivInt.
In my final example, I congratulate the bookstore A Different Booklist which has iconic status for Afro- Canadian, Afro-American and Caribbean literature, music, art and culture. Founders Ita Sadu and Miguel San Vicente are celebrating its 20th anniversary with the launch of A Different Booklist Cultural Centre.
This represents a major shift upwards and outwards. It’s a large space which embodies and consolidates what the bookstore has become in its meaningful years of evolution: a community centre that welcomes and celebrates the Black experience; an inter-generational space for mentoring, continuity and cross-fertilization among successive generations of the Black community; a space for exhibitions, seminars and intellectual fora; a space to meet and greet old friends and make new ones and, especially, a landmark of the Black experience in the urban Bathurst neighborhood that attracts, educates and entertains both tourists and local visitors.
I am therefore proud to be part of the leadership team charged with this pioneering project. It bears repeating that the essence of this and the other examples mentioned earlier is structural change. As Alnoor Ladha and Thomas Pogge remind us:
“… the only way we can sustainably improve the standard of living for all is by expanding and improving the collective public goods and services that we share, instead of through ever-rising individual private consumption driven by profit-driven production. This requires stronger commitments towards basic social protections, including income security and social services.”