I Am Building Me a House

 

Yes, I need roads and bridges

to get to work, to get to the places I need to go,

to get my children to a place of learning and safety.

But I need more; I need a better place to live.

 

I am building a new house

of the people

for the people

by the people.

 

I need a solid foundation,

people who know how to  work,

people who know how to play,

people who know how to love each other.

 

I need room to grow,

a safe place for my children to play,

a place to be kind, thoughtful, and powerful,

a place to learn to live side by side with others.

 

I need a living room for them to grow into adults

free to choose the kind of life they want to live,

free to do the kind of work they want to do,

free to learn to be themselves at no cost to themselves.

 

I need a den where I can grow older and wiser

surrounded by those who see me and value me,

surrounded by those who let me offer my wisdom,

surrounded by those who have time to love me.

 

I need a yard that lets me live free of fear

knowing that my family will be protected,

knowing that my concerns will be addressed,

so I can contribute to the best of my ability.

 

Now that my house can withstand the shaking,

and withstand the winds that blow against me,

and withstand the tragedies of my mind and yours,

I am free just to be ME and to give that ME to YOU,

so that we can build a village free of anger and hate

where we can grow stronger and wiser together.

 

 

 

                We are hearing a lot about the infrastructure program south of the border, but in typical Canadian fashion, we have quietly gone about the business of doing so here at home without a lot of publicity. The Investing in Canada Plan was launched in 2016.  We committed over $180 billion over 12 years (15 billion a year) for projects including public transit, ports, broadband networks, energy systems, community services, and creation and maintenance of natural spaces. These investments are being delivered through programs administered by over 20 federal departments and agencies and involve working closely with provinces, territories, municipalities and Indigenous Peoples. The plan’s objectives are to create long-term economic growth, build a stronger middle class, support the transition to a clean growth economy, and build social inclusion and economic outcomes for all Canadians. This includes the creation of 100,000 good well-paying jobs each year and thereby increasing our production and boosting our GDP.

                This plan for the most part can be divided into three categories – physical infrastructure, human infrastructure, and the environment. Under traditional infrastructure we have three project streams. The National Trade Corridors Fund has committed approximately two billion to 16 air, 27 marine, 19 rail, and 21 road projects to build transportation systems to reach global markets to help Canadian businesses compete. The second stream is to improve urban transit through building more than 240 kilometers of new public transit subway and light rail line and purchasing over 300 zero-emission buses. The third stream is creating almost 500 kilometers of trails, bike lanes, and recreational paths.

The Secord major component is human infrastructure. It includes providing adequate and affordable housing, child care, and cultural and recreational centers.  Over 14,000 housing units have been built, and 65,900 repaired. The Enabling Accessibility Fund has invested $19.9 million in 672 projects to create accessible pathways, install ramps, accessible washrooms, hearing loop systems, and improving accessibility in workplaces. Over 100 northern and rural communities now have high-speed internet with hundreds more soon to be connected with over 22,000 km of fiber optics.  We have also made an effort to protect the environment. Infrastructure Canada’s Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF) has allotted more than $1.9 billion for 69 projects. $111.3 million has been invested to reduce reliance on diesel and other fossil fuels for heat and power in Canada’s rural and remote communities.  In addition eighty-one community-led renewable energy projects have been approved.

                It seems like a lot, but we could do more. We are doing an excellent joy in improving the traditional infrastructure but more needs to be done in human infrastructure. The main asset we have is our workforce, especially our youth, who will have the job of cleaning up the mess our generation has left behind. If we concentrate our efforts on this valuable human resource, we can reduce poverty, the damage caused by substance abuse, and the personal and monetary costs of our overworked police, justice systems, and incarceration facilities. We can eventually reduce the demand on social services.  In the process we can create and improve well-paying jobs that can ultimately benefit the economy as a whole and in the process increase our GDP.

                A priority has to be set for dealing with the mental health and substance abuse crisis. We have to provide the resources for therapy services with the goal of helping people get back to living healthy lives, thereby increasing their productivity, and reducing the human and financial drain. We have to have a new look at substance abuse, not as a crime, and certainly not with a “they get what they deserve” “because of bad behavior” mentality. We have to see it as a medical need, a cancer of the mind, that can be treated by increasing medical and human resources.

