Austerity

Ontario Budget: Liberals Hide Austerity behind “Free Education”

On February 25, the Ontario Liberals unveiled their budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The centrepiece of the 346-page document was a pledge to make post-secondary education free for families earning under $50,000 a year. The working poor have cause to celebrate: Premier Kathleen Wynne’s “activist” government seems to be finally living up to its name – but is it really? Or is this budget just another example of “talking left and governing right”?

Free Education?

Under the new Ontario Student Grant (OSG), students from families earning under $50,000 a year will have their tuition made free. In addition, “middle-income” students will also have their tuition costs reduced. The logical question then follows: how is it that a government committed to erasing the deficit has found so much new money for poor students? The answer: they haven’t. The new system of funding will replace the mishmash of tax credits and grants that existed before it. The Wynne government claims the new costs will be “roughly the same” as the $1.3 billion in aid that is being replaced.

In other words, only already existing money will be committed to help with tuition costs. Fanfare aside, all the Liberals have really done is shift money around, label it “free education” and pat themselves on the back repeatedly for it.

If, however, the cost of implementing the OSG ends up exceeding the cost of the old grant/tax credit system, working families should be advised to hold their breath. While headlines may give the impression that money is being showered on post-secondary education, the opposite is in fact true. In reality, the rate of funding for post-secondary education is set to decrease.

On budget day, The Globe & Mail was quick to note that the Liberals were “keeping a tight lid on spending”. It then went on to explain how they propose to do that:

“[For the next three years] the province’s three largest spending areas – health care, education and postsecondary education – will be held to average annual increases of 1.8 per cent, 1.2 per cent and 1.1 per cent, respectively.”

With inflation anticipated to be higher than 2 per cent, the result will be a net decrease in funding for each of these three areas. Of these, postsecondary education is slated to be the worst hit. This should sow suspicion in the Liberal’s newfound love for students. It is also important to note that even if there was dramatic increase in funding to the OSG, this could only come at the expense of deeper cuts to other areas.

This, however, is not the only caveat with the OSG. From what the government has said thus far, the OSG will not be linked to tuition levels. It is important to remember that what universities and colleges charge in tuition fees is separate from what the government provides in grants. One may dramatically increase, while the other remains flat. That means the value of the OSG in 2017 would remain the same even if tuition levels were to triple in the future (which they have in Ontario since 1993).

In fact, the 3 per cent cap on tuition increases that currently exists is set to expire in 2017. As of now, it is unclear whether the Liberals are going to impose a new cap, if any, on tuition increases. On this, as with everything else, the Liberals leave more questions than answers. While a programme of free education for low-income families is undoubtedly progressive, it remains that the Liberal proposal is both vague and filled with holes.

What’s not uncertain, however, is the wave of enthusiasm around the idea of “free education”. This is something that only yesterday was said to be unrealistic or impractical by even labour and student leaders. In the past election, for example, the Ontario NDP would only commit to a tuition freeze and zero-interest student loans. Perhaps even more scandalous is that for the past decade the leaders of the left-leaning Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) have refused to publicly raise or mobilize around the demand for universal free education. This demand must now be enthusiastically taken up as a means of holding the Liberals to account, and exposing them if they backtrack.

Moreover, tuition freezes and zero-interest loans will not fundamentally solve the problems that students and young workers face. Tuition is already unaffordable and loans an incredible burden. Raising and mobilizing around the demand for universal free education would be a significant step forward for the student movement itself and would be a powerful beacon to all students facing the reality of austerity with rising tuition costs, deteriorating living and working conditions, the skyrocketing cost of housing, poor job prospects, etc. The demand for free education is directly connected to other questions such as jobs and housing and cannot be made on its own. The demand for universal free education must be taken up as an immediate step to improve the lives of students and the education system and must therefore be linked with broader demans for decent jobs, affordable housing, access to quality social services, etc.

Cap-and-Trade

Another centrepiece of this budget has been the introduction of a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. This system sets a “cap” on emissions through the issue of permits, which are then purchased and sold by industry in the open market. Beginning in 2017, Ontario will enter a carbon-trading market made up of itself, Quebec and California to this effect. While this may fit into the “activist” narrative of the current government, the hole in their plan is so big as to make the ozone layer jealous.

As with any scheme to penalize industrial polluters, the system is only as effective as those who enforce it. How much can be expected of the Ontario Liberals, who are connected to those same polluters by a million and one strings? As their own budget makes plainly clear – almost nothing.

Just as soon as the scheme was unveiled, it was discovered that some of the largest industrial polluters (102 of them, to be exact) would be given temporary free permits to help ease their fears with cap-and-trade. But this “temporary” measure will be in place for a full four years, after which the Liberals can only promise a “review” of the practice!

Nonetheless, the Ontario Liberals have shown less compassion for working people than they have for industrial polluters. As a result of cap-and-trade, average Ontarians will be forced to pay a levy of 4.3 cents for every litre of gasoline at the pump, and up to $6 a month for heating in the average home. Unlike big industry, there will be no “reprieve” or “review” of this indirect gas tax.

Even then, this will likely do little to abate climate change – which is the intended purpose of the system. As noted by Edward Keenan, an advocate of carbon taxes, in The Toronto Star:

How many car owners are going to rearrange their lifestyles — move closer to work, or switch to public transit, or take up cycling — to avoid a 4.3-cent a litre tax? How many people are going to renovate their homes to avoid a $5-a-month increase in heating costs? I expect the answer to both questions is ‘not many’.”

Premier Wynne has repeatedly warned of the “cost of doing nothing” in regards to climate change, but no one figured that cost would be 4.3 cents extra at the pump!

More Austerity to Come

We should make no mistake in calling this budget what it is – an austerity budget. As mentioned earlier, decreases in funding are slotted for all three major spending areas – including post-secondary education. Even some of the more harmless proposals, such as making prescription drugs free for seniors earning under $19,300, harbour tax increases that target some of Ontario’s most vulnerable. The Liberal-friendly Toronto Star editorial board itself was forced to comment:

Seniors earning more than that modest level [of $19,300] will see their annual deductible almost double to $170 and their co-pay go up by a dollar per prescription […] for thousands close to the line it’s a slap in the face. Surely Ontario is wealthy enough not to demand more from old people getting by on poverty level-incomes.”

But this is hardly the end of the Wynne-era austerity. The deficit is projected to be at $4.3 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal year to zero in 2017-18. Barring a surprise uptick in the economy, these billions in cuts will ultimately fall on those they have since Wynne was elected – the working class. And whether you call it an “activist budget,” or whether you call it French toast, a spade remains a spade. At the end of the day, this budget sets no departure from the agenda of school closings, layoffs and privatization. In fact, it intensifies it.

These factors have led to a steep decline in approval for Wynne’s performance, which now stands at an abysmal 29 per cent. Disapproval, on the other hand, stands at 60 per cent. As support continues to decline, the Ontario Liberals will be forced to be ever more inventive in diverting attention from their attacks on workers. “Free education” and cap-and-trade are just the latest half-hearted “progressive” initiatives to this effect. But just like someone with a gun pointed to their head, the Ontario Liberals will promise anything if it means staying alive.

But even the few reforms Wynne has eked out are based on incredibly shaky fiscal projections. As noted by Andrew Coyne in The National Post:

That revenues are nonetheless projected to soar represents one part wishful thinking, one part federal transfers — Ontario now depends on Ottawa for nearly $25 billion annually, twice what it received a decade ago — and one part dodgy accounting. In the current fiscal year, for example, the government will book $1.1 billion from its “Asset Optimization Strategy,” otherwise known as the partial sale of Hydro One: a one-time gain that does nothing for the government’s fiscal position in the longer term.”

What can also be added to this is an unexpected $504-million in revenue from HST on housing purchases, as well as historically low interest rates, which have lowered the cost of servicing Ontario’s debt load (which at $308 billion is the largest sub-sovereign debt load in the world). Finance Minister Charles Sousa himself admitted that “uncertain economic winds are currently blowing in the right direction for Ontario.” But what will happen when those winds begin to blow in the opposite direction? A collapse in the global economy, an uptick in interest rates, a reversal in transfer payments, a burst in the housing bubble – any one of these variables could easily upset the fiscal projections of the government. Simultaneously they could imply austerity on a level that has been seen across Europe.

Unlike the federal government, the Ontario Liberals have far less room to “borrow and spend” their way out of a crisis. The provincial government already spends an incredible $11.8 billion to service the debt every year. To put this into perspective, interest payments make up the third largest expenditure after education in the province. The credit rating agencies already downgraded Ontario’s rating in July of last year. They will not hesitate to do so again if the government wavers from its commitments to balance the budget. In other words, there is no room for the government to manoeuvre. They have no choice but to take the road of austerity.

What Comes Next?

While the Ontario Liberals may have refined their strategy of “talking left and governing right” with this budget, there are fixed limits to how long people can be duped. Unlike Trudeau, their post-election honeymoon has long since faded. The Wynne Liberals hope the Ontario Student Grant will prevent a Quebecois Spring from ever happening here. But rather than pacify students, it may well have the opposite effect of empowering them. Students who yesterday saw free education as a pipe dream will now feel that it is within reach. This can have an unintentionally radicalizing effect. Free post-secondary education would alleviate a massive burden for thousands of students, and the demand for universal education could be a powerful impetus in the mobilization of students for the struggle against poverty and austerity. As for the workers, the government is setting itself up for a showdown. The agenda of privatization, layoffs and wage cuts can only continue for so long before a breaking point is reached. Where and when that will happen is conditional on the tempo of the economic situation, as well as the leadership of the labour movement. But if one thing is certain, it is that the Ontario Liberals are walking an incredibly fine line.

Source: http://marxist.ca/canada/ontario/1086-ontario-budget-liberals-hide-austerity-behind-free-education.html

Image Source: http://www.cpcml.ca/OPF2014/OP0322.HTM

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

The Austerity Agenda in Sheep’s Clothing

As we go into the New Year with Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government in place, it’s worth noting that the struggle against poverty in Toronto now unfolds with a complete set of federal, provincial and municipal regimes all seeking to position themselves politically as moderate if not progressive. This has particular implications and poses particular challenges in terms of effectively resisting austerity, poverty and social abandonment.

There is, of course, an implication in the last sentence I just used. At none of the levels of government we face can we seriously imagine that we are dealing with anything other than continuation and deepening of the agenda of austerity. That agenda is an escalating, internationally determined fact of political life that we can’t seriously expect Trudeau, Wynne or Tory to break ranks with. Still, the fact that we are not dealing with hard right regimes is of considerable significance. The positive side of dealing with the more moderate austerity forces is that they don’t wish to take things as far and they are more likely to tactically retreat in the face of serious opposition. The other side of the matter, however, is that such regimes are harder to confront. They impose austerity more stealthily and have developed considerable skills when it comes to diverting potential resistance into a process of fruitless dialogue.

Because of the newness of the Trudeau regime and, because it replaces such a hated bastion of reaction as the Harper Tories, it is likely that illusions in its false progressive credentials will linger for a while. However, we begin the New Year with global markets reacting to fears that a world economy that has produced only dubious post 2008 recovery is nearing the next downturn phase. With the collapse in oil prices and an economy being kept precariously afloat by unsustainable household debt, it is likely that Canada will feel the full weight of any such development. In this situation, it’s pretty clear that Trudeau has not been put in Ottawa to broker any major concessions. He presides over a system of federal social provision that has been seriously undermined. The Employment Insurance system has been gutted, healthcare weakened, social housing all but eliminated and transfer payments toward social assistance scaled back. A movement that demanded and fought for the reversal of this enormous damage to the social infrastructure could create a major problem for the Liberals and force more from them than token gestures.

Meanwhile, In Ontario…

For the Ontario Government, while they have hardly faced anything comparable to the Days of Action that were directed against the Harris Tories, the ‘social justice’ mantle they have put on has already lost a great deal of its credibility. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has become well used to the Wynne Government’s ongoing game of ‘poverty reduction’ under which a never ending process of consultations is used to deflect political challenge as the Liberals deepen poverty and allow the spending power of social assistance to decline against inflation. The challenges that the Liberals have faced from public sector workers, the campaign for an increased minimum wage and the Raise the Rates campaign that OCAP has been part of demonstrate that the capacity of the Liberals to stave off social resistance to their austerity agenda in sheep’s clothing is not unlimited. Greater levels of mobilization against the Liberals’ poverty measures are perfectly possible and likely.

With the lack of openly declared party politics at the municipal level, the implementation of ‘kinder, gentler’ austerity in Toronto is a little more complex. After Rob Ford’s dysfunctional attempt at right wing populism, a sigh of relief greeted the election of John Tory as Mayor. The conservatives, centrists and soft left members of City Council have all been folded into a regime that likes to give everyone a place at the table and prides itself on an ‘inclusiveness’ that can take various forms, as long as they don’t seriously impede the twin agendas of austerity and upscale urban redevelopment.

Where Rob Ford would have insisted there was plenty of shelter space for the homeless and tried to block any measures to address the crisis on the streets, Tory plays a more skillful game. Under pressure, he opens some warming centres and drop-ins and adopts other minor measures of alleviation. He clearly places a premium on trying to reduce the risk of actual street freezing deaths, which spell political problems for him. Meanwhile, the City policy of keeping shelter occupancy at a maximum of 90 per cent continues to be disregarded and the bureaucracy works to ensure that shelter facilities are moved out from the centre of the city in the interests of redevelopment. The plight of the homeless actually becomes worse but under a regime that has the political intelligence to protect its legitimacy at the cost of some concessions.

Illusory Solutions

The advantages to be gained from the ‘poverty reduction’ circus have not been lost on John Tory and his team. The approach that the Liberals put in place at the Provincial level is now being replicated municipally. The main political capital provided by this approach is that it creates the illusion that the ‘complex problem’ of poverty is being duly considered, solutions sought and the ‘stakeholders’ consulted. Through this procedure, community anger can be safely channeled, expectations put on hold and ‘solutions’ presented that don’t conflict with and even facilitate the prevailing agenda. We will wait in vain for the City to give a lead in challenging precarious work and low wages. The library system in Toronto, has cut its workforce and employs a scandalous number of part time workers. We can be sure that there will be no great desire to ensure that the City run welfare offices adopt a less restrictive approach to the provision of benefits. Any housing initiatives that emerge will be focused on facilitating upscale development, with token ‘affordable housing’ measures included and an emphasis on furthering the privatization of public housing.

At each of the levels of government, then, the above mentioned political contradiction manifests itself. They are all regimes that are relatively less able to withstand serious challenge and social mobilization and this makes it easier to win concessions from them and force them into retreats. However, their very method of operating, based on ‘inclusiveness’ and co-option, makes it all the harder to create the critical mass of resistance that makes such victories possible. In 2016, the possibility opens up that the pace and scale of austerity will make the balancing act that such regimes rely on impossible to sustain. In such a situation, we could break the grip of the fake consensus, increase the scale of the fight against austerity and poverty and win some significant victories.

Source: https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/the-austerity-agenda-in-sheeps-clothing

Image Source: (Same as above)

The Class Struggle in Trudeau’s Canada

The decade long rule of the Harper regime has come to an end. The Trudeau Liberals have formed a majority government, sweeping through eastern Canada and making large advances in Quebec and Ontario. Many Canadians heaved a sigh of relief as the election results came in. The perception is that the days of Harper’s right-wing reactionary policies are at an end.

For the labour movement, the results were more contradictory. Some trade union leaders declared victory as many had jumped on the “anybody but Conservative” bandwagon during the election campaign. For New Democrats and the section of the trade union movement backing the NDP, the results were bitter to say the least.

The NDP suffered a crushing defeat, from leading in the polls at the beginning of the election campaign to losing 51 seats. This represents a retreat back to the NDP’s historic levels of support around 20%. Many NDP members and labour movement activists were left scratching their heads asking what happened to their opportunity to finally defeat the two capitalist parties.

The results of the federal election can seem confusing. At a time when workers and young people are becoming radicalized around the world from Spain to Greece, to Britain and even the United States, some might come to the conclusion that Canada is immune or stands separated from this global process.

This is a false conclusion, but the confusion is understandable if our observations are limited to looking at things on their surface. If we look deeper, however, we can see many contradictions in Canadian society.

The key questions that need to be asked are: why did the NDP do so poorly? Are the federal Liberals really “progressive” and what can we expect from them? After entering technical recession during the first half of this year, what are the expectations for the Canadian economy? Most importantly, where is the class struggle in Canada heading?

NDP Leadership Delivers Historic Defeat

This was the NDP’s election to win or to lose. The leadership of the NDP threw the historic opportunity away. Appeasing the bankers and bosses led to the melting away of popular support.

Initial enthusiasm for the NDP’s modest reform program, notably the one million childcare spaces, as well as opposition to Bill C-51, began to dissipate as the NDP program was elaborated and placed under scrutiny. The removal of left-wing candidates who supported the Palestinian struggle, while allowing candidates who made right-wing statements, disillusioned many party members and supporters. The commitment to balanced budgets in particular put the NDP in the camp of the status quo for many workers.

It became clear that on the basis of meagre corporate tax increases (that would remain below the average tax rate of the Harper years), no real improvements could be delivered. Even the prominent childcare program would not be rolled out in the first term of an NDP federal government, but rather would take eight years to implement!

The Liberals, who were down in the polls, saw the opportunity to maneuver left and seize the space vacated by the NDP. As is the tradition of the Liberal Party, they adopted some socially progressive measures. They began championing marijuana legalization, criminal justice reform and accepting Syrian refugees among other initiatives.

More importantly, the Liberal election campaign began to give rhetorical emphasis to wealth redistribution. They repeatedly highlighted wealth inequality and the need to tax the “1%”, adopting the phraseology of the Occupy movement. Trudeau declared he would strengthen the “middle-class” through increasing stimulus spending, and proposed deficit budgets to do so.

The Liberals began to rise in the polls as a result of this change in tack, garnering the support of many workers and young people. Trudeau began to present himself as the ‘real change’ candidate, and to criticize Mulcair’s program from the left for having adopted “Harper’s budget”. The only response of the NDP was to criticize these Liberal policies from the right!

Is Keynesianism left-wing?

Some in the NDP officialdom have defended their position in the federal election by explaining that Keynesian deficit spending is not necessarily left-wing. This is a correct point in itself and Marxists agree that there is nothing inherently left-wing about deficit financing.

We further explain that deficit financing cannot solve the problems of the working class and neither does it solve the contradictions within capitalism that lead to crisis. At best, these policies delay the inevitable capitalist austerity by making it worse at a later stage.

While Keynesianism is not necessarily left-wing, the NDP’s economic program was certainly right-wing. The NDP committed to preserving corporate profits by ensuring them a favourable tax rate. The only result could be that real improvements for the working class were off the table. In a context of economic slow-down, the NDP’s program could only mean austerity.

Mulcair’s economic program conforms to classical policies of capitalism. The recent finding of the Parliamentary Budget Office that they expect a $3-5 billion annual deficit for the next five years based on current spending displays the weakness in the Canadian economy. How could Mulcair balance the books in this economic context without spending cuts?

The Marxists have long-explained that the NDP cannot serve two masters; either it can organize and voice the interests of the working class, or it can appease and administer the needs and interests of the capitalists. This is unfortunately confirmed in the disastrous federal election results for the NDP. The workers abandoned the NDP as it became perceived to be more aligned with the status quo than the Liberals.

An Abacus Poll published at the end of September explained that 76 per cent of Canadians were looking for “change” in this election. Of those who wanted change, 58 per cent wanted it soon. The same poll found that more Canadians saw Trudeau as representing “ambitious change” and “change that would be felt soon” as compared to Mulcair. In an election where there was a mass anti-Harper mood for change, and where 30 per cent of the electorate was undecided between the NDP and Liberals, this perception was devastating for the NDP.

The policy of appeasing the bankers and bosses lead to the melting away of popular support. It must be said that the election defeat cannot be placed at the feet of Mulcair alone. The NDP’s turn to the right has been occurring for decades. In tandem with this process, we have seen a growing separation of the party tops from the rank-and-file.

The leadership of the NDP is largely filled with careerists and opportunists of all sorts. This has led to a disconnect and blindness to the mood of the masses. More than that, the leadership fears the workers. They see the party as a vehicle for the advancement of their political careers and personal ambitions. They fear that their careers would be jeopardized if the workers attempted to take back the party.

What is the Perspective for the NDP?

The top NDP officialdom was quick to close ranks around Mulcair following his defeat. Immediately after the federal election, an NDP spokesman explained that Mulcair “was in it for the long haul”. Threats were even made against those considering public opposition to Mulcair, such as the statement to the press by the former national director, Robin Sears, that critics of Mulcair “will be quite publicly slapped”.

