Some residents of Kawartha Lakes are seizing the moment of economic upheaval to chart a path forward for a new “economic normal” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initial group – which has started out as half a dozen local leaders including Mike Perry, Laraine Hale, Dennis Geelan, Helen Scott and Ameila Valenti – is working to build a peoples’ movement to implement economic measures that serve people and the environment better than the free market, according to a press release.
“The old economy had us needing to give out free bag lunches to kids here, people living pay cheque-to-pay cheque, and record levels of personal debt. And Lindsay Loblaw employees are getting their wages cut while the company made close to $250 million in profits the past few months,” notes Mike Perry, referring to the “pandemic pay” of $2 more per hour the grocery giant was giving as a temporary bonus.
Most other large grocery store chains have also ended their bonus pay to employees.
Perry, a past president of the Lindsay + District Chamber of Commerce and former governor of Fleming College, had the idea for a new form of local economic development from a program he was finishing at Harvard when the pandemic first began.
The group is looking to develop specific, concrete, economic activities that are fair and are not based on profiteering, unlimited growth, and devouring the planet for materials. The group is confident an economy based on people’s values of caring for one another, the common good and living within the means of the planet is possible.
“It’s been said that, historically, pandemics are a time to re-imagine and I am inspired by all the people – and people I wouldn’t expect – who’ve been saying they don’t want to go back to the old market system,” he adds.
To this end, the group launched its project last week with a “People’s Economy” summit held online. More than 100 people registered to participate in the event which was hosted by the School for the Study of Canada at Trent University.
“Economic transformation is a very important issue to study and for action,” says the School’s Director Dr. Heather Nicol. “The School for the Study of Canada was pleased to support this initiative and plans to remain engaged moving forward.”
At the summit, experts on the economy provided a number of specific measures including more use of co-ops, social enterprises, community exchanges, local food sourcing, and community-based home retrofitting projects.
Examples of non-market economic activities were provided from Indigenous ways of being; from “the Pocket” community in Toronto; and even as far away as Texas.
These measures that could be implemented at the local level and then replicated by other municipalities, which is also a goal of the project.
“All change starts in the community,” Perry notes. “We want this to inspire other communities. Kawartha Lakes can be envied as the most economically progressive and green place to live in Ontario and Canada,” he says in the release.
The group plans to grow the local “peoples’ economy” movement with events and opportunities to be consulted and involved over the coming months.
Leadership team member, Laraine Hale, explains: “inclusion is a key value of this project and a necessity creating something new that is fair and powerful. We will be reaching out to local residents, community organizations and the city with lots of fun opportunities to work all together moving forward. We are really at a time of increased generosity and caring for one another,” she adds.
“We can’t let this moment pass without making something positive for all of us. Now is the time.”