Drew Garvie is the Communist Party of Canada’s candidate in Toronto’s riding of University Rosedale.
Last Tuesday, the Liberals shut down an NDP effort to review Canada’s role in the arms trade. On Wednesday, they invoked closure to ram through a bill moving Air Canada workers’ jobs offshore. On Thursday we learned they dropped a court case to require the Catholic Church to fulfill obligations to First Nations Canadians under the residential schools settlement.
In just three days, Canadians who’ve paid attention have seen the ultra-progressive, super-feminist, pro-worker and pro-reconciliation Justin Trudeau revealed – as a sham.
But many Canadians have been distracted. Trudeau amazed with quantum computers. He smouldered at a boxing photo op. And he wears wonderful coloured socks and GQ-style vested suits.
Magicians call it “misdirection” – a deception that focuses the audience’s attention on one hand to distract attention from the other. With one hand, Trudeau bedazzles. With the other, Liberals maintain the Conservative status quo.
They’ve kept the status quo on weaponized vehicles for the Saudis. Now our super-feminist, super-pacifist Prime Minister is selling arms to one of the most anti-woman, anti-democratic regimes in the world.
They maintain the status quo on Bill C-51, which takes away our Canadian freedoms. No amendments have been tabled. No public consultations hosted.
It’s the status quo on the Trans Pacific Partnership – which Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz calls the “worst trade deal ever.” The Liberals signed the deal and are downplaying it, working to lower the temperature and ratify it through without commotion.
The Liberals have kept the status quo on health care cuts. Harper unilaterally cut health transfers to the provinces. Trudeau’s budget actually cut health care transfers even more deeply.
The Liberals are maintaining the status quo on climate action. The deal signed Friday commits Canada to nothing more than Harper’s old climate change plan.
Fortunately, Albertans wisely elected a new Premier. Through work with First Nations, environment groups and business, Premier Notley adopted a climate change plan to save our country’s reputation. Trudeau rides Alberta’s coat-tails, nothing more.
It’s status quo on childcare. Trudeau (with self-described progressive Premier Wynne sniping from the sidelines) repeatedly attacked an NDP plan to create 100,000 new childcare spaces this year alone. What kind of feminist does that?
Again, it’s status quo on pharmacare. Questioned about it 10 days ago, Minister Philpott said the status quo is fine because “there are public drug plans… for people who can’t afford medication.” So, expect nothing.
It’s status quo on stock option tax deductions. Trudeau broke his promise to end Harper’s law that allows corporate executives to pay tax on only half their stock option income.
It’s more status quo tax cuts — the ones they told you would help the middle class. But the Parliamentary Budget Office and Finance Canada now say the biggest benefit from Trudeau’s tax cut goes to a person earning $200,000. If you earn $45,000 or less, you get nothing. And our social programs lose $4 billion a year.
The status quo isn’t working for jobs, climate, incomes or social services. It’s especially tough on working class Canadians from manufacturing towns, expensive big cities and resource economies – people struggling to make ends meet each month. Even middle class people feel the insecurity.
Canadians wanted a new deal. They aren’t going to get it.
What we are getting is a change in style. Harper’s brooding is gone – replaced by Trudeau’s sunny ways that misdirect us from what Liberals do in the shadows.
We found out yesterday that De Beers paid only $226 in royalties to the Ontario government for the company’s diamond mining operation in the province, thanks to an investigation by CBC’s Rita Celli.
The reason that Celli had to do an investigation to find that number is because the royalties collected from Ontario’s only diamond mine has been a closely guarded secret, by the government and the company.
But just how much did De Beers make from the Victor Mine?
The mining company annually extracts 714,000 carats of diamonds at $419 per carat, according to De Beers Operating and Financial Review for 2008, a figure that is confirmed by the Ontario Geological Survey.
As the average price of diamonds has remained mostly stable between 2006 and now, we can estimate that De Beers Canada extracts $300 million worth of diamonds every year.
In other words, De Beers is paying the province royalties at the rate of 75 cents per million dollars of diamonds extracted.
What is happening in Ontario is not unique to that province.
In British Columbia, Premier Clark’s government is selling water to Nestle at $2.25 per million litres. Nestle’s bottled water retails for around $1.50 per 500ml.
In Alberta, a royalty miscalculation by the Progressive Conservatives robbed Albertans of $13.5 billion in oil and gas revenues, according to a study by University of Alberta.