The NDP officialdom is not unaware of the process of radicalization that they see around the world and view with trepidation. The victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership election in the UK has shaken the NDP leadership. Corbyn defines himself as a socialist and is committed to opposing austerity and imperialist wars.

The NDP leadership fears that a similar process could occur in Canada and is moving quickly to ensure that it doesn’t happen. They fear that if a crack were to open at the top, or if Mulcair were to be thrown out, it could open the floodgates and lead to an upsurge of the left. As a result, there has been a closing of the ranks around Tom Mulcair.

The bourgeois has similarly taken note of the loss of authority and prestige of the NDP leadership, and are worried that they could lose their hold on the party tops. The bosses do not fear the Mulcair clique, but they fear the masses in and around the party.

They fear that the working class and youth could try to transform the NDP into a vehicle of struggle as is occurring in Britain. It is for this reason that the mainstream press has been making supportive statements and publishing positive appraisals of Mulcair since the election.

We at Fightback believe that the NDP rank-and-file and the broader labour movement would do well to learn the opposite and positive lessons from the Corbyn movement in Britain. It would be an enormous step forward for the class struggle in Canada if a mass left-wing based upon anti-austerity, anti-imperialist and socialist policies were to defeat the right-wing leading clique of the NDP.

It should be noted that there are differences between the British and Canadian contexts. Class anger has developed more in Britain as the capitalist crisis and austerity policies has had greater impact on the working class than in Canada. As soon as the Tories defeated Labour in the 2015 general election, a spontaneous movement erupted on the streets of many cities and towns in Britain against the Tories.

It was this radicalized mood and movement that was channeled into the Labour Party leadership race behind Jeremy Corbyn. In Canada, the same feeling of disgust does not yet exist towards the Trudeau Liberals. On the contrary, there are many illusions in the Liberals.

Nevertheless, there is a backlash of the NDP rank-and-file. Many feel like they have had enough of the leadership. Party members have been fed the lie that to win power, that they would have to abandon their principles and accept a turn towards the right. In the past many NDP members grudgingly accepted this argument.

The election results have totally discredited this idea and the authority of the leadership who promoted it. Indeed, the manner in which the NDP lost to the Liberals, by being outmaneuvered to the left, further undermines the prestige of the NDP leadership. Furthermore, the right-wing bureaucracy of the NDP has also been significantly weakened as many have lost their jobs due to the defeat.

The rank-and-file mood in the NDP does have the potential to develop into a left wing. The major barrier standing in the way of the development of such a movement is the lack of a focal point. A cohesive left-wing movement inside the party would require a prominent force, organization or figure within the NDP to stand up to the leading clique and voice the rank-and-file sentiment.

The party brass is standing behind Mulcair and only a serious fight will dislodge these careerists. Without a pole around which to coalesce an effective challenge, the rank-and-file will voice their dissent but could find themselves shut down by the bureaucracy.

An alternative to the existing leadership could come from a sitting or unseated parliamentarian, or from the trade union movement or even somewhere unexpected. Nearly six weeks after the election an uneasy calm reigns within the NDP, with many looking to which way the wind will blow without sticking their heads up. This is a reflection of the weakness of the “lefts” in the NDP. Many of the lefts have abandoned the party or capitulated to the leadership.

The silence was finally broken when Cheri DiNovo, a provincial MPP in Toronto, gave an interview to the Toronto Star on December 1st, 2015. She made excellent points about the need to reclaim socialism, to oppose the NDP’s “austerity approach” and made reference to movements around Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. Former Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan also made similar points. The question is whether those on the left of the party, such as Cheri DiNovo, will actually organize a movement leading into the Federal NDP Convention next spring.

If no focal point on the left arises for the mood of the rank-and-file to gravitate towards, there could be a repeat of the processes previously seen in the Ontario NDP. Andrea Horwath led the ONDP to defeat on an election program similar in substance to that of the federal party. Given no alternative to her leadership, Horwath was able to hold on. She made some gestures towards the left, sounded apologetic to the rank-and-file, made some concessions to rival sections of the bureaucracy and was able to keep her job with a 77 per cent vote in the provincial leadership review.

It is impossible to predict whether somebody or some force will step forward to galvanize and focus the energy of the ranks of the party. However, if the Mulcair leadership manages to hold on, things do not look good for the NDP in the near term. With no alternative policy, or even a policy of critiquing Trudeau from the right, support would bleed away to the Liberals. In the context of the Liberals gaining popularity by undoing unpopular Harper legislation, a Mulcair NDP could find itself polling under 10 per cent, or even 5 per cent like in the 1990s. After a while, an internal crisis like this might be the tipping point for regime change. As they say, nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging.

The historic defeat brought on by the right-wing clique at the top of the NDP opens up an opportunity to transform the party. Such a development within the party would be enthusiastically supported by Marxists.

On the other hand, if the status quo prevails within the NDP, it would be a recipe for further defeats. The growing radicalization in society would tend to be expressed through other avenues. The defeat in the federal election is a clear warning to the rank and file of the NDP and the broader labour movement.

How Long will Trudeau’s Honeymoon Last?

There is a wave of support and enthusiasm for the Trudeau Liberals. He has built expectations in his election campaign. Since forming government, the Liberals have rolled back unpopular measures of the Harper Conservatives, and have been championing socially progressive measures.

The sentiment in support of Trudeau will be enhanced as he passes socially liberal measures, though it should be noted that many of these are not particularly costly from a capitalist standpoint. Given the relief from having brought down the Harper Conservatives and as no serious left alternative is providing sharp criticism of the Liberals, it is not surprising that illusions have developed in Trudeau.

What must be stressed, however, is that the Liberal Party is a party of the bosses. Indeed, it is the historically preferred and natural governing party of Canadian capitalism and imperialism. It is the party that carried out the largest cuts to public spending in Canadian history under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. It is the party that began the War on Terror and the invasion of Afghanistan.

The Liberals are already showing their true colours. The appointment of Bill Morneau, the head of Canada’s largest HR firm and the former director of the right-wing C.D. Howe Institute think tank, as finance minister is a clear statement. The Liberals will serve Bay Street well, and they have picked one of its men to run the new federal government’s finances.

Trudeau’s economic policies can be described as mild Keynesian stimulus spending and deficit spending. He has committed to an additional $60 billion in spending, and at first involved $10 billion annual deficits for the first three years until 2018. This has since been revised to higher projected deficits as the Parliamentary Budget Office released new revenue figures. There was also a prominent commitment to tax the “1%”.

These policies can delay cuts for a period and would reinforce illusions in Trudeau. The commitment to stimulus spending will have some popularity among workers. They may initially take a softer approach regarding the labour movement and federal public service negotiations. The Liberals are wary of provoking class struggle.

What is clear, however, is that these economic policies will at best only delay the inevitable. It is notable that they have already backtracked on a commitment to restore door-to-door mail delivery, and have only halted the process of installing new community mailboxes. Cuts will be necessary in a period of prolonged capitalist crisis. The Liberal program commits to balancing the budget by 2019. This will be a painful process that will expose the Liberals for what they are: a party of austerity.

Whether the Liberals will be successful in delaying the class struggle is still an open question. The slow-down in Canada’s economy this year has already resulted in the downgrading of budget prospects as well as expectations for economic growth in the future. Canada’s economy has for long been presented as ‘healthy’, but such optimism has given way to alarm, fear and gloom among mainstream commentators.

It is clear that at a certain point, the honeymoon with the Liberals will come to an end. When it does, the backlash among the workers and youth will be all the more visceral because of the ‘progressive’ façade upon which the Liberals won the federal election.

Many youth are too young to remember the legacy of the Chretien-Martin Liberals. This explains some of the illusions and enthusiasm to vote Liberal as a means to defeat Harper. The youth in particular will be in for a very rude awakening.

When the Liberals will provoke class struggle, or how long they can delay it, is conditional on factors in the Canadian and the global economy. A definite timeline cannot be given to many of these processes. However, the deep contradictions in the world and Canadian economy will express themselves inevitably, and perhaps sooner than many expect.

Canada’s Economic Slow-Down

Many bourgeois commentators have praised Canada’s economic health since the 2008 financial collapse. Stephen Harper was particularly fond of lauding his credentials as a steward of the economy.

Working class people could tell from experience that this wasn’t the case. There was a massive shift towards precarious employment as better paying jobs were replaced with part-time and contract work. The United Way published a 2015 report which demonstrated that in Toronto and Hamilton, 52 per cent of all workers were temporary, contract or part-time.

Wages have been repressed through attacks on the public and private sector. For example, in Ontario one third of all workers are considered low-wage, defined as making within $4 of the minimum wage. Young workers in particular were badly hit with a combination of high debts, two-tiered wage scales and contract or low-wage employment.

However, there was an element of truth to the fact that Canada fared better than other advanced capitalist countries. This was largely on the basis of the oil boom, the expansion of credit and the bloated housing bubble. Austerity wasn’t as deep as in many advanced capitalist countries, unemployment did not skyrocket, and the resource sector provided an outlet for those who couldn’t find jobs.

Canada’s economy has indeed slowed since the 2008 crisis. The average annual GDP growth from 1998 to 2008 was 3.2 per cent. Since 2008, the average growth has slowed to 2.5 per cent annually. The drop, however, wasn’t as drastic as in many other OECD countries.

Events over the past year – particularly the oil crisis – have shaken illusions that Canada is immune from the process of stagnation and slump that afflicts the world economy. The Canadian economy began contracting earlier this year.

The economy shrunk modestly in the first two quarters of 2015 making it a ‘technical’ recession. This was largely due to the collapse in oil prices, which led to a significant drop in capital investment as well as layoffs in the oil patch.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimated 35,000 jobs were lost in the oil sector in 2015. The Globe and Mail estimated that 63,500 jobs were lost in Alberta during the first 8 months of 2015. Unemployment in the province has increased from 4.4 per cent to 7.0 per cent from September 2014 to November 2015.

This is the first time since 1994 that Alberta’s unemployment rate has surpassed that of Ontario. Companies continue to post losses and at present there is no end in sight to layoffs and cancellations of oil projects.

Some commentators suggested that the resulting drop in the Canadian dollar combined with growth in the US would result in a rebound in Canadian manufacturing. A rebound has not occurred, and at best there is a delaying of the gradual decline in manufacturing in the Canadian heartland.

Bourgeois commentators have begun to clue into the significant weaknesses at the foundations of the Canadian economy. The GDP growth estimates for 2015 are estimated to be around 1 per cent. The IMF predicts that growth will be 1.7 per cent in 2016. This is not the rosy picture that Harper was presenting over the past year.

It has also become apparent how sensitive the Canadian economy is to volatility of the world market. There is increasing concern about record consumer debt, overvalued housing prices, the impact of the global crisis on export markets and a prolonged glut in oil and mining commodity prices.

The Economist published an article titled “Late to the Party” which ran with the byline “an economy renowned for sobriety has binged on debt”. It warns that:

“Now the economy is shaky, which makes inflated debt and housing values more dangerous. The 50% fall in oil prices since 2014 battered the energy sector. Overall, the economy contracted slightly in the first half of 2015; the downturn was worst in oil-producing Alberta. The economy is now growing again and forecasts are relatively cheery.”

“But household debt casts an ominous shadow. At present, borrowers can pay; interest costs have fallen in relation to disposable income. But that could quickly change. Any shock in the form of inflation, which could force interest rates up quickly, or a recession in emerging markets or the United States, would be magnified by Canada’s overblown debt.

….An economic downturn might not spell catastrophe. But the debt binge ensures it would be very unpleasant.”

Consumer debt has reached 165 per cent of income, which is the same level it was in the United States prior to the foreclosure crisis. Canadians are already priced out of the housing market or barely able to pay their mortgages.

Among young people, the situation is even more desperate. The CBC reported that since 1999 debt among people in their thirties had doubled, reaching a debt-to-income ratio of 400 per cent. A decline in real estate prices would leave many homeowners in their 20s and 30s with debts greater than their net worth.

The Bank of Canada has reduced interest rates twice to soften the impact of the slow-down earlier this year. This hasn’t had the effect of stimulating investment and is contributing to the housing bubble. Rather than investing, corporate Canada has amassed a money hoard of about $700-billion. This situation cannot last forever, especially as the US Federal Reserve is set to increase rates this month. The question now is not whether there will be a housing collapse, but how bad will it be?

The Bank of Canada estimates a 10-30 per cent correction, while the Deutsche Bank estimates a correction of over 60 per cent. Toronto and Vancouver are widely seen as highly inflated, and Moody’s economist Paul Matsiras claimed that they are among the most overinflated housing markets on the globe.

Matsiras also raised the alarm that increases in mortgage rates would have debt-strapped Canadians unable to make their payments and that the Federal Government was exposed to a housing collapse through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation insuring of home loans.

The danger of the world economy entering another slump looms heavily over Canada. Lawrence Summers, the former Secretary of the Treasury of the US who also authored Justin Trudeau’s economic plan, recently warned that “the dangers of the global economy are more severe than at any time since the bankruptcy of Lehman brothers in 2008”.

The IMF has revised global growth to its lowest pace since 2008. There is growing concern of slow-down across the emerging economy, and especially in China. These economies were an important driver of growth as huge capital investments were being made in the past period. Since 2008, huge debts have accrued on the basis of low interest rates. This has all come to its limits.

A global slump is developing, and it would have a profound impact on a Canadian economy already on the edge of a cliff. When this occurs – whether in the next six months or in several years – it would have a huge impact on the class struggle in Canada. Among other things, it would spell the end of any lingering honeymoon with the Trudeau Liberals.

The Provincial Dynamic to the Class Struggle

Until the deep contradictions in the Canadian economy begin expressing themselves, and the federal Liberals turn to austerity, we can expect the main focal point of the class struggle will be provincially based.

The struggle of the workers and youth in Quebec continues to stand at the head of the movement. The contract negotiations between the Common Front, which brings together 400,000 workers from all the trade union centrals in the province, and the Quebec Liberals has been moving towards direct confrontation. The student unions have also mobilized in support of the Common Front.

The trade union leaders called off the movement for a “new Quebecois Spring” earlier this year, saying that it was not the right time for struggle. In the current contract negotiations there is a burning desire by the workers to fight the Liberal government.

The Liberals have threatened back-to-work legislation and imposed contracts. This has only enraged the workers. In contrast, the trade union leaders have retreated from their calls for a public sector general strike from December 1st to 3rd. The question at present is will the trade union leadership be able to hold back the struggle once again, or whether the workers will push the struggle forward despite the leadership. December 9th 2015 saw the largest public sector strike in Quebec since the revolutionary general strike of 1972.

The movement in Quebec gives a taste of the kind of backlash that can occur at a later stage against the Trudeau Liberals. The Quebec Liberals did not win the provincial election on the basis of austerity, but instead won on the basis of their opposition to the PQ’s divisionary “Charter of Values”. The anger of the workers is even greater as they feel like this is not what they voted for, and feel like the government doesn’t have a mandate for such austerity cuts.

In Ontario, the ‘progressive’ character of the Kathleen Wynne Liberals has shown itself to be a program of austerity, privatization and net-zero negotiations in the public sector. The sell-off of Hydro One in particular has garnered significant criticism. There is a developing anger against the Wynne Liberals.

The reason that we have not seen a serious fight back in Ontario is because the labour movement is terribly disoriented. Many trade union leaders supported Kathleen Wynne in the 2014 provincial election, and many trade unions gave financial support directly and indirectly to the Ontario Liberals as well. Now these same groups of workers are under attack.

On the other hand, the Ontario NDP has not provided an alternative to austerity. During the provincial election the party campaigned towards the right and openly courted Bay Street. The party has shifted slightly to the left since the defeat but is far from providing a fighting alternative to austerity.

The recent coup in the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) against Sid Ryan by the right- wing of the labour leadership is a further blow to the struggle. Despite his weaknesses, Sid had brought a more bold and social movement orientation to the OFL.

In the private sector, union leaders in Ontario have pushed round after round of concessions onto their membership despite record strike votes in many sectors. This can only go on for so long until one section or another of the working class decides to draw a line in the sand. This could cause a domino effect by inspiring other workers facing the same attacks.

Despite the utter paralysis of the trade union and NDP leadership, a fighting mood is developing in the province.

Earlier this year in Alberta, we saw an example of how rapidly consciousness can shift. The Albertan working class, which has been historically viewed as conservative and backward, defeated the 44-year long Progressive Conservative dynasty in the province and elected an NDP majority.

There was enormous anger towards the attempt of the Conservatives to place the burden of the oil crisis on the backs of the working class. Rachel Notley’s NDP won the election on a program of halting austerity through deficit financing and by taxing the rich. This represented a significant step forward for the class struggle in Alberta.

The plunge in oil prices, which is likely to be prolonged, is showing the limits of the Alberta NDP’s reformism. There is a significant drop in capital investment in the energy sector and associated industries, as profits have dropped by 55 per cent in the energy sector. Unemployment is increasing as mass layoffs are announced every month in the oil patch.

The Alberta government is set to take on significant debt as to avoid austerity. The largest deficit in Alberta’s history is being tabled for 2015. A surplus of $1 billion has transformed into $6.1 billion deficit. Non-renewable resource revenue has dropped from $9 billion to $3 billion.

Meanwhile, increasing taxes on the rich and instituting environmental regulations will only further push away capital investment. The energy sector is estimated to account for approximately 40 per cent of the provincial economy. The problems of unemployment, access to good quality services and preventing environmental destruction can only be solved if the Alberta NDP breaks from the profit motive.

Until the energy, banking and other strategic sectors are nationalized, the Alberta economy will be volatile and at the whims of world market, and the NDP will not be able to prevent declining living standards in the province. Over the coming years, the limits of reformism will become evident as the Alberta NDP faces rising debts, climbing unemployment, drops in capital investment and the hostility of the bosses.

Radical Mood Developing in Society

The class struggle is developing in an extremely contradictory way, precisely because of the lack of an outlet. The NDP’s capitulation to corporate interests has led to defeats and confusion especially in English Canada.

Even if the mass organizations fail to give a lead, this will not stop the class contradictions in society from developing. Spontaneous struggles will be on the order of the day. Movements, especially of students and young workers, similar to those we have already seen around inequality, police brutality, indigenous oppression, tuition fees and precarious work should be expected.

Canada is not immune to the problems that have engulfed societies in Europe, the Middle East, or Latin America. At a certain point, the working class will enter the struggle. This will change the situation overnight.

Consciousness can shift rapidly as the impact of the crisis of capitalism is felt. Sharp turns in the political situation and leaps in class-consciousness are to be expected in the coming period. This is a process that is occurring across the globe.

Among the youth in particular a radical mood is developing. This provides an extremely ripe terrain of work for the revolutionary movement. The youth are badly impacted by the economic crisis. The prospects for the future of an entire generation are being dashed away by the capitalist system.

The youth are also more sensitive to the sickness of capitalist society. The barbarity of a western imperialism, the refugee crisis, the destruction of the environment, the poison of racism and sexism, and even the crisis of morality are radicalizing the youth.

The revolutionary movement must organize itself in anticipation of the coming struggles. The Marxists in Canada have a certain advantage over our comrades in other countries. We are able to observe and study the generalized process of radicalization and of heightening class struggle around the world while having the luxury of time to prepare our forces. The youth have not been this open to revolutionary ideas since the 1970s.

But we do not have infinite time. The pressing task is the preparatory work of organizing and educating the most advanced, critical and combative workers and young people for the major struggles to come. Eventually the working class will move en-masse, the question is only when. Now is the time to prepare and build for this inevitable confrontation.

Source: Marxist.ca

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As Election Looms, Canada falls into Recession

From Marxist.ca

The Bank of Canada (BoC) has now acknowledged that the Canadian economy likely contracted by 0.6% from January to March, and by 0.5% from April to June. With this, they join a chorus of private-sector analysts in acknowledging what only recently seemed unthinkable – Canada, for the first time since the 2008-2009 financial collapse, has entered into a recession. This is a far cry from the Bank of Canada’s January forecast, which predicted that the economy would grow by 1.5% in the first half of 2015 and by 2.1% throughout 2015 as a whole.  This latter figure has now been reduced to an even more meagre 1% growth rate for all of 2015. In January, it was argued that “The negative impact of lower oil prices will gradually be mitigated by a stronger U.S. economy, a weaker Canadian dollar and the Bank [of Canada]’s monetary policy response.” Six months later, not a single one of these predictions have borne themselves out. In fact, they have all proven fantastically wrong. The bourgeois economists have shown yet again that they cannot see even one inch beyond their noses.

A new recession may serve as a shock to some economists, but for millions of working class Canadians it comes as no surprise. Indeed, so many of them find it hard to believe that the first recession ever really ended. In January of 2014, the Toronto Star wrote that “Despite what Statistics Canada says, just over half of Canadians believe the country is in recession, according to an annual outlook survey by Pollara.” This is despite the fact that the economy was then growing at a faster pace than it currently is. But how can they be blamed? The Star article continues: “Jobs are the big worry, the survey found. A record high of 34 per cent of Canadians surveyed, just over a third, are concerned an immediate family member will lose his or her job this year. That’s up from 25 per cent from last year’s results, and even higher than the 32 per cent registered following the 2008 recession.” Workers may not have complex methodologies, but they do have what no economic data could ever accurately capture – and that is called real life experience.

Contrary to the bewilderment of many mainstream economists, the Marxists have not been surprised. For years we analyzed the shaky basis of the so-called recovery in Canada and have underlined the inevitability of a new economic downturn at a certain point. In our political perspectives document for this year, in our analysis of the underlying features of the Canadian economy and the state of the world market, we concluded that “It looks like we’re set to enter a new round of crisis within the short term.” We highlighted the crisis in the oil sector, the high levels of consumer debt, capital hoarding and the housing bubble as all indicators that things were not set to get better, but much worse. This means that any serious analysis must start from the understanding that capitalism will be unable to provide improvements for workers for a prolonged period of time.

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International Women’s Day: Reinvigorating Marxist-Feminist Struggles in Canada

From Rebel Youth and written by a YCL comrade and friend

This March, the Young Communist League and the Communist Party of Canada will celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) by expressing solidarity with the ongoing and past struggles of women. While IWD is widely celebrated in civil society today, often little is known about the holiday’s socialist roots. IWD would not have been possible without the struggles of socialist women.

The political activism of Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) and Luise Zietz (1865-1922) was particularly influential. Zetkin and Zietz were committed communists dedicated to organizing working class women and educating their male comrades on the importance of women’s struggles. They understood that the success of socialism depended on proletariat women and men “fight[ing] hand in hand…against capitalist society.”1 In August 1910 at a general meeting of the Second International, Zietz suggested holding an International Women’s Day to bring attention to equal rights, the suffrage and the struggles of working class women. Zetkin seconded the motion and over a hundred women from seventeen different countries voted in support of creating IWD. The next year on March 18 (chosen to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Paris Commune) the first IWD demonstrations were held in Europe. It was a tremendous success with an estimated 300 demonstrations being held across the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1922, with the help of Zetkin, Lenin would name International Women’s Day an official communist holiday.

Since its formation in 1911 IWD has been used as a platform to rally the masses around a number of issues including exploitation, poverty and war. It is useful to revisit a couple examples here. In 1915 in Berne, Switzerland, Zetkin led socialist women from both neutral and warring countries in a demonstration against the ongoing destruction of World War I. Demonstrators distributed manifestos arguing that the working class had little to gain from the bourgeois war and called on women to organize in its opposition. Zetkin argued:

Who profits from this war? Only a tiny minority in each nation: The manufacturers of rifles and cannons, of armor-plate and torpedo boats, the shipyard owners and the suppliers of the armed forces’ needs. In the interests of their profits, they have fanned the hatred among the people, thus contributing to the outbreak of the war. The workers have nothing to gain from this war, but they stand to lose everything that is dear to them.2

In 1917, Alexandra Kollontai led one of the most dramatic IWD demonstrations in protest of the deteriorating living conditions in Russia. Women marched from the factories to the breadlines in protest of high food and rent prices and along the way they persuaded a number of male workers to join in solidarity with the march. The Czar felt so threatened by the women’s rebellion that two days later he ordered it to be stopped by means of gunfire if necessary.3

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BC Budget 2015: Government of the Rich, By the Rich, For the Rich

Commentary from the Communist Party of BC

February 17 was Budget Day in British Columbia, and the corporate media dutifully lauded Finance Minister Mike de Jong for bringing in a surplus, plus “a few small tax breaks for families” and so-called “modest increases” for health care and education.

The reality is that working class and low-income British Columbians were hit hard again by Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals, while the wealthy get a major financial boost.

Virtually the only good news is that people on income or disability assistance will finally be able to keep child support payments which until now have been seized by the government. Thanks to a powerful campaign by anti-poverty groups, this vicious clawback is finally gone, resulting in a net benefit to several thousand poor families adding up to $13 million per year.

This amount is dwarfed by the elimination of the temporary personal income tax rate of 16.8 per cent on individuals earning over $150,000, as of next January. That slightly higher tax bracket for the wealthy elite was introduced by Premier Clark two years ago, in an effort to create some political distance from the elitist image of her predecessor, Gordon Campbell. Apparently the rich have now endured sufficient pain; the move to phase out this tax bracket will put an estimated $200 million per year into the bank accounts of the wealthiest 2 percent of the population – more than 17 times the clawback “gift” to the lowest income British Columbians.

Similarly, the budget contains no help for those who need it most – minimum wage earners and those on social or disability assistance, whose rates have been frozen for eight years while the cost of living keeps climbing. The Finance Minister ignored the bi-partisan committee of MLAs who held pre-budget consultations, and unanimously recommended a comprehensive poverty reduction plan, and a review of income assistance rates and the minimum wage.

The Liberals will spend $516 million on tax credits to corporations this fiscal year, compared to just $460 million for the combined total of tax transfers to low-income individuals (the sales tax credit, the early childhood tax benefit, the low income climate action benefit, and the seniors home renovation tax credit).

Following the strategy of the Harper Tories, the BC Liberals are using targetted tax breaks to troll for votes: a one-time training and education savings grant of $1,200 for children born since 2007, an “early childhood” tax benefit of $660 per year for children under six, and a new tax credit for spending on sports equipment, worth just $12.65 per child.

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Brampton Rejects Austerity in Health Sector

From People’s Voice

At a Feb. 15 People’s Voice public forum on the topic “Health Under Attack”, Brampton, Ontario residents spoke out strongly against austerity policies in the health care sector.

Among the speakers at the forum was Doug Allan, a researcher and board member of the Ontario Health Coalition.

Allan said that globalization of finance capital since the late ‘80s has created havoc worldwide, including accelerated privatization of the public sector. Private capital has systematically targeted the health sector to created a deliberate crisis, so that hospitals and related health facilities could be handed over to corporate interests. Both Liberal and Tory governments have collaborated to create a mess in Ontario’s health sector. These changes started under the social democratic NDP government of Bob Rae, Allan noted.

Provincial and federal governments are consistently working to withdraw various medical facilities from public hospitals, and shifting to private “for profit” facilities where users pay hefty fees. To implement these anti-people policies, the ruling class has consciously defamed workers’ unions. Allan said that governments have tried to cut MRI and CT scan facilities from public hospitals, but had to restore some services when the Ontario Health Coalition and related unions resisted this move.

