13 Aug 2013

Austerity chokes Canada's down-and-out
as Harper, Flaherty look the other way

The exceedingly aggressive austerity cuts carried out by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty over the past seven years have come home to roost as millions of Canadians, depressed and without hope, are succumbing to its worst consequences.

Program cuts and tax reductions for corporations and the wealthy have had a huge, disproportionate impact on the poor, working poor, underemployed, and those with health problems including mental illness.

It's hard to say who is the meanest -- Harper or Flaherty.

The massive austerity program translates into less income, decreased services, and reduced health care for many of Canada's most vulnerable people. It appears that more than 3.5-million Canadians - mainly the poor, the unemployed/underemployed and the under-privileged - are struggling.

Independent economists argued that the austerity program
was not achieving its stated goal of preparing the country
for an economic recovery, but Jim Flaherty refused to budge
The attacks on the vulnerable began soon after the Conservatives came to power in 2006. They launched cuts that were a broadside attack on the government's ability to finance many of its activities, including these much-needed employment and social support programs.

Neo-liberal economics dominate
Ignoring the needs of Canadians living in desperate conditions, Harper and Flaherty initiated the extremely aggressive austerity program because of their determination to reduce the deficit and cut the size of the federal government. Their decisions were based on their own neo-liberal economic beliefs, not what Canadians needed or wanted.

There are numerous examples of needless, brutal cuts. Claiming it was concerned that some people don't have enough incentive to work, Harper-Flaherty toughened up the Employment Insurance rules. They took millions of dollars away from mostly seasonal workers, leaving them vulnerable.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), the government department that provides the most hands-on support for the poor, is being cut more than any other department. It will lose 5,700 positions - one-quarter of its workforce by 2016. The largest cut in absolute terms is to the Citizen-Centered Services Program, which helps Canadians access government services by phone and online.

Harper also cut funding to the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) and to a number of Aboriginal women's health organizations - crucial programs on suicide prevention, women's health, and diabetes. They also cut the Women's Health Contribution Program, which funds six women's health organizations across the country.

The austerity cutting is based on Harper and Flaherty's near-fanatical determination to cut the deficit and reduce the size of government. The two unwaveringly believe in neo-liberal economics, which enriches corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. We have two people running our country who don't really believe in government!

Unfortunately, the problems of the less fortunate are not acknowledged in the PMO or Department of Finance. It is much more important that interest rates remain low for the benefit of corporations and the one per cent.

Two moves early on by Harper and Flaherty eliminated the ability of the Conservatives to fund the kind of generous, liberal-minded government Canadians have been used to - even if they had wanted to. First, a two-per-cent cut in the Goods and Service Tax income in Flaherty's first two budgets cost the government a staggering $10-billion to $12-billion annually in revenues that had been used to help support government services.

In addition, Flaherty has cut $60-billion in corporate taxes since the Conservatives took power in 2006 - needlessly reducing the country's corporate tax rate to the lowest among G8 countries.

The austerity program and other government cuts have had disastrous consequences for millions of Canadians. There are staggering disparities in life expectancy based on the amount of education a person receives and their amount of education. On average, people living in rich neighbourhoods live an average of 86.3 years, while those living in a poor neighborhood live only 65.5 years - a difference of 21 years.

There is more hunger across the country than ever before. In March, 2012, 882,188 people received food from a food bank in Canada - an increase of 2.4 per cent over 2011 and 31 per cent higher than in 2008, when austerity was being launched.

Children's programs also targeted 
Children are not spared from the suffering. According to UNICEF's most recent report, Canada is 21st out of 29 top countries for relative child poverty, and 27th for the percentage that were overweight.

Between the years 2007 and 2011, Statistics Canada reported a 20 per cent rise in people who said their mental health was deteriorating. Mental illness is already the number one cause for disability claims in the workplace. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, awards for mental injury at work have dramatically increased in recent years because of pressure placed on workers to produce more during the austerity period.

It's also likely been an increase in suicides in Canada due to the distress suffered by individuals as a result of the austerity program. Two international researchers, David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, have documented substantial increases in suicide in several European countries and the United States as a result of austerity cuts. Suicides in Canada increased from 3,512 in 2005 to 3,890 in 2009, which takes in the early part of the austerity period. However, Statistics Canada is three years behind in posting its deaths statistics, so no information is available covering a large period of austerity. But, assuming that Canada is experiencing roughly the same fallout as are Europe and the U.S., it is safe to predict a sizeable increase in suicides here.

