Capitalism

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

Why Does the West Hate North Korea?

Photo of Pyongyang before and after U.S. bombing

New sanctions, and once again, new US-ROK military exercises right next door; new intimidations and new insults. For no other reason than because the country that never attacked anyone, is still determined to defend itself against appalling military, economic and propaganda provocations.

How much more can one country endure?

More than 60 years ago, millions of people above the 38th parallel died, were literally slaughtered by the US-led coalition.

After that, after its victory, the North Korea was never left in peace. The West has been provoking it, threatening it, imposing brutal sanctions and of course, manipulating global public opinion.

Why? There are several answers. The simple one is: because it is Communist and because it wants to follow its own course! As Cuba has been doing for decades… As several Latin American countries were doing lately.

But there is one more, much more complex answer: because the DPRK fought for its principles at home, and it fought against Western imperialism abroad. It helped to liberate colonized and oppressed nations. And, like Cuba, it did it selflessly, as a true internationalist state.

African continent benefited the most, including Namibia and Angola, when they were suffering from horrific apartheid regimes imposed on them by South Africa. It goes without saying that these regimes were fully sponsored by the West, as was the racist madness coming from Pretoria (let us also not forget that the fascist, apartheid South Africa was one of the countries that was fighting, on the side of the West, during the Korean War).

The West never forgot nor ‘forgave’ the DPRK’s internationalist help to many African nations. North Korean pilots were flying Egyptian fighter planes in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The DPRK was taking part in the liberation struggle in Angola (it participated in combat operations, alongside the People’s Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA)), it fought in Rhodesia, Lesotho, Namibia (decisively supporting SWAPO) and in the Seychelles. It aided African National Congress and its struggle against the apartheid in South Africa. In the past, it had provided assistance to then progressive African nations, including Guinea, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mali and Tanzania.

The fact that people of the DPRK spilled their blood for freedom of the most devastated (by the Western imperialism) continent on earth – Africa – is one of the main reasons why the West is willing to go ‘all the way’, trying to “punish”, systematically discredit, even to liquidate this proud nation. The West is obsessed with harming North Korea, as it was, for decades, obsessed with destroying Cuba.

The West plundered Africa, an enormous continent rich in resources, for centuries. It grew wealthy on this loot. Anybody who tried to stop it, had to be liquidated.

The DPRK was pushed to the corner, tormented and provoked. When Pyongyang reacted, determined to protect itself, the West declared that defense was actually “illegal” and that it represented true “danger to the world”.

The DPRK refused to surrender its independence and its path – it continued developing its defensive nuclear program. The West’s propaganda apparatus kept going into top gear, spreading toxic fabrications, and then polluting entire Planet with them. As a result, entire world is convinced that the “North Korea is evil”, but it has absolutely no idea, why? Entire charade is only built on clichés, but almost no one is challenging it.

Christopher Black, a prominent international lawyer based in Toronto, Canada, considers new sanctions against the DPRK as a true danger to the world peace:

 “Chapter VII of the UN Charter states that the Security Council can take measures against a country if there is a threat to the peace and this is the justification they are using for imposing the sanctions. However, it is not the DPRK that is creating a threat to the peace, but the USA which is militarily threatening the DPRK with annihilation. The DPRK has clearly stated its nuclear weapons are only to deter an American attack which is the threat to the peace.

The fact that the US, as part of the SC is imposing sanctions on a country it is threatening is hypocritical and unjust. That the Russians and Chinese have joined the US in this instead of calling for sanctions against the US for its threats against the DPRK and its new military exercises which are a clear and present danger to the DPRK is shameful. If the Russians and Chinese are sincere why don’t they insist that the US draw down its forces there so the DPRK feels less threatened and take steps to guarantee the security of the DPRK?  They do not explain their actions but their actions make them collaborators with the USA against the DPRK.”

US/NATO Threatens the DPRK, China and Russia’s Far East

The US/NATO military bases in Asia (and in other parts of the world) are actually the main danger to the DPRK, to China and to the Russian “Far East”.

