The Way I See It - Prime Minister Harper Preaches to the Converted
March 10, 2009
Don Currie, Chair, