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Jeremy Roberts: We can’t afford to take our caregivers for granted

Commentary

When I was in high school my brother went through what we affectionately refer to as his “nudist phase”.

Every time he would go to the washroom, he would strip buck-naked and leave his clothes in the bathroom. 

This made for some interesting conversations. He once scared off a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses who got much more than they bargained for when they rang our doorbell.

At my 14th birthday party, I was in my living room with some friends, preparing to blow out the candles on a cake. From my vantage point behind the table, I could see the stairs that ran to our second floor. Suddenly, perched at the top of the stairs was my brother, in all his glory. 

Mortified that my friends might see, I shot a panicked look to my best friend, who was well-familiar with my brother’s latest phase. I did my best to send a psychic plea for help.

To my relief, my friend got the message, glancing quickly to the top of the stairs.

Summoning all of my dramatic flair, I drew my other friends’ attention out the front window, pretending to see a wild animal. Everyone rushed to the window, while my best friend dove up the stairs and successfully redirected my giggling brother back into the bathroom to get dressed.

Crisis averted.

My brother wasn’t actually a nudist. While he does have a mischievous personality, his phase was largely driven by his being on the autism spectrum.

Like many individuals with autism, my brother has dealt his whole life with a severe developmental delay as well as many behavioural challenges. His stripping, for example, may have been the manifestation of a sensory tactile aversion to the fabrics, tightness of clothes, or a feeling of being confined. He is also completely non-verbal and suffers from epilepsy. 

While his “nudist phase” is something that we laugh about today, it is emblematic of the experience of countless caregivers across the country. Whether you have a family member with a developmental disability, dementia, or a chronic illness, you have to be constantly ready to address your loved one’s needs. You are always on duty

With my brother, this includes helping him go to the washroom, getting him dressed, feeding him, making sure he takes his medications, and assisting him with recreational activities. Keeping him safe is always top of mind: in parking lots, the pool, shopping malls, and social outings. It is a 24/7 job.

It is estimated that over 8 million Canadians, like my parents and me, are caregivers today. That’s around one-quarter of the population. These caregivers spend a combined 5.7 billion hours supporting their loved ones. Their contribution to care is valued at approximately $97.1 billion. For context, that’s more than double what the federal government spends on health transfers to the provinces each year.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that without family members assisting with the care of their loved ones our health and social support systems would collapse.

Despite their vital role in the system, caregivers receive little to no support from our governments. Because of this, they often experience high levels of burnout, mental health challenges, and difficulties maintaining jobs.

A few years ago, a group of concerned citizens banded together and, with support from the Azrieli Foundation, launched the Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence (CCCE), our first umbrella organization to advocate for caregivers across Canada. This week, CCEC convened Canada’s first National Caregiving Summit in Ottawa, which brought together hundreds of advocates, researchers, caregivers, and government partners to kick-start a discussion about how we as a society can better support these vital contributors. I was proud to be a panelist and participant. 

The goal is to develop a comprehensive National Caregiver Strategy, which would ensure that we have a coordinated approach nationwide for supporting caregivers. A plethora of problems could be addressed through such a strategy, including:

  • How can we ensure that caregivers who balance responsibilities at home and work have the proper Human Resources supports and protections?
  • How can we help caregivers better navigate the complex web of public supports available to their loved ones?
  • How can we put in place stronger mental health supports for caregivers experiencing burnout?
  • How do we better ensure a strong and stable health care and developmental sector workforce that can assist with respite and ease the burden?
  • How can we better financially support caregivers who are giving up work in order to help care for a loved one?

All of these questions and others will have been addressed at this summit. And not only will we have had experts from around the country coming together to talk about this challenge, but we’ll also have had the benefit of many experts from abroad who flew in to share their experiences. 

Some might ask: why is this necessary? Don’t family members have a moral obligation to care for their loved ones? 

The answer is: of course they do. That’s why there are so many of us doing it every day.

But that doesn’t mean that they should have to do it without any support.

When boarding a plane, flight attendants always advise parents that, in the event of an emergency, they should put their own oxygen mask on before helping their children with theirs. This isn’t ageism. It’s because we need the parents to stay healthy so that they can continue to assist their children as needed. 

The same principle applies here. As a society, we’re not providing an oxygen mask to our caregivers even though they dedicate countless hours to providing invaluable care to their loved ones. We risk losing some if we don’t.

Rosalynn Carter, America’s former First Lady, is quoted as saying: “There are only four kinds of people in the world—those that have been caregivers, those that are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”

As you read this, you yourself may be taking care of an ageing family member or a loved one with a disability or chronic illness. You yourself might rely on someone as a caregiver. And even if you don’t fall into this category today, chances are you might at some point in your lifetime. Statistics suggest that half of us will be a caregiver during our lives. 

So join our conversation! Check out the updates from the summit. And talk to your elected official about what they are doing to support caregivers. Together, we can make sure that caregivers get the supports we need so that we can continue doing what matters most: caring for those we love. 

Ginny Roth: The Israel-Hamas war is uniting conservatives even as it fractures the Left

Commentary

As news broke that Hamas terrorists had attacked Israel, and as it became clear Israel would have to fight back, pro-Israel advocates awaited Canadian reactions with trepidation. It shouldn’t be shocking, perhaps, that Zionists would be concerned about the response from progressive Canada, including its chief political representatives in the Liberal and New Democratic parties.