Enormous air force bases located in Okinawa (Kadena and Futenma), as well as the military bases on the territory of the ROK, are directly threatening North Korea, which has all rights to defend itself and its citizens.

It is also thoroughly illogical to impose sanctions on the victim and not on the empire, which is responsible for hundreds of millions of lost human lives in all corners of the Globe.

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Democratic Party Nomination is Far from Democratic

In case the result of the popular vote displeases the Democratic Party elite, a unique trick kicks in to keep the establishment in control. It is called super delegates, and they are already weighing heavy and early in the primaries.

Like the general election itself, the winner is not ultimately decided by the popular vote. The nominee is selected by delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.

Most voting attendees at the national convention are “pledged” delegates who were chosen through a primary vote or caucus, but there are also super delegates. Super delegates include all Democratic governors and congress members, who are granted a special vote at the convention that has nothing to do with a primary election.

This system was implemented after the 1972 primary was won in an upset by George McGovern, who ran on an anti-war platform. The Democratic Party sat on its hands in that general election, effectively handing the presidency to Richard Nixon.

Super delegates can cast their vote for whomever they wish. Thus, they can tip the election regardless of the delegates representing the primary election results.

About one in every five delegates to the Democratic National Convention is a super delegate. That means a candidate who wants to win the nomination without the support of the party leadership needs to get approximately 63 percent of the delegates assigned by the popular vote! This may have tremendous consequences in the current primary contest, which has evolved into a virtual dead heat between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Will Clinton steal the nomination?

Bernie Sanders has shaken the status quo within the Democratic Party. His tax-the-rich proposals have shocked the 1%, and inspired people on the other end of the income scale who are mobilizing by the millions for Sanders.

On Feb. 1 in the Iowa caucus, he came within two-tenths of a percentage point to Hillary Clinton.

On Feb. 9, he slammed Clinton with 60 percent of the vote to her 38 percent.

In a state thought to be a sure thing for Clinton, Sanders came within 3 percentage points of victory in the Feb. 20 Nevada Caucus.

And though Sanders’ New Hampshire popular vote won him 15 delegates to Clinton’s 9, she ended up tying Sanders 15-15.

How could that be? Simple, six of the eight super delegates in New Hampshire are supporting her, and the other two are undecided.

Even more astounding: Clinton has 436 super delegates committed to voting for her in the Democratic Party convention out of a total of 712 super delegates.

Sanders has 17 super delegates. He is one of those 17.

Super delegates include Democratic governors, senators, representatives, and all 447 members of the leadership Democratic National Committee.

There are 259 super delegates who have not committed their vote yet. Still, the overwhelming majority goes to Clinton, regardless of the primary votes.

If the Clinton political machine steals the nomination from Sanders at the convention, we urge his supporters to reject such a blatant insult to democracy. I am running along with Eugene Puryear as the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s candidate for president—join us in this campaign and in the struggle in the streets against the billionaire class!

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Image Source: Same as source

Canada among the most Sued Countries by Corporations

Canada is the most-sued country under the North American Free Trade Agreement and a majority of the disputes involve investors challenging environmental laws, according to a new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Over 70 per cent of claims since 2005 have been brought against Canada, and the number of challenges under NAFTA’s settlement clause is rising sharply.

A Huffington Post story by Sunny Freeman on the CCPA report says that the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism contained in NAFTA’s chapter 11 grants investors the right to sue foreign governments without first pursuing court action. The provision included in the 1994 treaty on the argument that U.S. and Canadian investors needed protection against corruption in Mexican courts. But the mechanism limits governments from enacting policies on public concerns such as the environment and labour or human rights, and negotiations are often carried out in secret.

The CCPA believes the federal government’s commitment to Chapter 11 and its willingness to settle and compensate claimants is encouraging this trend. There were 12 cases brought against Canada from 1995 to 2005, and another 23 in the last decade. This compares to 22 against Mexico and 20 percent against the U.S. since 1995.

Canada has lost or settled six claims paying a total of $170 million in damages, while Mexico has lost five cases and paid out $204 million. The U.S. has won 11 cases and has never lost a NAFTA investor-state case.

“Thanks to NAFTA chapter 11, Canada has now been sued more times through investor-state dispute settlement than any other developed country in the world,” said Scott Sinclair, who authored the study. He estimates that Canada has spent $65 million defending such claims over the past two decades.

About 63 per cent of the claims against Canada involved challenges to environmental protection or resource management programs that allegedly interfere with the profits of foreign investors. The government has lost some of these challenges and has been forced to overturn legislation protecting the environment.

In 1997, the Ethyl Corporation, a U.S. chemical company, used chapter 11 to challenge a Canadian ban on the import of MMT, a gasoline additive that is a suspected neurotoxin and which automakers have said interferes with cars’ diagnostic systems. The company won damages of $15 million and the government was forced to remove the policy.

A year later, U.S.-based S.D. Myers challenged Canada’s temporary ban on the export of toxic PCP waste, which was applied equally to all companies. Canada argued it was obliged to dispose of the waste within its own borders under another international treaty. However, the tribunal ruled the ban was discriminatory and violated NAFTA’s standards for fair treatment.

There are currently eight cases brought by U.S. companies against the Canadian government asking for a total of $6 billion in damages. Many of the current challenges involve domestic environmental protections such as the promotion of renewable energies, a moratorium on offshore wind projects on Lake Ontario and Nova Scotia’s decision to block a mega-quarry.

In one case, Lone Pine Resources Inc., is suing the Canadian government for $250 million over Quebec’s moratorium on natural gas fracking, which applies equally to foreign and domestic companies. Lone Pine argues it was not consulted before the ban nor compensated for its wasted investment or loss of potential revenue.

Sinclair argues that the threat of challenges under chapter 11 has a chilling effect on public interest regulation, which will only worsen unless political and legal action is taken.

“Buoyed by their past successes, foreign investors and their legal advisors are now turning to NAFTA chapter 11 with increasing frequency and assertiveness,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, compared to other parts of the world, there is surprisingly little political debate about the corrosive influence of ISDS on public policy and democracy in Canada.”

Canada is embarking on a new generation of treaties such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union, and the Trans Pacific Partnership, both of which contain investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) systems. While governments can be sued under ISDS, there is no similar recourse for states to hold foreign investors accountable for their actions.

Source: http://www.peoplesvoice.ca/Pv01fe16.html#ECANADA

Image Source: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/10/23/naftas-isds-why-canada-one-most-sued-countries-world

Trudeau ‘Unsure’ About Raising the Minimum Wage

What does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau think about raising the minimum wage?

During a series of interviews with ordinary Canadians aired on CBC Sunday night, Trudeau shared his reservations about provincial initiatives to raise the minimum wage, telling a struggling, low-wage worker he questions if that means “everything just gets more expensive or we have jobs leaving.”

Neil Piercey was one ‘ordinary Canadian’ who got an opportunity to grill Trudeau.

Piercey is a 58-year-old worker from London, Ontario who was laid off from a long-time, good paying manufacturing job, but now finds himself in a low-wage job and without a pension as he nears retirement.

In a clip that didn’t air during Sunday night’s broadcast, but was later uploaded to the web, Piercey asks the Prime Minister if he thinks it would be “a good idea to raise the minimum wage?”

Piercey was told the federal government only controls wages on certain industries that fall under federal jurisdiction (something Trudeau’s Liberals supported raising in 2014 before criticizing it during last year’s election campaign), but then Trudeau went a step further, sharing his thoughts about a few provincial initiatives to raise the minimum wage:

“A number of provinces are looking at raising the minimum wage across the board. There’s always a question of whether or not that has the impact that everyone would like to have. Maybe everything just gets more expensive or we have jobs leaving. We have to be very careful about that.”

Although Trudeau said there’s “no easy solutions” and added that “the possibility” of earning enough to live on is “something that Canada’s always done,” CBC’s Rosemary Barton noted after the broadcast that Trudeau’s message left the struggling manufacturing worker disappointed and “unsure about what will happen to him.”

He might also be disappointed in several problems with Trudeau’s questions about the effectiveness of raising the minimum wage:

1. Raising the minimum wage is highly unlikely to mean “jobs leaving”:
Trudeau wonders if raising the minimum wage could mean “jobs leaving” and relocating elsewhere?

The problem with that, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is most minimum wage jobs are concentrated in the service industry, so it doesn’t make sense to ship those kinds of jobs to places with lower wages:

“The problem with this argument lies in the kinds of jobs that pay at or near minimum wages. Some 70 percent of people employed at the minimum wage are in the retail, accommodation and food services industries. These kinds of businesses are, in the first place, not highly mobile. Moreover, an increase – even a substantial one – in the minimum wage would be paid by all businesses in these sectors, so that a capital flight would not be the result.”

2. There’s little evidence minimum wage has an impact on unemployment:
It’s also not clear that minimum wage increases means an increase unemployment. A literature review by the Canadian Labour Congress last year concludes there’s little evidence suggesting raising the minimum wage has an impact on unemployment:

“After examining the economic research available on the connection between unemployment and minimum wage increases, it is difficult to say with conviction how the two factors are related, if they are at all … According to The World Bank’s World Development Report 2013: Jobs, there is no known universal impact of the minimum wage on unemployment rates.”

Meanwhile, another CCPA study notes employment is driven more by “demand” than by the minimum wage, suggesting “fear of disemployment effects are overblown by those with a vested interest in keeping wages down.”

3. Raising the minimum wage has minimal impact on prices:

What about Trudeau’s concern that “maybe everything just gets more expensive”?

Numerous academic studies show raising the minimum wage has little impact on consumers, even if the full cost of paying workers were passed on to the customer. A 2011 University of California, Berkeley study estimated raising the minimum wage by approximately $5 would only lead to a 1.1% increase in the average Walmart shopper’s bill at the checkout line:

“Even if Walmart were to pass 100 percent of the wage increase on to consumers, the average impact on a Walmart shopper would be quite small: 1.1 percent of prices, well below Walmart’s estimated savings to consumers. This works out to $0.46 per shopping trip, or $12.49 per year, for the average consumer who spends approximately $1,187 per year at Walmart. This is the most extreme estimate, as portions of the raise could be absorbed through other mechanisms, including increased productivity or lower profit margins.”

Another study out of Purdue University estimated raising the minimum wage for McDonald’s workers by $8 would increase the price of a Big Mac by only 15 cents. And a recent study out of Cornell looking at the impact of minimum wage increases on the US restaurant industry over 20 years found it only translated into a 0.3% to 1.5% increase in costs for consumers.

Nearly half of Canadian minimum wage earners work at companies with 500+ employees. “Large corporations are also paying the bottom wage despite their profitability,” the CLC observes.

4. Older Canadians increasingly find themselves in low-paying jobs:
Piercey also told Trudeau it’s impossible for those earning a minimum wage to save for retirement, to which Trudeau responded by talking about investing in skills training so “people have a chance of getting beyond minimum wage jobs.”

But what good does that do for laid off workers approaching retirement?

Despite stereotypes of minimum wage workers as teenagers and students working part-time jobs, Statistics Canada data shows that in 2014, over one-third (35%) of workers in low-paying jobs were over 40 years in age:

15wage-age

5. Canada’s current minimum wages don’t equal a living wage:

How much money do you need to earn per hour just to make ends meet, anyway?

If you live in Toronto, you’ll need to earn $18.52 per hour to earn enough to live on. Across the country, the living wage varies between $20.68/hr in Vancouver, $18.15/hr in Calgary, $16.46/hr in Regina, $14.07/hr in Winnipeg, $14.15/hr in Windsor, or $20.10/hr in Halifax, to offer a few examples.

Compare that to hourly minimum wages across the country:

provincial-minimumwages

And it’s worth noting – after four decades, the minimum wage in Canada has increased by only one penny after inflation since 1975.

Source: http://www.pressprogress.ca/justin_trudeau_told_a_struggling_worker_he_not_sure_about_raising_the_minimum_wage

More Black Men in Prison Today Than Enslaved in 1850

“More Black men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began,” Michelle Alexander told a standing room only house at the Pasadena Main Library, the first of many jarring points she made in a riveting presentation.

Alexander, currently a law professor at Ohio State, had been brought in to discuss her bestseller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Interest ran so high beforehand that the organizers had to move the event to a location that could accommodate the eager attendees. That evening, more than 200 people braved the pouring rain and inevitable traffic jams to crowd into the library’s main room, with dozens more shuffled into an overflow room, and even more latecomers turned away altogether. Alexander and her topic had struck a nerve.

Growing crime rates over the past 30 years don’t explain the skyrocketing numbers of black — and increasingly brown — men caught in America’s prison system, according to Alexander, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun after attending Stanford Law. “In fact, crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now at historical lows.”

“Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color,” she said, even though studies have shown that whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or above blacks. In some black inner-city communities, four of five black youth can expect to be caught up in the criminal justice system during their lifetimes.

As a consequence, a great many black men are disenfranchised, said Alexander — prevented because of their felony convictions from voting and from living in public housing, discriminated in hiring, excluded from juries, and denied educational opportunities.

“What do we expect them to do?” she asked, who researched her ground-breaking book while serving as Director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California. “Well, seventy percent return to prison within two years, that’s what they do.”

Organized by the Pasadena Public Library and the Flintridge Center, with a dozen or more cosponsors, including the ACLU Pasadena/Foothills Chapter and Neighborhood Church, and the LA Progressive as the sole media sponsor, the event drew a crowd of the converted, frankly — more than two-thirds from Pasadena’s well-established black community and others drawn from activists circles. Although Alexander is a polished speaker on a deeply researched topic, little she said stunned the crowd, which, after all, was the choir. So the question is what to do about this glaring injustice.

Married to a federal prosecutor, Alexander briefly touched on the differing opinion in the Alexander household. “You can imagine the arguments we have,” Alexander said in relating discussions she has with her husband. “He thinks there are changes we can make within the system,” she said, agreeing that there are good people working on the issues and that improvements can be made. “But I think there has to be a revolution of some kind.”

However change is to come, a big impediment will be the massive prison-industrial system.

“If we were to return prison populations to 1970 levels, before the War on Drugs began,” she said. “More than a million people working in the system would see their jobs disappear.”

Of all African-American men that were born in 1965 or later with less than a high school diploma, 60 percent have a prison record (28 months median time served).

Source: ACA DMC Task Force/Symposium(August 1, 2010)

So it’s like America’s current war addiction. We have built a massive war machine — one bigger than all the other countries in the world combined — with millions of well-paid defense industry jobs and billions of dollars at stake. With a hammer that big, every foreign policy issue looks like a nail — another bomb to drop, another country to invade, another massive weapons development project to build.

Similarly, with such a well-entrenched prison-industrial complex in place — also with a million jobs and billions of dollars at stake — every criminal justice issue also looks like a nail — another prison sentence to pass down, another third strike to enforce, another prison to build in some job-starved small town, another chance at a better life to deny.

Source: https://www.laprogressive.com/black-men-prison-system/

Image Source: http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2011/03/more_black_men_in_prison_today_than_enslaved_in_1850.html

Trudeau Official Compared Student Protesters with Nazis

Canada’s new top civil servant will bring a unique understanding of Godwin’s Law to the Privy Council.

Michael Wernick, appointed Clerk of the Privy Council by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week and tasked with leading the renewal of Canada’s public service, compared Carleton University students peacefully protesting a proposed tuition fee increase to “Brownshirts and Maoists” last year.

Wernick is a member of Carleton University’s Board of Governors.

According to a mass e-mail CC’d to 18 different people last April and subsequently published by Carleton’s Graduate Students Association, the Prime Minister’s #1 non-partisan advisor declared the protest had “no place in a lawful democratic society” and likened the students’ actions to “the tactics of Brownshirts and Maoists.”

Wernick called it “the antithesis of free speech and open debate” and requested “sanctions” be brought upon “the disruptors”.

Asked if he stands by his analogy, Wernick told The CharlatanCarleton’s student newspaper, “I have said everything I need to say in the email, which has been posted … My position’s quite clear.”

Eight students had interrupted a Board meeting last March in protest of proposed tuition fee increases. The Board would go on to approve tuition fee increases a month later.

Dr. Root Gorelick, a professor of Biology and elected Faculty representative on the Board, later bloggedthat the students had simply engaged in an act of “peaceful free speech and civil disobedience” and criticized Wernick’s over-the-top characterization of the students:

“The protesters certainly did not act like the paramilitary contingent of Hitler’s Nazi Party, as suggested by Michael Wernick’s brownshirt hyperbole. Michael Wernick and several of his supporters on the Board claim that they were concerned for their own physical safety, which is absurd. There were no threats of violence. As far as I can tell, there were no reports filed with Carleton’s safety office about threats to personal safety arising from the student protest.”

Last month, Gorelick (who says he blogs about Board of Governors proceedings as a way of communicating with professors and librarians who elected him to the board) faced demands he sign a confidentiality agreement, with the professor’s blog postings singled out as “problematic.”

Wernick publicly defended the Board’s move to silence dissent from the professor, telling the Ottawa Sun that “personal blogs that attack fellow Governors and university staff and dissent on matters the Board has decided are simply not consistent with the role of a Governor.”

The university’s “gag order” was condemned by faculty groups and the 68,000 member Canadian Association of University Teachers, who threatened to “censure” Carleton over its Board’s “lack of openness and transparency.”

“It’s the kind of confidential agreement that you’d expect a spy or the prime minister to sign,” said CAUT executive director David Robinson. “But for a board of a public body, it’s just absolutely absurd.”

The national voice for Canadian academic staff had already raised concerns a month earlier about the Board “holding meetings in secret.”

The Junction, a publication produced by Carleton journalism students, reports campus security has taken the unusual step of introducing “tightened screening for student journalists” at Board meetings, something that includes compiling photos of student journalists from their social media profiles.

Last June, Carleton’s Board of Governors tabled a motion seeking to remove student union representatives from the Board altogether, but later backed away from the move.

The Board’s Governance Committee, which is chaired by Wernick, argued student heads were in an irreconcilable “conflict of interest” as their duty to the Board was compromised by their duty to their constituents (students), according to Carleton’s Graduate Students Association.

Wernick did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The Clerk of the Privy Council is responsible for providing professional, non-partisan advice to the Prime Minister on all policy and operational issues affecting the Government of Canada.

UPDATE: NDP leader Tom Mulcair asked Prime Minister Trudeau on Monday if he’ll “ask his new Clerk of the Privy Council to apologize for these totally unacceptable remarks?”

Trudeau responded, reiterating he’s “very pleased to have Michael Wernick as the new Clerk of the Privy Council” and added “we look forward to working with him to renew the professional and non-partisan public service.”

Source: http://www.pressprogress.ca/canada_new_head_of_the_public_service_compared_students_protesting_tuition_fees_to_nazis

Image Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/01/25/michael-wernick-privy-council-trudeau_n_9073094.html

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)

TPP

TPP Will Cost Canada 58,000 Jobs, Won’t Grow Economy

Even the loudest advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership concede that the macroeconomic benefits for Canada will be small, as we have written before. Canada’s former trade minister promised a $3.5 billion boost to the Canadian economy—a fraction of a percent—if the massive trade treaty goes ahead. The most optimistic forecasts, including a recent report from the World Bank, point to an increase of around 1% to the Canadian economy by the year 2030.

Nevertheless, business groups, right wing think tanks and other TPP cheerleaders have been singing the deal’s praisesdownplaying its clear harms and calling for its timely ratification. These commentators would have us believe that Canada has nothing to lose and at least something to gain from the TPP, if only we would act quickly to push it forward.

But if the economic argument for the deal was weak before, a new study from researchers at the UN and Tufts University may have finally laid the case to rest. Their analysis shows that Canada can expect a mere 0.28% increase to GDP growth—effectively zero change—over the next ten years if the TPP is implemented. The situation is worse for the U.S. and Japanese economies, which will actually shrink under the TPP, according to the authors.

More troubling is the TPP’s effect on employment. The study suggests that despite a negligible macroeconomic impact, ratifying the deal will lead to 58,000 net job losses in Canada over the next ten years. In other words, the TPP won’t grow the Canadian economy but it will hurt workers, who will see their share of the economic pie shrink by 0.86% under the deal.

In fact, the authors argue, the TPP will lead to “job losses and higher inequality in all participating economies” (and in many other countries that aren’t even part of the deal). The net employment impact of the TPP will be millions of jobs lost. This is in part because greater capital mobility and more integrated supply chains will encourage cost-cutting across the globe. And when employers cut costs to compete in the world’s largest free-trade zone, jobs and wages will be one of the first targets for savings.

Why don’t other macroeconomic forecasts predict job losses from the TPP? Incredibly, it is because most other forecasts assume stable, full employment. TPP advocates have simply shrugged off the implications for labour when assessing the deal’s likely consequences. This new study does not make the same oversight.

Trading our sovereignty for… what exactly?

The list of TPP “cons” is long: among other issues for Canada, it will increase drug costsrattle the agricultural sector and undermine Internet freedom. Most worrying of all, it will give new rights to foreign corporations to sue Canadian governments for regulations enacted in the public interest.

But if the TPP ever had a saving grace—one item for the “pro” list—at least it was going to grow the economy and create jobs. As the evidence mounts against even modest macroeconomic benefits, however, the “trade-offs” are looking increasingly unpalatable.

Is the TPP worth it for Canada? We say no, and we think that Canadians agree. As trade minister Chrystia Freeland contemplates signing the deal (as early as February 4th), this is a message she needs to hear. A deal that costs too much and delivers too little is not a deal that Canada needs.

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Trade Minister Says Renegotiation of TPP Not Possible

A renegotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is not possible even though serious concerns may be raised during public consultations, Canada’s trade minister said Thursday.

“The negotiations are finished and for Canadians it’s important to understand that it’s a decision of yes or no,” Chrystia Freeland told reporters Thursday after receiving varied feedback at a meeting at the University of Montreal.

Freeland said the treaty negotiated by the Harper government during the election campaign is very complicated, involving 12 countries along the Pacific Rim that make up 40 per cent of the global economy.

All countries have two years to ratify it, but the treaty comes into force if the United States, Japan and four other countries give their approval.

“It’s important for us to understand that we don’t have a veto,” she said.

The NDP said it is unacceptable that the minister would accept the content of the deal even as U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and some congressional Republicans have voiced concerns.

Trade critic Tracey Ramsey believes there is a way to reopen the deal that preserves jobs and avoids higher drug prices.

“It will involve some work but we know that a better deal is possible for Canada,” she said in an interview.

The minister said she’s heard both opposition and support in consultations so far. A Council of Canadians representative on Thursday described TPP as a deal of “plutocrats” in reference to a book of the same name about income inequality that was written by Freeland before she entered politics.

University of Montreal political science professor George Ross wondered about the point of the government’s commitment to consult if changes are impossible because they would risk unravelling what had been achieved.

Still, Freeland said the government is committed to hearing from Canadians before a ratification vote is held in Parliament.

No date has been set for hearings or a final vote. The Liberal government also hasn’t announced whether it will attend the formal signing Feb. 4 in Auckland, N.Z.

Freeland said the key date is ratification, not the formal signing. But her parliamentary secretary, David Lametti, said in order to ratify, you have to sign the deal.

“So we’ll go through each step one at a time.”

Meanwhile, Freeland said the complexity of the TPP hasn’t slowed the government’s work on ratifying a trade deal with the European Union known as CETA, describing it as a priority for the government.

“I think CETA will be really the gold standard of trade agreements. I’m working hard on it and I’m confident we will get a deal soon,” she said, refusing to say if approval will come before TPP.

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