Flaherty pushes ahead with austerity program
Throughout the Conservatives' seven years in office, independent economists argued that the austerity program was not achieving its stated goal of preparing the country for an economic recovery, but Flaherty refused to budge.

Then in April, the world was shocked when the austerity experiment, which was had destroyed the lives of millions in Europe, was totally discredited. Thomas Herndon, a young University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate student in economics, discovered that an influential paper endorsing austerity practices as a way of rebuilding beleaguered economies was incorrect because of spreadsheet coding errors and selective data.

Amazingly, Flaherty continued with the austerity experiment. "What I worry about is those that suggest that austerity should be abandoned," he noted. "I think that's the road to ruin quite frankly."

So more cuts that will affect the poor the most are on the way. Harper and Flaherty will chop another $11.8-billion from government spending by 2014-15; job losses in both the public and private sectors will be 90,000 by 2014-15; and there will be 1.4-million unemployed workers in the country in 2015.

If Harper and Flaherty really wanted to balance the budget and look after people at the margins, they could work harder to collect the $29-billion the government is owned by the rich and corporations in unpaid taxes.

They also could try harder to find the $3.1-billion that was given to the anti-terrorism program but that cannot be accounted for.

Canada a 'rogue state' internationally
When it comes to complying with international law concerning the rights of its citizens, Canada is a rogue state. We have signed international laws that oblige us to provide certain benefits to all citizens. This means ensuring the right to adequate standards of living involving access to food, housing and clothing, the right to participation in the labour force and community, as well as providing citizens with the opportunity to report violations of these rights.

However, more importantly, the Harper government has neglected to adopt the part of the Covenant that would establish a complaints mechanism that would allow groups or individuals to go to the UN to protest the treatment they receive. They've made sure the process doesn't work and that there will be no complaints from disgruntled citizens.

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  1. It's even worse than what you say.

    A comment on BNN today said that the dicking around with the telecom debate (whether you are pro or con) has wiped tens of billions of pension value off the large telephone companies. Never mind whether the access to cheap cell costs is valid or not. That wiping out of value comes out of your and my pensions.

    So, why the drive to do this by the CON's? Sheer, abject, doctrinaire Calgary School economics. Like, they'd happily drive the country over a cliff !

    Time to throw the bums out !! 2015 can't come quick enough.

    Not the same Anonymous as the last one.

    1. Assuming we're allowed a real election in 2015.

      Yet another Anonymous - we are legion. We do not forget and we sure as hell don't forgive.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


  3. Posted on behalf of Andy Kaut:

    Mr. Nick Fillmore; It took me reading your entire article (printed in Al-Jazeera online) to form an opinion on the matter. I'm Canadian as well, although I was one of the folks that voted for Mssrs. Harper and Flaherty, although indirectly. So we have that in common, you and I.

    We have experienced the same country since the Conservatives came to (nominal) power in 2006, although different parts of it. I refuse to believe, however, that regional experience makes that much of a difference. Out here in Alberta, we have seen some interesting things that have followed the global economic catastrophe of late. These have nothing to do with the disenfranchisement and 'choking' of Canada's less-advantaged, rather have more to do with people losing hope, seeing what's going on around them and giving up a little more 'git 'er done' and expecting a little more to come to them freely.

    You and I have both seen this in our respective 'ends' of the country.
    The only difference in our experience over the last 7 years, it would seem, is that I've been paying your salary during those years. You have helped with mine, I suppose, by driving your vehicles and heating your home.

    However, all I get out of the money I pay towards your non-governmental, yet biased and bloated agency is articles like the one you've written. When was the last time the CBC wrote a glowing report of the governing party (since 2006, at least) ?
    I don't think, having visited a lot of Canada, that we are fundamentally different, you and I. Yet I feel a gutteral revulsion while reading your words. This springs from the one-trick nature of the CBC, and I feel the same revulsion when reading Ezra Levant get onto something he knows nothing about.

    I think Canada differs more than a tribal nation in common geography and heritage. I think we come from all different walks of life, and the only thing we definitely have in common, the only thing we share for certain, is this land and our love for it.