But it may surprise some—especially those who oversimplify and caricature the Canadian Right—to know that pro-Israel advocates harboured some concern about how conservatives, and their political representatives in the Conservative Party, would react. It shouldn’t be hard to understand why. For at least a decade, longer in the United States, the three-legged stool that made up a coherent, durable right-of-centre voting coalition—fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and foreign policy hawks—has been kicked over.

Intra-conservative ideological debates have split in two, pitting inward-looking populists against globalist elites, and leaving advocates for assertive foreign policy—like a strong stance in favour of Israel—concerned that when the going got tough, the populist conservatives would be indifferent, or worse, opposed. 

One only has to look at the fractured response of American Republicans to the war in Ukraine to see this dynamic realized. Broad-based support for Ukraine amongst various conservative commentators, political leadership, and the party’s base has been shaky even from the outset of the initial invasion, and as the conflict persists there are growing calls, incoherent though they may be, from some corners of the American Right for the withdrawal of all aid whatsoever. Would this aversion to foreign engagement of any kind carry over to the West’s response to the Israel-Hamas war?

On this matter, though, concern turned out to be short-lived, at least here at home. Canadian conservatives have, by and large, responded in solidarity with Israel, supporting its right to self-defence, condemning Hamas terrorists, calling for Israeli hostages to be returned home, and fighting back against disturbing antisemitism. While a decade of domestic economic and cultural turmoil drove conservatives apart, pitting social conservatives against fiscal conservatives and blue-collar populists against corporate institutionalists, high-stakes geopolitical turmoil—and all its moral consequences—has brought the conservative coalition together, even as it has driven progressives apart.

Only a few years ago, as Donald Trump was governing the U.S. and the U.K. was exiting the European Union, young Canadian conservatives were questioning everything about the recipe for ideological coherence and political success we were raised on. As free trade and new technology hollowed out domestic manufacturing, the pro-globalization, anti-labour posture of our intellectual forebearers felt unfit for the times. As inflation rose because of bad monetary policy and civil liberties were abused during the global pandemic, the faith and trust in institutions that were so core to our traditions rang hollow.

Canadian conservatives knew the answers didn’t lie with the big-spending, high-regulation economic policy or virtue-signaling, equity-protecting social programs of the Liberals or the NDP, but we struggled to articulate a coherent and compelling alternative. Through three leadership campaigns, Conservatives split along various ideological lines, struggling to articulate a coherent, relevant vision in between. Ultimately, Pierre Poilievre developed a compelling synthesis: a FreeCon attack on big spending and a NatCon attack on the Left’s woke culture war, drawing libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and social conservatives into his coalition and crushing his leadership race competitors.

Poilievre’s command of the Conservative party, and the irrelevance of the right-wing PPC, speak to the power of his synthesizing political program. It’s not at all clear that the synthesis was inevitable, especially given the inability of American conservatives to agree to leadership in the House of Representatives, let alone to choose a unifying Republican party nominee, so his big tent ought to be applauded.

But during and since Poilievre’s big win, a certain kind of critic has remained. They are often men and almost always of a certain age. These concerned boomer elites are easy to mock and dismiss. And on domestic economic matters, the mocking is often warranted. These critics own homes (probably outright), live in urban centres, and are unlikely to have school-aged kids, so their discomfort with a political style that appeals to people in different, less fortunate circumstances isn’t exactly worth indulging. But recent events have created space for these critics in the conservative coalition, and have made the three-legged stool of Reagan fusionism, which so many young conservatives were willing to kick over in search of something new, suddenly seem relevant again.

Part of what made North America’s fusionist project of the 1980s so powerful as “both an ideological synthesis and a political coalition” was that at the time, foreign policy could not be ignored. Communism had wreaked havoc across the globe and the United States was putting the finishing touches on its decades-long struggle for supremacy over Soviet Russia. The foreign policy hawks in Reagan’s political coalition weren’t just comparative politics PhDs, they were regular Americans intent on the idea that a strong United States wasn’t just valuable in its own right but served as a bulwark against global chaos and as a signpost for civilization.

But just as the elite boomers have sounded out of touch these past number of years, such existential, principled foreign policy thinking might recently have sounded dramatic and irrelevant in the context of tough domestic economic times and relative global peace. Indeed, Donald Trump’s foreign policy was characterized by a kind of casual realpolitik, his American First mandate, to fix things at home. But Hamas’ attack on Israel a month ago, and the subsequent political fallout in countries all over the world, makes virtuous foreign policy seem pressing again, even as Canadians continue to struggle with the cost of living.

Despite the reasonable apprehension of pro-Israel advocates, and the unreasonable ramblings of others, support for Israel in the Middle East and Jews at home has united Canada’s Right—from social conservatives to fiscal conservatives, from young populists to our own aging boomer elite. Meanwhile, the Right’s fusion has been the Left’s fault line, as the government’s ostensible support for Israel is pitting what few Liberal centrists remain in the party against its much bigger progressive flank, breaking apart what very recently seemed like quite a durable voting coalition. Just as Reagan-era foreign policy united single-issue conservative voters, whether they were obsessed with debt-to-GDP-ratios or limits on abortion, in service of a bigger picture, today’s civilizational rupture seems to bring with it the potential to do the same.

As I’ve observed many of the same people I mocked for misunderstanding the challenges of our cost of living crisis stand solidly with Israel against terrorism and nihilism—even as their peers in academia have failed to do so—I am reminded that it took the existential threat of communism to set the stage for Regan-era fusionism. Similarly, it may take an equally terrifying global fight to join the elder centrists with the young conservatives like me who were impetuous enough to, only very recently, naively dismiss them.