“According to Natural Resources Canada, mining companies generated over $93.3 billion in gross revenue in Ontario over the last 10 years,” the advocacy group MiningWatch Canada wrote in a letter to the Auditor General for Ontario. “During the same period, a meagre 1.5% was generated in mining royalties – 10 times less than a tip at a restaurant!”
In the case of diamonds, the government of Ontario seems to be collecting an infinitesimal fraction of one percent.
“Low mining royalties are unacceptable, particularly considering that companies are digging up collectively owned non-renewable resources, which will no longer be available for future generations,” the group pointed out.
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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”?
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.
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.
Image Source: http://www.cpcml.ca/OPF2014/OP0322.HTM
The Liberal government has taken up the former Conservative government’s legal fight against an apology and compensation for three Canadians tortured in the Middle East, despite voting in favour of the former detainees’ cause while they sat in opposition.
As well, in aggressively defending the actions of CSIS and trying to prevent the release of thousands of unredacted documents that a judge is now poring over, the Liberals are going further than their Conservative predecessors did to protect CSIS sources.
Lawyers for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government are seeking retroactive blanket anonymity for spies and their sources and have filed an appeal in a civil lawsuit launched by the three men with that goal in mind. A Conservative bill last year, C-44, which enacted source protection, was not made retroactive.
Put together, the two moves have stunned a team of lawyers at Toronto’s Stockwoods firm that took up the cause of Abdullah Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin and Ahmad El Maati, as well as others who closely follow developments in security law.
“It’s a continuation of this incredibly litigious no-holds-barred scorched-earth defence strategy which we’ve been experiencing for 10 years under the Harper government,” said lawyer Phil Tunley, who is leading the team suing the federal government on behalf of the men.
“I fear that in this case, the current government is at risk of simply letting its litigation team roll along paths ordained by the prior government, without asking whether the interests of justice are served by devoting still more taxpayers’ money to fighting meritorious claims,” said University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese. He and the University of Toronto’s Kent Roach are authors of False Security: The Radicalization of Canadian Anti-Terrorism, an authoritative analysis of the current slate of security laws in Canada.
Almalki, Nureddin and El Maati filed a civil claim against the Canadian government seeking $100 million in damages for their detainment and torture overseas, but the lawsuit was put on hold during a federally appointed inquiry into their ordeals.
Their stories were eerily similar to the Maher Arar scandal that unfolded in the post-9/11 anti-terror push by national security agencies in Canada and the U.S. The three men weren’t deported to torture, but they were arrested upon arrival in Syria, interrogated and tortured at the same Syrian military prison as Arar.
A judicial inquiry into Arar’s torture and imprisonment found missteps by Canadian border agents and the RCMP “very likely” led Americans to deport the Syrian-born Canadian to Jordan and then Syria, where he was tortured. The Arar inquiry recommended a separate probe into the cases of the other three men.
The government of prime minister Stephen Harper apologized to Arar and paid $10.5 million in compensation plus $1 million in legal fees to settle Arar’s civil lawsuit.
Meanwhile, retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci led the second inquiry, conducted in secret and under a narrower mandate.
In the end, Iacobucci concluded the actions of Canadian officials indirectly contributed to their detention (except for Almalki’s initial arrest) and to the torture of all three at the hands of Mideast jailers. One, El Maati, was transferred from Syria to Egypt where he was also tortured, Iacobucci said.
Still, the former Conservative government long resisted a settlement to the men’s claims, despite Iacobucci’s findings. His 455-page report became the basis for a recommendation by the Commons standing committee on public safety that the government offer an apology and compensation to the men “as reparation for the suffering they endured and the difficulties they encountered.”
At the time, in 2008’s Conservative minority Parliament, the NDP and the Liberals formed a voting majority on the committee.
When the committee’s report was brought to Parliament the Liberals again voted in support of an apology, compensation and a recommendation that the Government of Canada “do everything necessary to correct misinformation that may exist in records administered by national security agencies in Canada or abroad with respect to” the men and their families.
Now, if successful in its appeal of a ruling on source protection by Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley, the Liberal government, which has promised more accountability for national security agencies and to repeal some of the more draconian security measures enacted by the Conservatives, will go further than did the Conservatives.
Mosley ruled the federal government’s claim that C-44 should apply to CSIS sources in these cases “would be retrospective, and creates a new privilege” altogether that negatively affects the plaintiff’s rights.
Mosley said they have “a vested right to disclosure of human source identifying information in order to support” their civil claim, and that the risks of disclosure should instead be weighed under the Canada Evidence Act, “to consider whether release of the information would cause injury to one of the protected national interests and, if so, whether the risk of that harm outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”
The judge said the men contend they already know the names of at least six CSIS employees “because they had interactions with those employees, and further, that those names are in the public domain (on social media and in a book published about their experiences).” And it was CSIS’s own policy at the time for CSIS agents to identify themselves as employees of the service.
The former Conservative government introduced blanket CSIS source protection under Bill C-44 but did not make the new law retroactive. It was a bill brought in after CSIS had lost a bid for such anonymity at the Supreme Court of Canada and had been found in another case to have misled a court on CSIS’s use of foreign intelligence sources.
When C-44 was studied, the Liberals argued source protection should be decided on a case-by-case basis, as it has been for years by the courts. But when it came to a vote in Parliament, the Liberals, including current Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, voted for C-44. Trudeau was absent for that vote.
The Liberal election platform promised only to repeal troubling elements of another security law, Bill C-51 — changes that are not due until next fall. But C-44 looks to remain untouched.
Goodale declined comment when asked about the case by the Star, saying he wanted to check further into the facts. Later, Goodale’s spokesman, Scott Bardsley, replied by email.
“The CSIS Act includes a clear prohibition on disclosing the identities of CSIS human sources in legal proceedings, subject to exceptions to ensure compliance with the Charter. Protecting the identities of CSIS human sources is of fundamental importance to the work of our security community. As such, we are requesting that a higher court review the Federal Court decision” of Justice Mosley, Bardsley wrote.
“As this issue is currently before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further on this matter.”
But lawyer Phil Tunley, who is leading the team of counsel to the men, is shocked by the moves of a Liberal government that explicitly promised to bring accountability to the nation’s national security regime.
“The case is about accountability,” Tunley said in an interview.
“If you remove the courts from the oversight of CSIS management of its human sources and you basically say no court can ever look behind and see whether a source really is a confidential source or if they’re telling the truth . . . there’s no accountability in the courts. It’s an extraordinarily draconian measure.”
Tunley said Parliament can choose to make a law retroactive by saying so in legislation. However, in the case of CSIS source anonymity, the Conservative government did not move to do so. He said Ottawa’s appeal now is almost certain to delay the decade-long litigation further.
Given the mandate letters Trudeau gave his ministers, Tunley wondered “does anything the prime minister is saying, does any of the instruction he’s giving to his ministers have any impact?”
Roach, a University of Toronto law professor who was the research director for the Air India inquiry, said the CSIS informer privilege “was one of the worst features of the 2015 Conservative terror laws.” And he said the Federal Court’s decision that it couldn’t have retroactive application in this case “is well reasoned and recognizes that the new CSIS informer privilege can adversely affect those who are confronted with secrecy claims. The only exception is when innocence is at stake in a criminal trial.”
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The Ontario Liberals under Kathleen Wynne’s leadership are finishing what the Tory government of Mike Harris started: the privatization of Hydro One. While the newly elected federal Liberal government remains in a honeymoon period under a facade of progressive politics, the Liberals in Ontario are revealing their real character as the sweethearts of Bay Street through this fire sale of the crown corporation.
The first phase of the Liberals’ privatization plan began in the first week of November 2015, with the sale of 15 per cent of Hydro One to the tune of $1.83 billion. Major banks like RBC and Scotiabank managed to capture large stakes. The idea is to sell off 60 per cent of Hydro One by 2019, ostensibly to fund a $130 billion infrastructure project and help balance the budget by 2017-2018. In reality, the privatization of Hydro One will not contribute in any meaningful way towards either of these goals. It is nothing but a very lucrative handout to Bay Street.
In October 2015, Ontario’s financial accountability officer, Stephen LeClair, exposed the Liberals scheme for what it is. LeClair compared two funding options for the Liberal infrastructure/deficit reduction plan: the current privatization plan versus simply borrowing the money. He found privatization will actually cost more than the interest paid on borrowed money. LeClair demonstrated that the government would eventually lose around $500 million a year from lost revenue after a Hydro One selloff. On top of this, of the $4 billion that will supposedly be raised for infrastructure, only about half of this money will be in the form of spendable cash, the rest will be in the form of a “non-cash gain”. LeClair found that at the end of the day there may only be $1.4 billion to fund infrastructure, a splash in the ocean for the needed $130 billion. It seems that neither fund raising nor deficit reduction is on Wynne’s mind, but rather the incitement of hand rubbing on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Hydro One is notoriously known by its customers as a frustrating, bureaucratic mess. People often find that they are billed incorrectly at too expensive of a rate. But these problems will only become accentuated through privatization. Earlier this year, Ontario’s independent legislative officers came together to denounce the Liberal privatization plan, explaining that a privatized Hydro One will be very hard to regulate. In their report they noted that post privatization they will be unable to conduct performance audits, investigate public complaints and will not be able to examine planned operations, among other negative outcomes. Just this week, the Liberals announced that they would be eliminating any independence of the province’s energy regulator, the Ontario Energy Board, thus weakening oversight. Deregulation in combination with privatization can only mean higher electricity rates for Ontarians. Due to the profit seeking nature of private capital, the banks that will have major stakes in Hydro One will be looking for the highest return possible on their investment, which naturally means extortionately high rates for consumers. Even former economist for TD Bank, Douglas Peters, believes privatization will mean higher rates. He explained that investors will demand an 8 per cent return on their investment, and this return will mainly be found through higher rates. To add insult to injury, the new CEO of Hydro One is set to pull an obscene $4 million annual salary.
It is for these reasons that 194 municipalities, many trade unions and even business associations (fearing expensive hydro rates) have come together to oppose the privatization of Hydro One. As Fred Hahn, president of Cupe Ontario said “The vast majority of Ontarians agree that selling Hydro One is a bad idea. It’s time for the Wynne government to put on the brakes, hold public consultations and, really, to do what the public wants and Keep Hydro Public.” And it is in fact true that the vast majority of the public, 80 per cent according to opinion polls, oppose the Liberal plan.
Mike Harris and his Progressive Conservatives seemed to care more about public opinion in regards to the privatization of Hydro One than the Liberals do today. The privatization of Hydro One began under the misnomer “Common Sense Revolution” of Mike Harris, a revolution consisting of savage attacks on the working class and the welfare state. Harris started this process in 1998 by splitting Hydro One into multiple bureaucratic components and introducing a market in electricity, creating a lot of the inefficiencies that exist today. In 2002, Harris’ successor, Ernie Eves, moved to privatize Hydro One, but faced with mass public opposition, was forced to back down. Now it is the Liberals’ turn, with renewed resolve to disregard public opinion. Even the Progressive Conservatives now oppose privatization, along with the Ontario NDP.
In the last provincial election, the Ontario NDP capitulated to the pro-austerity agenda. Their campaign even went as far as to propose the creation of a new “Ministry of Savings and Accountability” that would cut $600 million from the budget annually. This was essentially a proposal for a Ministry of Austerity. The Ontario NDP has partially learned from the terrible failure of their right-leaning election campaign, and have launched an anti-privatization initiative in response to the Liberals. The provincial New Democrats have led the opposition to the selloff in the provincial legislature, gathered signatures for a petition and held town halls throughout Ontario to inform the public of the horrible plan and bring heat on the Liberals. Unfortunately, these actions in themselves will not be enough to stop the privatization of Hydro One.
The Liberals have not simply made a misjudgement that can be corrected. They will not be convinced through the power of a good argument. The privatization of Hydro One is part of a larger agenda of privatization, austerity and attacks on workers’ rights. Is it any wonder why the Liberals took advice on privatization from Ed Clark, former CEO of TD Bank? The Liberals’ most recent budget means the most savage austerity and attacks on workers since the Harris years, driven by the necessity to balance the budget at the behest of the financiers. Wynne is determined to maintain “zero net gain” in public sector contract negotiations, which in reality means pay cuts due to rising living costs, and cuts to social services such as healthcare, education and welfare. A particularly disgusting part of Liberal austerity was the elimination of a $100 benefit for disabled people. We can only expect more of these uncivilized attacks. The Liberals are nothing more than enemies of the working class and servants to Bay Street. Especially in this period of capitalist crisis, only a mass mobilization by the working class will be able to stop the privatization of Hydro One. Wynne fears working class opposition to her austerity, but will not concede anything without a fight.
For inspiration to fight Liberal austerity we need only look next door to the struggle in Quebec. On December 9th, there were 400,000 public sector workers on strike in Quebec against capitalist austerity measures. This is the sort of action that can halt the privatization of Hydro One and austerity generally. As the saying goes, not a light shines, not a wheel turns, without the kind permission of the working class. Workers have all the power in the world to put an end to austerity, and capitalism. The unions and the Ontario NDP must have faith in the workers to fight for their livelihoods, and give the necessary leadership to call for demonstrations and strike action. The trade unions, in collaboration with the Ontario NDP, should begin mobilization for such demonstrations and strikes against the Liberal agenda. This is the only way we can seriously fight against the privatization of Hydro One and provide a real opposition to the Liberals.
