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GUEST OPINION: Throwaway society cannot continue after COVID-19

In the first quarter of 2019, according to Statistics Canada, the average debt per consumer on P.E.I. was $23,043. It remains to be seen if this level of spending returns after the pandemic.
In the first quarter of 2019, according to Statistics Canada, the average debt per consumer on P.E.I. was $23,043. It remains to be seen if this level of spending returns after the pandemic.

Jan C. Gomersall
Guest opinion


The world is struggling through the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918. COVID-19 is a completely new, unpredictable and deadly virus which governments, scientists and medical personnel are all trying to come to terms with and seek the best solutions based upon the most up-to-date discoveries.

Sadly, some of the world’s leaders are still in denial that this virus is any threat — “it’s just the sniffles” claims one! Some leaders continue to compound their peoples’ suffering by continuing war and violence (though these things are forgotten because they no longer make news

headlines). Some leaders simply ignore its existence and life in their countries just goes on.

Some leaders use bigotry, political partisanship, denial of scientific evidence and engage in a "blame game" that foments domestic and global dissent and division. None of these approaches seem to have been very beneficial to their suffering people. It seems that countries with leaders who have approached the situation in a calm, reasoned and collaborative way (i.e. leaders who have had consistent, constructive communication with other leaders in their own country and the world, have experienced better though, in some cases, no less devastating results).

It will be interesting to se what happens when a vaccine is discovered and developed. Will it be freely distributed to everyone? Will it be distributed only to those countries perceived of as "friends"? Will it be prohibitively expensive to all except the very rich? The answers to these questions will depend on which country makes the break-through, and the political leader of that country.

What comes next? It has been said that millennials will be the hardest hit by the aftermath of this pandemic. Why is this? The great recession of 2008/9 was perhaps their big wake-up call, but it went largely unheeded and everyone went back to their pre-recession mode of living — building bigger and bigger homes with bigger and bigger mortgages, every up-to-date gadget, appliance and toy that everyone must have immediately if not sooner, regardless of the debts and maxed-out credit cards.

In the first quarter of 2019, according to Statistics Canada, the average debt per Canadian consumer (including mortgages) was $71,300. In the same period, (excluding mortgages) the debt per consumer on P.E.I. was $23,043.

The above statistics will, by now, have drastically changed due to the pandemic lockdown, loss of jobs and the number receiving Government support benefits, and to which everyone believes they have a "right", but “right” has a forgotten twin brother whose name is “responsibility’!

In this regard there could be a future danger — people ceasing to look for work that may possibly pay less than the government benefit, thus ensuring they become people whose sense of purpose and dignity has been bought.

Many of the grandparents of these millennials grew up in the Great Depression — the poverty, lack of jobs etc. were as common as they are now, and there were no government bailouts. These people had been prepared by parents who had experienced the trauma (including all the mental health issues) and hardships of the First World War. The people of the ‘30s knew (or quickly learned!) that (a) necessity was the mother of invention — this was a "hand-me-down" not a "throwaway" society; and (b) there was no such thing as credit — you bought something when you needed it and could pay for it with cash or barter. The grandparents of today’s millennials took these lessons to heart, and so they had the courage and fortitude to cope with and survive the great and terrible tribulations of the Second World War.

Will people today, after the COVID-19 threat has lessened, go back to square one as they did in 2008, or will they go forward to rebuild a kinder, gentler world where neighbour cares for neighbour, and all people will live within their means creatively rather than competitively? It is

hard to know at the moment since the refrain after every government bailout to whatever group, is “well, it’s a good start, but we need more”! Will this attitude of greed prevail? If it does, then our country will never recover, because, ultimately, someone is going to have to pay

the cost of the bailouts. The path our millennials decide to walk (right vs. responsibility) will determine whether Canada, “our home and native land” remains forever “glorious and free”.

Jan C. Gomersall is a retired school teacher who grew up during Second World War and experienced the rationing and other privations. She lives in Stratford.

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