In March 2020, a few weeks after COVID-19 arrived in Canada, First Policy Response was launched as a way to share information about Canadian policy responses to the pandemic. Since then, we have published more than 170 pieces of original commentary, hosted 10 Video Town Hall events and four Twitter Spaces chats, and covered one federal election. We’ve also supported nearly 30 authors from groups under-represented in policy spaces through our Contributors Fund.

After almost two years, this will be my last week at First Policy Response, so naturally it has me thinking about some of the most important things this project has taught me.

First, everything is pandemic policy. When I joined FPR, I suspected it might have more to do with public health and employment benefits than anything else. But as the crisis continued to stretch out over months and years, the ripple effects of the initial shock touched almost every aspect of society — in places as unexpected as post-secondary education revenues, energy-efficient housing, arts and culture and data privacy.

The pandemic brought new urgency to several ongoing policy issues. The debates over policy options and implementation will continue, but at least the pandemic has made it too difficult to sweep them aside.

Second, equity is at the root of all these interconnected layers of pandemic fallout. A few months into the pandemic, we started to see this in the numbers: in jurisdictions that had been persuaded to collect race-based data, such as Toronto, members of racialized communities were disproportionately more likely to contract COVID-19. Low-income and racialized groups were more likely to continue working front-line, in-person jobs rather than working remotely; they were also more likely to live in over-crowded homes, making it more difficult to isolate when an infection occurred. Some groups also experienced well-founded vaccine hesitancy, such as Indigenous communities with historical trauma around the colonial medical system. Meanwhile, women faced greater employment losses, thanks to a combination of being more likely to work in industries such as retail and hospitality that were forced to close during lockdowns and carrying more of the child-care duties when schools and daycares were closed.

We soon began to see the broader effects of our societal inequities in areas like access to internet and technology: children and youth in low-income homes risked falling behind in school if they lacked the high-speed internet access or devices they needed to participate in distance education. Or affordable housing: with newly remote white-collar workers fleeing the cities for communities farther afield, a surge in real estate and rental prices started locking out lower-income residents more than ever before.

Third, the policy effects of the pandemic will be long-lasting. We’ve seen how it’s been a catalyst for a renewed attempt at building a national child-care system (which also served as a key issue in last fall’s pandemic election). The success of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in staving off wider economic collapse — and its limitations when it comes to people with disabilities or non-traditional employment — renewed conversations about universal basic income. COVID’s devastating toll on long-term care homes accelerated discussions about national standards for long-term care. None of these were new issues, but the pandemic brought new urgency to them. The debates over policy options and implementation will continue, but at least the pandemic has made it too difficult to sweep them aside.

Finally, I’ve learned how much people want to contribute to tackling these policy challenges. From researchers to undergraduate students to front-line workers and advocates, all kinds of folks have shared their valuable perspectives with us by writing analysis pieces, commenting on social media, or joining breakout room discussions at our Video Town Halls. We’re particularly encouraged by the engagement we’ve had from those on the front lines, who are too often excluded from these important conversations. Bringing these different perspectives together will be key to making sure our policy responses to the pandemic and future crises truly serve everyone in Canada.

It has been a true privilege to watch this community grow over the past two years. Thank you for everything you’ve contributed to this conversation.