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.
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Labour groups continue to urge the federal government to take action on Bill C-51, which was passed in June and remains in place. The law vastly expands government surveillance, provides new powers to the police and CSIS and may criminalize ordinary political activity.
The Liberals initially supported the legislation, but have promised to repeal unspecified “problematic elements” and undertake public consultations. However, any mention of Bill C-51 was notably absent from the Justin Trudeau’s Throne Speech on Dec. 4.
Daniel Therrien, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, expressed grave concern about the bill in March, particularly its information sharing provisions.
“The scale of information sharing being proposed is unprecedented, the scope of the new powers conferred by the Act is excessive, particularly as these powers affect ordinary Canadians, and the safeguards protecting against unreasonable loss of privacy are seriously deficient,” he said in a submission to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
On Thursday Dec. 10, Therrien expressed hope that the new Liberal government would follow-through on its commitments and engage in an open debate.
On the same day, Paul Finch, the treasurer of BCGEU, reiterated his opposition to the legislation to rabble and described past elements of the campaign against it.
“We launched a National Day of Action, we were able to organize over 70 demonstrations in conjunction with Leadnow. …The reason we did it is because we felt that this is the most important issue for labour right now in terms of civil rights and civil liberties.”
Finch also called for a Royal Commission and criticized the manner in which the legislation was introduced.
“I actually think there needs to be a Royal Commission on it. [It] needs to drive and specifically deal with issues of intelligence oversight. …If you look at Bill C-51 right now, it was something that was put forward without any kind of broad consultation, without a Royal Commission being conducted,” he said, comparing it to the process of introduction that saw the creation of CSIS in 1984.
“The modern intelligence framework [was] based on the work of two prior Royal Commissions — the most recent was the McDonald Commission, which laid out why there needed to be a separation of powers between a policing agency and an intelligence agency. Before that, it was the RCMP that had an intelligence division that was basically rampantly violating civil liberties on a very political basis. And a lot of that was aimed at labour unions, so that’s kind of where our interest came from.”
Claims of surveillance
In their statement opposing Bill C-51, the CUPW cited a “lengthy history of CUPW being spied upon by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP.” Union activist Evert Hoogers, in a volume edited by historians and sociologists affiliated with Laurentian University, has examined what he found to be labour’s history of being “spied upon, infiltrated and harassed by national security agencies[.]”
In 1994, the agency denied allegations that it was spying on CUPW and also denied spying on the CBC and political parties.
More recently, claims of spying on postal union activists were made in 2000 by ex-agent John Farrell. The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the oversight body for CSIS, subsequently launched a probe over Farrell’s investigations. Reports on Farrell’s claims were made by Andrew Mitrovica, who would write a book centred on Farrell, who alleged that he was ordered to search through CUPW leaders’ garbage.
In April, before C-51 was passed, Mitrovica warned the public to “remember [Farrell’s story] when the Bill C-51 apologists in the media and academia… insist that since CSIS always plays by the rules, we don’t have to be alarmed by all those new powers they’re getting in Bill C-51 — powers that effectively make legal what under current law is very illegal.”
Hayden B. Peake, curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection, in a review of Mitrovica’s work said that “[he and Farrell’s] allegations remain in doubt because there is no documentation” except irrelevant contract copies.
Paul Finch told rabble that the BCGEU’s campaign going forward, launched with a broad privacy coalition, is going to call on the government to repeal key parts of the law.
“What’s happened is that the Liberals have made some vague promises about fixing the legislation but they haven’t specifically said what they’re going to fix. So it’s very unclear to everyone what they’re going to fix. …Our concern is that if we don’t have broad public pressure to repeal the worst parts of this bill, the changes will be cosmetic.”
While Finch pointed out that he would like to see the entire law repealed, he highlighted in particular its information-sharing provisions, alluding to the Edward Snowden revelations.
“Really, the linchpin of our concern is the provisions allowing, basically, normalized and legalized warrantless mass surveillance. That’s really the problem for us,” he said.
Finch also emphasized that the lack of response to the Snowden leaks is unwise, comparing its absence unfavourably to the McDonald Commission.
“In the wake of the Snowden revelations, [there] was no ensuing equivalent response or investigation that occurred. There was no Royal Commission struck, there was no equivalent response from government. In fact, the prior Conservative government basically said ‘business as usual.’ …The idea that people here should sacrifice their civil liberties to protect themselves from something that is statistically not a threat is absurd.”
