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COMMENTARY: Canada must resolve to do better

COMMENTARY: It is a new year and a time of renewal. Many of us have made personal resolutions to eat healthier, produce less waste, and spend more time with family and friends.  But what about as a country – what can we, as Canadians, resolve to do better in 2023 and into the future?

It is a new year and a time of renewal. Many of us have made personal resolutions to eat healthier, produce less waste, and spend more time with family and friends.  But what about as a country – what can we, as Canadians, resolve to do better in 2023 and into the future?

Certainly, there are things that Canadians do well. We have a resilient economy, a universal healthcare system and a policy of multi-culturalism that celebrates and values diversity. But there are several areas in which we are distinctly underperforming and must seek to do better.

Take for example our relationship with countries less prosperous than Canada. We provide them with financial aid on the one hand, but on the other, we exploit their citizens to serve our own needs. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government was looking to scrap the Temporary Foreign Worker program due to serious concerns over a lack of basic rights and protections for migrant workers. But due to labour shortages, the percentage of temporary foreign workers employers are allowed to hire has now increased.

A strong and resilient Canadian economy cannot be built on the blood, sweat and tears of workers from less prosperous countries. If we invite people from other countries to help bolster our economy, we have to treat them with the respect they deserve and give them the same rights we enjoy – the right to live in Canada with family, the security of permanent residency and choice of job and employer.

Ultimately, federal, provincial and territorial governments have the responsibility to ensure our economy is built on the foundations of a well-trained, adequately paid Canadian workforce. Setting living minimum wages, providing adequate and affordable training opportunities for Canada’s youth and improving working conditions will address labour shortages in a more sustainable and effective way than turning to the exploitation of foreign workers.

Canadian provinces have been recruiting nurses and doctors from low-income countries such as South Africa and the Philippines to counter labour shortages within the healthcare system. These countries spend their scarce resources training health professionals to care for their own citizens only to have Canadian recruiters steal these precious human resources to work within the Canadian system.

We need to focus on Canadians caring for Canadians and make sure we are training, recruiting and retaining our own health professionals to work in our healthcare system. Policies such as providing healthy working environments, decreasing administrative burdens, and reducing tuition for post-secondary training programs can all contribute to a stronger homegrown workforce.

Turning to our record on the environment, Canadians are one of the highest per capita carbon emitters in the world. We consume more fossil fuels by the choices we make in terms of food, transport, housing and consumer products. The average Canadian produces six times more carbon emissions than the average Indian.

We can cut our carbon emissions by reducing our use of fossil-fuel cars and opt for electric cars, public transit, walking or biking. We can also choose to live in smaller houses thereby reducing the amount of carbon emissions from construction and heating of our living spaces. Eating less meat and dairy, particularly beef and cheese, will help reduce our per capita carbon footprint from food.  We can also buy fewer things and support corporations that offer consumer products that last longer, are reparable and emit less carbon in their construction and operation.

Governments cannot simply sit back and wait for individuals and corporations to make changes to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement. They can pitch in with policies to accelerate change.

Governments need to provide regular and dependable public transport and they have to eliminate oil and gas subsidies immediately, putting that funding towards renewable energy sources. Canada also needs to assume accountability for the disproportionate impact we have on global warming and make reparations to lower-income countries that are most affected by our carbon-rich lifestyles.

Turning to Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, it is notable that only 13 of the 94 calls for actions from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been completed in the seven years since the report was released. The snail’s pace of progress makes one question Canada’s commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Sincere commitment would involve data sharing and transparency on the part of the federal government so the true picture around issues such as Indigenous poverty, child welfare and funding for First Nations schools can be known.

Adequate resources, not empty promises, need to be made available to Indigenous communities to make a tangible difference in their well-being. And most importantly, the federal government needs to abandon its paternalistic “we know best” approach and trust in Indigenous peoples’ ability to self-govern and take care of their own people.  

This year, Canada needs to do better in treating our people and our planet with deserved care and respect. This responsibility lies squarely on our collective shoulders. Are we up to the challenge?

Vamini Selvanandan is a family physician and public health practitioner in the Bow Valley. Her commentaries appear in the Rocky Mountain Outlook on the third Thursday of each month. For more articles like this, visit