Unfortunately, Allan said, the trade union movement is not as strong as it used to be in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Today, the offensive by big capital has to be confronted with strong unions, which need to devise new strategies by combining their efforts with the wider community. Trade unions must find ways to relate their activities with the communities, and create broad mass support to educate working people about the danger of the ruling elite’s plan for massive privatization.

Another speaker, Shamshad Elahee Shams, explained the economic scenario of Ontario which plays a vital role in the Canadian economy. Thirty-eight percent of Canada’s 33.6 million people reside in Ontario, including 6.55 million in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) alone. Ontario produces 37% ($695 billion) of the total Canadian GDP of $1.893 trillion. The GTA and Ontario are witnessing rapid population growth, but Ontario is the lowest province in terms of what it gets in services per capita.

The zero percent rise in Ontario’s health budget in the last three years is a testimony of a government that doesn’t want to carry the social responsibility of the state. Over 18,500 beds were cut from its public hospitals since the 1990s. Public hospital spending per capita in Ontario was only $1372 in 2012, way less than the $2519 figure for Newfoundland and Labrador. Overall, Ontario’s health care spending stands eighth among the ten provinces, an average $3963 per person, compared to $5399 for Newfoundland and Labrador. Allan called on the people of Ontario to fight for their basic human right, since health is a state responsibility, and no mature civil society can tolerate this passive attitude of government.

Community and communist leader Harinder Hundal gave a detailed example of the recently built hospital in Brampton. The government had promised a 600 bed hospital, but ended up with only 300-plus beds, and the cost of construction far exceeded budget projections. Hundal announced that members of the Communist Party of Canada, the Indo Canadian Workers Association, the Rationalist Society of Ontario and other organizations will hold a demonstration on April 12 in Brampton to show that people here will no longer tolerate the austerity measures of ruling elite. We will teach them a lesson, as the Greeks did in recent elections, he said.

Human rights activist from Nepal, Govinda Shivakoti, said there will be no difference between a third world country and Canada if the education, health and social welfare facilities are withdrawn. Canada’s social safety net, won by the hard work and sacrifices of the working class, is an achievement that cannot be compromised, he said.

Political activist Harparminder Gadri shared his personal experience of being billed for some blood tests which were earlier covered by OHIP. Now people are made to pay for services which had been free. Even sunglasses were covered in the 1960s by OHIP, but now vision care is left at the mercy of private clinics, where people are forced to pay over $200 for their reading glasses. Finance capital, he said, is on their high horses since the demise of the USSR, creating havoc in every third world country. Gadri cited examples from India, where new economic policies of various governments at the center systematically destroyed the public school system in the interest of the private schools. They have almost dismantled government hospitals which had a high reputation in the 1970s. Since then, the health sector is left to private, for-profit hospitals.

Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity!

IWD 2015 greetings from the Communist Party of Canada

March 8, International Women’s Day, is a time to celebrate our historic struggles for equality, and to unite around today’s challenges. On IWD 2015, the Communist Party of Canada extends our warm solidarity to all who stand for peace, equality, democracy and social progress.

In September 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing. 30,000 activists held a parallel Forum, while government representatives from 189 countries hammered out the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Despite its shortcomings, the document was amazingly comprehensive, covering women and the environment, economy, education, health, armed conflict, and much more.

The United Nations is highlighting the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration with the slogan “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!” Yet women in much of the world seem even further away from empowerment.

In the past two decades, “fighting to defend the rights of women” has become a frequent rationale for direct military intervention. And while the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIL are deeply reactionary, such movements are largely a product of the imperialist drive for resources and profits. Prior to western interventions, the status of women in the secular states of Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq was much better than in Saudi Arabia and other regimes backed by Canada.

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Launching ‘New Era of Political Change,’ Tens of Thousands March in Madrid

From CommonDreams

Fed up with conservative economics and fueled by Syriza’s recent victory in Greece, tens of thousands of Spaniards flooded the streets of Madrid on Saturday to say: “No to Austerity and Yes to Change!”

The march, dubbed the “March for Change,” is the first mass demonstration in support of the country’s new leftist party, Podemos, which is Spanish for “We Can.”

According to reports, demonstrators chanted “yes we can” and “tic tac tic tac” suggesting the clock was ticking for the country’s two main political parties. Many waved Greek and republican flags and banners reading “The change is now.”

“This is not about asking for anything from the government or protesting. It’s to say that in 2015 there will be a government of the people,” said party leader Pablo Iglesias when the march was first announced.

“We want a historic mobilization. We want people to be able to tell their children and grandchildren: ‘I was at the march on January 31 that launched a new era of political change in Spain,'” Iglesias said.

“People are fed up with the political class,” Antonia Fernandez, a 69-year-old pensioner from Madrid, told reporters at the demonstration. Fernandez explained that she previously supported the country’s socialist party but reportedly lost faith in it because of its handling of the economic crisis and its austerity policies.

“If we want to have a future, we need jobs,” she added.

Since its inception last year, Podemos’s popularity has surged. Caputuring the momentum of the populist wave currently sweeping Europe, the party surprised many when it won five seats in the European Parliament in the May 2014 elections and a poll published earlier this month found that nearly half of Spain’s population would support Iglesias if he ran for Prime Minister.

Iglesias, a 36-year-old political science academic, is frequently compared to Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras. Like Syriza in Greece, Podemos has captured the country’s attention by running on a slogan that politicians should “serve the people, not private interests,” and promising to write off a portion of Spain’s debt, which has caused soaring unemployment.

AFP reports:

The party has struck a chord with Spaniards enraged by a string of corruption scandals, as well as public spending cuts imposed by the conservative ruling party and previously by the Socialists after the economic crisis erupted in 2008.

Born out of the “Indignant” protest movement that occupied squares across Spain at the height of the economic crisis, Podemos has overtaken the mainstream opposition Socialist Party in several opinion polls, and in some has topped the list ahead of the conservative ruling People’s Party (PP).

Polish Coal Miners Strike over Planned Job Cuts

From Telesur

Strikes continued in Poland Wednesday as miners protested government plans to close four state-owned coal mines.

The center-right coalition government led by the Citizen’s Platform, with newly-elected Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, is attempting a radical shakeup of the mining industry, which it says is losing money in an ailing market.

The standoff involving miners in 12 sites undertaking underground occupations, the hunger strikes, and railway blocks extended after negotiations between the government and strikers broke down Monday.

The head of the trade union confederation Solidarnosc, Piotr Duda, has said that if an agreement is not met with the trade unionists by Tuesday the miners would be joined on strike by workers from the railways and energy sector.

“We will give the government one more chance, although we cannot wait long. This is a matter concerning all workers. Today it is miners, tomorrow railway workers and the next day it will be energy sector workers,” he said.

The planned closures will lose 5,000 jobs and cost the government US$636 million.

Around 90 percent of Poland’s energy generation is made up by coal, although increasingly this is being bought cheaply from Russia.

State-owned Kompania Weglowa, the largest hard coal mine in Europe with 50,000 workers, lost US$194 million in 2013.