Finch said that the next phases of their activism remain undetermined.
“There’s so many groups and individuals that have stepped forward and contributed to this campaign, that have led vast parts of it, that it’s hard to say what direction it’ll take. I assume there’ll be a multitude of different approaches taken, which I think is good. And the question will be, ‘what’s the most effective?'”
Myanmar held elections early November as the capstone of a wider range of “reforms” it has undertaken as an apparent means of escaping decades of sanctions leveled against it by the West.
Predictably, the National League of Democracy (NLD) headed by the Western vaunted, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was declared the winner in a “landslide” by Western papers even before the official count was revealed.
Western headlines hailed the election results as “historic” with the BBC in its article, “Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi: NLD has won election majority,” claiming:
Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi has told the BBC she believes her party has won a parliamentary majority, in her first interview since the historic elections.
Early results point to a sweeping victory for her National League for Democracy (NLD), but final official results will not be known for days.
The election was seen as the most democratic in Myanmar for 25 years.
In an nterview with the BBC’s Fergal Keane, Ms Suu Kyi said the polls were not fair but “largely free”.
She said there had been “areas of intimidation”.
Suu Kyi’s comments regarding “areas of intimidation” are particularly ironic, with the BBC itself reporting before the elections that Suu Kyi’s own followers had protested the sitting government’s attempts to grant Myanmar’s Rohingya minority identification cards and the right to vote in these very polls.
In the BBC’s February article titled, “Myanmar revokes Rohingya voting rights after protests,” it stated:
Rohingya Muslims will not be able to vote in Myanmar’s referendum after President Thein Sein withdrew temporary voting rights following protests.
Hundreds of Buddhists took to the streets following the passage of a law that would allow temporary residents who hold “white papers” to vote.
These “Buddhists” cited by the BBC are of course Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD’s “Saffron” foot soldiers who led the pro-NLD riots during the “Saffron Revolution” in 2007. Their support for Suu Kyi’s political party explains Suu Kyi’s own hypocritical silence over the unjust treatment the Rohingya have suffered at their hands – the same sort of injustice Suu Kyi has claimed to be standing up against as part of her “pro-democracy” platform.
So compromised is Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Suu Kyi, that even the Western press has noted it in recent months. The same BBC who now claims recent elections are “historic” despite the fact that the winning NLD benefited from its supporters’ campaign to disenfranchise over a million Rohingya from casting their votes, had previously noted her silence.
In its article, “Aung San Suu Kyi: Where are you?,” the BBC reports:
In parliament, where she sits as an opposition MP, the 69-year-old frequently criticises the government for the slow pace of reform, and restates her increasingly forlorn demands for constitutional change.
But on the persecution of Myanmar’s most famously forgotten minority Ms Suu Kyi is silent.
The report continues by claiming:
…there are currently about 800,000 people in western Myanmar, denied the most basic of rights and discriminated against due to the circumstances of their birth. They’ve been fleeing into the hands of cruel trafficking rings because they’re poor and desperate.
From a simple human rights perspective it’s a continuing outrage that should shame us all.
So why, despite the calls from around the world is Ms Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, reluctant to raise her voice?
The report goes on to admit Suu Kyi’s self-serving agenda, and that her image as a “human rights activist” is merely an illusion:
The simplest explanation, voiced repeatedly over the last few weeks, is that she’s always been a pragmatic politician not a human rights activist.
By defending the Rohingya, Ms Suu Kyi would immediately put herself at odds with powerful Buddhist nationalist groups, potentially changing the dynamics of this year’s all important general election.
If Not for Human Rights, Why Does the West Love Suu Kyi So?
It is quite clear that Suu Kyi’s image as a “pro-democracy” “human rights activist” is a facade. Her largest bloc of supporters, these “powerful Buddhist nationalists” represent the darkest elements of Myanmar society, responsible for decades of violence, discrimination, genocide, racism, and bigotry. Besides “human right” and “democracy,” Suu Kyi’s only other notable campaign promise is to bring in “foreign investment.”
It is with this foreign investment that we find precisely why the West has actively supported Suu Kyi, her opposition party, a growing network of US and British funded nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and intentionally perpetuated the myth of Suu Kyi’s clearly nonexistent “humanitarianism.”
The London Telegraph, in its article, “Aung San Suu Kyi calls for foreign investment in Burma,” reported:
Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s democratic opposition leader, called for foreign investment to solve the malaise of youth unemployment in her troubled homeland in her first speech in decades on European soil.