                Secondly we have to commit to growing old with dignity. Care homes facilities have to be drastically improved and professional care provided by well-trained and well-paid workers. Once their physical and emotional needs have been taken care of, the elderly are a huge untapped resource that can be encouraged and even employed to help meet the needs of our younger work force.

                We need to make investments in child care by establishing facilities that promote human growth. Our children are our greatest resource; they need to be nurtured and cared for while their parents are working. Again this means creating positions with well-trained and well-paid daycare workers. At present many young couples are simply not having children because they cannot afford to have one parent stay at home or to pay the cost of fifteen hundred a month for daycare. More stay-at-home jobs can be created by doing a prescribed amount of work at home through the internet, something that we have done so well during the pandemic. If both parents have to work outside the home, at present the subsidies for daycare are simply not adequate. These costs should be shared by the government and the businesses that employ the parents.

                We need to improve the lives of our Indigenous population. We have to create more opportunities for them to enter into the work force through improved education and consideration for their cultural diversity. The living conditions of some of our people is a disgrace to the nation. The incarceration rate and number of indigenous people suffering from social displacement is inexcusable. We need the contributions these people can make through their art, their cultural connection with nature, and their traditional beliefs in community. We need to support them with good programs and financial assistance until they are able to support themselves.

                My last point is secondary education. It should be free so that crippling debt is not incurred which is discouraging many of our gifted young people from going on to higher education. All our youth should be assisted in finding the kind of profession or trade that will keep them happy and productive. We live in a rapidly changing society. The members of our workforce need constant retraining and opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills. This should be encouraged through financial support and paid for courses. Higher level education will be needed to keep us competitive in the global economy which in turn will grow our GDP and finance our social programs.

                As in all of these improvements, the cost are huge but the cost of not doing them is even larger. When we have a happy and productive work force, crime goes down, medical costs decrease, and production in the workplace improves significantly. It is a net saving. But the real benefit cannot be measured in dollars. We have an opportunity to genuinely create a just society where everyone can contribute and live lives of meaning and purpose.  We have to grasp the new reality that we can no longer focus on competing as individuals or as individual nations. As a community, a nation, and as members of a global society facing issues that involve the very survival of mankind, we have to learn to work together cooperatively and not compete with each other for the power to hoard resources.  We are only as strong as our weakest link. We cannot leave the weak behind or they will find ways to express their anger. We have to learn to bring them along with us.

                When we look at the pandemic world-wide, we have to eventually answer the ultimate question – how are we going to pay for it all? Huge deficits are being incurred my every country in the world. Typically if a nation engages in out of control spending, the monetary markets of the world punishes them by lowering the value of their currency and withdrawing support for their treasury bills. This in turn causes nations to raise interest rates to get the funds needed to finance their debt. This can lead to economic disaster like what happened in Greece, Italy, and Spain where the banks of the world eventually had to write off huge portions of their debt. The banks have their place in making funds available to businesses and individuals but they should not be in control of the monetary system. At present banks are allowed to make loans based on a formula of lending over ten times their assets. In return they make loans based on the assets of their customers. They adjust their interest rates based on the Bank of Canada rate and on their customers’ ability to pay. In a way, they are allowed to create money in a structured fashion. So far that has proven to be a sound system, one that is hugely profitable for the banks. The problem is that the government also works through banks to create treasury bills and bonds to finance its own spending.

                We have to change the system. Money is not a thing in itself with intrinsic value. It is merely a means for the organized exchange of goods and services. The federal government has the power to create money simply by printing it or distributing it electronically through the Bank of Canada. By creating the funds to finance human infrastructure, we can redistribute the wealth and create a larger middle class. In the process we can increase our productivity and maintain the value of our currency. The key is to keep raising the GDP so there is a bigger pie for us all to share. A country that invests in human infrastructure can create a working force of well trained and motivated people who are more than capable of doing just that.

Lawrence J.W. Cooper

Poet Laureate, Comox Valley