    We don't all support the government, we don't all like other parts of the country, and we certainly don't like all the things our fellow countrymen do to make money. However. I think we all share the breath of fresh air and the thought that somewhere, right now, there's an empty mountain waiting for someone to climb it. Canada is divisive by nature yet unifying by vision.

    contd below . . . . .

  4. contd from above on behalf of Andy Kaut . . . .

    The austerity measures don't make it a terrible place to live. And the dark clouds of terrible-ness that you predict at the end of the article made me smile - so many unemployed, so many cuts, so many fired. The fact remains, Sir, that we have recovered and are building an economy nation-wide that is the envy of our neighbors. Our commodities are oil, rock and blood. Great Canadians know that this has always been the case; at the start it was only rock and blood.

    Those unwilling to chase and take and conquer and love in the middle of all this are the ones who have always enjoyed their lives, will always enjoy their lives. There is joy in work and hard work, not just in getting things for free or at the cost of others.

    I can sleep at night knowing that what I have been given in this life has not come at the expense of other men. I hope the same for all Canadians; and even for you. Though some would call you a Liberal shill, I say you are Canadian. You have an ownership stake in the shipping routes, the oil sands, and the commercial fishery. You own a little bit of the rail cars that destroyed Magentic, as I do as well. So do all citizens here. There are no borders, from sea to shining sea.

    The question now is what do you do with what you've been given. If its more than someone else, maybe give back once your family is fed. Our fellow men are not 'groups' and 'disadvantaged'. They are people that, by and large, need a coffee worse than they need high-handed criticism of the government trying to keep us all together. You'll note that Steve-O has seats in Ontario, without them he wouldn't have formed a government last time around.

    This article is not the Canadian way, pissing and moaning to an international audience about domestic matters. I suggest in future you write these for the CBC.

    At least that way you'd be read by the ones that matter - Canadians who are being affected by the policies you discussed.

    Andy Kaut

    1. Right, Nick/Andy....nothing wrong with our gov't here. You haven't been watching the news, have you? Do the RECORD DEFICIT and obscene abuse of power/overspending (not to mention corporate tax breaks with little to no benefit to the 'average canadian') somehow translate to "economic recovery" in your mind? I don't at all trust the far right because they are nothing but greedy, money-grubbing whacko's and old farts who have no idea whats really going on. I don't put much faith in the far-left, because we can't be governed by good intentions. That puts me right in the center, with other SANE and reasonable people. Please explain how this country wouldn't benefit from having an open, transparent gov't. If you make any claim that the harper conservatives have been open with the canadian public at all, I may take the time to collect all the evidence to the contrary and post it here. I've never seen anything as destructive and misguided as our current government.

  5. Mr Alberta Andy:

    The people that are talked about in this article, truly are the vulnerable. Maybe not someone the average person would notice as they rush through life.

    They may appear weak to the robust. Reality is a fair portion of the population are not educated and do not have the aptitude to even make an attempt. Others are born with a weaker will. Yes, that's right, genetically born with a weaker will.That's just life. Not everyone can be Steve Jobs, or Doug Gilmour, or for some, not even a truck driving license.

    So the question is: What do we do? Support our fellow disadvantaged, or trapped minimum wage Canadians, or should we cut them off with a sanctimonious judgement? Send them all to food-banks?

    Are you not happy knowing you were born with the will and drive to be able to provide for yourself and your family?

    You ever had a brother, sister, cousin who just couldn't get things right no matter how much everyone tried to guide them? Someone that couldn't do math if, or spelling, cook, clean...no matter what was tried as a remedy?

    Should they be punished for these lack of skills, or inner discord? Discarded like a lame horse? That is what is happening in Canada right now.

    People are now considered "Units, as on a production line...no good? Out it goes. This is our new reality. Business is our government and has been for decades. Problem is, now it's out in the open no more shame, just go for gold.

    So, are you telling us Andy, that you truly believe in the Conservative philosophy? "I'm alright Jack how about You"? You're in agreement with the Corps. that view Canadian citizens as PRODUCTS? They are used to dealing with that as businesses, why not people too?

    That's where we are today. A silent genocide on the lower classes. Sink or swim Serf, all others pay up!.

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