It would also report that:
Her speech was dedicated to the cause of eradicating forced labour in Burma. “The international community is trying very hard to bring my country into it and it’s up to our country to respond the right way,” she said.
Within the same article, Suu Kyi’s troubling statements over her eagerness to see Myanmar, which she and the Western press still call by its British colonial nomenclature of “Burma,” folded into the Western “international community” through “foreign investment,” is softened by various references to her “activism” and the various awards she picked up during her trip to Europe.
It is clear that Suu Kyi’s “activism” is serving as cover for her true role in Myanmar’s upcoming future, which entails the incremental transfer of Myanmar’s nationalized resources, industries, and infrastructure to foreign corporations. Just as Suu Kyi and her NLD’s abuse of the Rohyingya have been spun and covered up for as long as it suited the Western media, her role in disenfranchising the rest of Myanmar’s population with her and her party’s growing influence will likewise be obfuscated, spun, or otherwise completely buried.
And Suu Kyi’s silence over the Rohyinya, and the horrific injustice they have been subjected to by her most stalwart followers serves another, more sinister purpose. At any time Suu Kyi and her NLD attempt to pursue policy inconsistent with those foreign interests who helped them into power, the Western media who has so far remained silent and complicit can just as easily begin reporting the truth, including the fact that Suu Kyi’s recent victory at the polls was predicated on the disenfranchisement of over a million victimized Rohingya.
Suu Kyi’s Entire Movement is a US-UK Enterprise
All empires throughout history have ruled not only directly, but indirectly through various agents. Building up movements, leaders, and power blocs that are entirely dependent on foreign cash and political support, ensures enduring loyalty. In the days of the Roman Empire, the children of foreign leaders would be held hostage in Rome as an insurance policy for continued loyalty. These children would be educated, and more importantly, indoctrinated in all ways Roman, before being sent back home where they would bring that indoctrination with them.
Today, it is one’s fictional image and legacy that is held hostage, with disobedience met with uncharacteristically honest news coverage of unsavory realities that usually go unreported. Instead of a leader’s children being indoctrinated and sent back to plant the seeds of greater foreign influence, entire multi-million dollar education programs seek to train and send back by the hundreds “activists” and “youth leaders” to infect a targeted nation’s body politic.
Suu Kyi, her NLD, and their various allies across “civil society” are no different.
Far from the mere accusations of her opponents, Suu Kyi and her network’s extensive foreign backing is revealed by the backers themselves. In the 2006 Burma Campaign UK report, “Failing the People of Burma?”, the vast scale of this support is revealed. It states:
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED – see Appendix 1, page 27) has been at the forefront of our program efforts to promote democracy and improved human rights in Burma since 1996. We are providing $2,500,000 in FY 2003 funding from the Burma earmark in the Foreign Operations legislation. The NED will use these funds to support Burmese and ethnic minority democracy-promoting organizations through a sub-grant program. The projects funded are designed to disseminate information inside Burma supportive of Burma’s democratic development, to create democratic infrastructures and institutions, to improve the collection of information on human rights abuses by the Burmese military and to build capacity to support the restoration of democracy when the appropriate political openings occur and the exiles/refugees return.
How democratic institutions representing the people of Myanmar can be created by foreign interests who refuse to even call Myanmar by its official name is no mystery. The NED has absolutely no intention of creating anything resembling democracy in Myanmar. Instead, it is seizing Myanmar’s political institutions under the guise of democracy, creating and controlling everything they can within the country, while gradually wearing down existing institutions that remain beyond their reach.
The report provides further details regarding foreign backing among Myanmar’s “opposition” and NGOs revealing that everyone from the New Era Journal and the Irrawaddy, to the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) radio, were all created by and continuously funded to this day by the US State Department.
The report also reveals a scholarship program set up to train Suu Kyi’s supporters abroad before having them return home, not entirely unlike what was done during the days of the Roman Empire:
The State Department provided $150,000 in FY 2001/02 funds to provide scholarships to young Burmese through Prospect Burma, a partner organization with close ties to Aung San Suu Kyi. With FY 2003/04 funds, we plan to support Prospect Burma’s work given the organization’s proven competence in managing scholarships for individuals denied educational opportunities by the continued repression of the military junta, but committed to a return to democracy in Burma.
