Christine Bergeron

Recovering to a Clean and Fair Economy

A message from Christine Bergeron, President and CEO
January 2021

As we turn the page on 2020, we need to refocus on what lies ahead. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, it’s clear our lives will change, but will it be for the better? Or will we fail to address the looming climate emergency and allow inequality to deepen by reviving an economy that has been maximizing profit at the cost of both the planet and the people who live on it?

At Vancity, we’ve long believed that we must do better than an economy that creates further inequality and worsens the climate crisis. As economies worldwide begin to recover from the impact of the COVID pandemic, achieving this is even more urgent.

2020's lessons

Major crises exploit existing inequities. Those already on the wrong side of systemic inequality are not as well positioned to weather a storm, and often bear more of its burdens.

The COVID crisis revealed the extent to which widespread systemic inequities create a fragile economy. When COVID hit, the very people already more vulnerable or disadvantaged in our economy were the first and hardest hit. From mid-February to mid-April, 2020, overall Canadian employment losses neared 16%. But those losses reached 38% among low-wage workers, 30% among temporary workers, 25% among Canadians paid hourly – and a massive 54% among single parents.

During those early months, the elderly, and youth aged 18 to 24, were more economically impacted than other age groups. Newcomers to Canada were more seriously affected than others in Canada. Smaller businesses, and businesses owned by women, IBPOC, persons with disabilities, and newcomers to Canada were also hit harder. And in the early weeks of the pandemic, employment losses among women were over twice as high as among men.

The pandemic is a wake-up call to what must change. We need an economy that works better for more people. Not just as a matter of basic fairness, but because broadening the circle of economic opportunity means more people are better able to weather a crisis. This added resilience makes our whole economy – our entire country – stronger and better.

It's important to remember this as communities and governments turn again to face the climate crisis.

The next crisis at our doorstep

The climate crisis didn’t go away while we were focused on the COVID emergency. On the contrary, it’s now clearer than ever that unless we quickly reverse course on global warming while adapting to its consequences, we could be facing an economic crisis far more catastrophic than COVID.

Much like the pandemic, climate change is being driven by a systemic global event – one that no group or nation can solve alone. And like COVID, climate change will hurt those already on the wrong side of economic inequality the most. Together, inequity and climate change are increasingly affecting people’s lives and worsening their economic opportunities. Tackling this requires deep and systemic changes to our economy.

The window to reverse the climate crisis is closing, but we still have time and opportunity to achieve a safe, prosperous, clean, and resilient future. As we plan a path out of the global pandemic emergency, we must learn our lessons and rebuild our economy to be focused around people, communities, and the planet that sustains us all.

Vancity’s climate commitment

Among Canada’s financial institutions, Vancity has long been at the forefront of confronting systemic inequity and addressing climate change. We were the first to provide mortgages to women without a male co-signer, and the first to offer a loan and a preferred rate for the purchase of a low-emission vehicle or to use credit-card profits to support environmental initiatives. We were the first to offer a socially responsible mutual fund, and the first to offer a Registered Education Savings Plan. We were the largest employer in the country to commit to paying the Living Wage when the campaign began, and the first financial institution in North America to achieve carbon neutral operations – encouraging other large organizations to follow suit on both fronts. And we continue to provide banking services to people that other financial institutions turn away.

Our own response to the COVID crisis was guided by the same approach. When the pandemic hit, our first consideration was to listen to our members and employees, understand their needs, and address them in a safe and healthy manner. Then we acted, waiving ATM and e-transfer fees, deferring loan and mortgage payments, temporarily offering zero interest on credit card balances, supporting organizations that help the most vulnerable in our communities, among other actions.    

These actions provided immediate help to members feeling the economic impact of COVID-19. But they did not address the systemic inequities that made these burdens much worse for some members of our community than for others.

In responding to the climate emergency, we’re making sure to focus on how to address these inequities as part of the climate transition. Climate change affects everyone, and the transition to a low carbon economy will ultimately fail if people are left behind in the process.

Recovering to a clean and fair economy means empowering all of us to make this transition in our own lives while changing the fundamentals of our economy. We’re here to help our members be part of this change and to not be swept away by it, whether this means building resilience, reducing impacts, or joining voices and resources to advance fundamental systemic changes. Our membership is what drives us; it’s the force of change at the heart of our response to the climate emergency, starting with our commitments.  

We believe we have a responsibility to promote the wellbeing of members and communities after COVID by addressing the dual challenge of inequality and climate change. We will do our part to help build the economy of tomorrow – a resilient economy that aligns people, prosperity and planet.

Because that’s who we are and what we do.

Signature of Christine Bergeron

Christine Bergeron
Vancity President and CEO

Jan O’Brien

The COVID emergency has revealed and worsened many deep inequities that exist in our society. This underscores how a successful response to a global crisis requires rethinking our approach to the economy.