Let this Moment Continue to Radicalize Us

Colette Murphy is the Chief Executive Officer of the Atkinson Foundation. She sent this letter on May 1, 2021 to Atkinson’s extended community. You can subscribe to receive her occasional updates here.


This pandemic continues to distort our sense of time. Scientists call it “temporal disintegration”. A feeling of living in the moment, day to day, unmoored from the past and unable to imagine the future. But also a feeling of living large, emboldened to act with moral purpose in the here and now. So, it’s not surprising that this time is breaking and remaking Canada.

The recent federal budget broke an impasse on child care and made our care economy a high priority. It reset the federal minimum wage to $15 and vowed to reform Employment Insurance. It began the arduous process of repairing the damage caused by COVID-19, and persistent racial inequities, to community services.

This moment has been a long time coming. The social and economic benefits of early childhood education and learning, and the correlation between low wages and health, were established over the last decades. It’s taken a prolonged global crisis, however, to make the roots of racism impossible for the powerful to ignore, and remove any doubt that the only way to take care of ourselves is to take care of each other.

This new certainty is seeding new alliances. 

  • The Ontario Medical Association, medical officers of health, and big city mayors are speaking out forcefully alongside the Decent Work and Health Network and many others. They’re insisting upon paid sick days for all workers to stop the spread of COVID-19 and new variants. You can join us today — International Workers Day — at a virtual rally to show your support for decent wages, safe working conditions and stable jobs.
  • The Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers Armine Yalnizyan is one of five policy innovators who launched a campaign on the care economy before the release of the federal budget. It’s about clearing away the debris and laying a solid foundation for the social infrastructure Canada needs to recover from the pandemic. You can get up-to-the-minute insights from Armine by subscribing to her newsletter.
  • With the support of the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), Atkinson will bring forward a resolution on  reconciliation and Indigenous inclusion to TMX shareholders on May 12, 2021 — endorsed by the TMX Group’s Board of Directors (which owns the Toronto Stock Exchange). This is the very first time a reconciliation or diversity proposal has been jointly endorsed by the board of a Canadian company. This work has been done in partnership with the National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association through the Reconciliation and Responsible Investment Initiative (RRII). 
  • Atkinson accepted The Circle on Aboriginal Peoples and Philanthropy’s invitation to take a year-long learning journey called Partners in Reciprocity. For our team, the program is providing the necessary time, space and resources to deepen our understanding of anti-Indigenous racism, and do the individual and collective work necessary to continue becoming an anti-racist organization. This work is feeding into the larger discussion we’re having with our Board about the promise, value and impact of our philanthropy.
  • We convened a small group of Black and racialized women leaders for a conversation about this movement moment with LaTosha Brown. LaTosha is a co-founder of Black Voters Matter and one of the organizers in Georgia who made historic electoral and organizing gains in recent US elections. This conversation, hosted by Atkinson’s Director of Advocacy and Organizing Ausma Malik, focused on the kind of cross-movement organizing that changes democratic, social and economic systems and structures.

Even as we lean into new possibilities, we’re acutely aware that the depth of this crisis is yet unknown. COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces continue to preoccupy the Toronto Star’s Work and Wealth beat reporter, Sara Mojtehedzadeh. The lack of transparency in the reporting process has made it impossible to know the full scope of workplace transmissions. Experts have acknowledged that workplace outbreaks are outpacing spread in the general population, but the Ontario Ministry of Labour has only penalized one employer for breaking safety laws after conducting 31,500 field visits. After months of media and public pressure, the City of Toronto announced that employers with significant outbreaks would be named going forward. Sara’s incisive daily coverage has put light and heat on this infuriating situation.

A month ago, Jim Stanford released Speaking Up, Being Heard, Making Change: The Theory and Practice of Worker Voice in Canada Today, his second paper in the PowerShare series of research papers. This research is an important contribution to efforts to rebalance power at work and, in these times, save lives.

More than a year has passed since the Atkinson team left 1 Yonge Street to work from home. We moved into a new office at Jarvis and Queen’s Quay in March, and will regroup there when restrictions are lifted and safety protocols are in place. A few weeks ago, I cycled through the old neighbourhood to meet up with Phill Roh, our administrative manager who has been undaunted in his efforts to reorganize and resettle us.

The familiar sights along the waterfront were reassuring, but so were the changes. The facade of the Harbourfront Centre has been transformed by a selection of large-scale black and white photographs from the Canada COVID Portrait project. I jumped off my bike to take a picture of the colourful installation by textile artist Amanda McCavour in Ann Tindal Park next to the Centre. Both works are strung together by what photographer George Pimentel calls “the common thread of hope and resilience”. Amanda says she’s “interested in thread’s assumed vulnerability, its ability to unravel, and its strength when sewn together.”

From this moment, I took away three things. A reminder to hold those who we love, and those who we’ve lost, close. A challenge to keep flying our modest flags of solidarity. And (in the words of educator Mariame Kaba) an invitation to let this moment continue to radicalize us, not lead to despair.


PS: If you haven’t heard it already, listen to Cadence Weapon (aka Rollie Pemberton) rap about this latest shutdown. He hits all the best notes!