What is clear is that Suu Kyi’s movement represents decades of funding and backing by the West, with entire institutions created from scratch by foreign interests to assist Suu Kyi and her NLD into power. Her movement would likely not even exist without the endless millions poured into it annually by the United States and British governments. The West’s “human rights” organizations have meticulously documented, then intentional spun or buried evidence regarding her movement’s role in the continued attempted genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.
Likely, this documented evidence serves as an insurance policy in the unlikely event Suu Kyi’s movement transcends the need of the many millions poured into it from abroad. Thus, Suu Kyi, her NLD, all of its partners across the growing myriad of US and British-funded NGOs, and the “Saffron” mobs themselves represent not only a betrayal of Mynamar’s hard-earned independence from the British Empire, but traitors who are compromised on multiple levels, serving as multiple vectors through which foreign interests can re-enter and re-conquer Myanmar.
“Democracy” and “Foreign Investment” Aren’t Policies…
Suu Kyi’s campaign was based on much rhetoric and very little substance. Democracy is but a means, not an end, so her “pro-democracy” stance has very little meaning now that elections are over and she finds herself in power. Seeking vast foreign investment is also not a policy. It is the deferral of leading the development of one’s own country to foreign interests.
The fact that Suu Kyi’s entire movement is a foreign-backed creation, extorted regarding its own despicable treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, and lacking any semblance of an independent national policy, makes Myanmar’s recent elections “historic” indeed. It is an unprecedented moment of weakness that now exposes the country to a multitude of threats it is unable to protect itself against.
Those who supported Suu Kyi in good faith will be quickly disillusioned when the inept leader fails to materialize the fantastical “democratic” utopia she has promised for decades. They will be quickly disillusioned as her followers’ insatiable barbarism transforms from street violence into nationally sanctioned genocide. They will be disillusioned as Exxon, Chevron, BP, Monsanto, and other hated corporations who have circled above like vultures waiting for this moment of weakness, finally land and prepare to bury their heads in this vulnerability.
Suu Kyi and her NDL, however compromised they are, also present an unprecedented opportunity to Myanmar’s ruling establishment. For decades Suu Kyi has been able to protest, complain, and rhetorically pelt Myanmar’s current political order for its failures and the state of impoverishment and repression the people of Myanmar allegedly face. Now it will be her turn to take full responsibility for Myanmar’s plight.
Poverty, injustice, violence, and real national progress cannot be dealt with through “democracy” and “foreign investment.” No matter what Western headlines say to the rest of the world, the people in Myanmar will see for themselves the shortcomings, failures, and incompetence of Suu Kyi and her NLD. Myanmar will become well-acquainted with Suu Kyi’s true colors, and may decide the devil they knew was tame in comparison. Upon that realization, Suu Kyi, her NLD, and any possible successor to the aging foreign-proxy will be permanently swept from any prospect of ever leading the country again.
For Myanmar’s neighbors, caution in dealing with any government led by Suu Kyi’s NLD would be wise. The foreign interests that have created this “historic” moment of weakness in Myanmar, seek to do so across all of Southeast Asia, and in many instances, have already done so. The Shinawatra clique in Thailand represented foreign interests and their failed attempts to overwrite Thailand historically, culturally, politically, and socioeconomically. Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim, now incarcerated, also sought to herald Malaysia’s re-conquering by Western interests.
Source: Global Research
From People’s Voice
The battle against privatization in Ontario is gathering steam as the Liberal government moves to sell Hydro One – the largest supplier of publicly owned and controlled electricity in North America. The privatization was hidden in the budget presented in April with little fanfare. The government knew the move would be unpopular, as the Harris Tories had tried to do the same thing in 2002, only to be forced to back off by an irate public.
So Premier Wynne proposed to sell off 60%, and “keep” 40%, claiming this would allow for public control of the utility, while “unlocking the value” tied up in Hydro One to pay for the government’s unfunded 10 year, $130 billion infrastructure program.
Indeed this is a valuable asset: debt-free, unencumbered with Ontario’s nuclear plants, and generating a tidy profit of $1 billion a year for the provincial treasury. It also produces a reliable stream of relatively cheap and reliable electricity for residents, industry, and business. So why sell it off?
The bankers – Don Drummond and Ed Clark – recommended the sell-off, in answer to Wynne’s request for proposals to restructure public services and assets, to pay for the infrastructure plan which was the centerpiece of the Liberals’ 2014 election platform. The plan could have been paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate, which is the lowest in the industrialized world, and much lower than the Great Lake states around Ontario. But the Liberals have committed to further reduce corporate taxes, while also eliminating the provincial deficit.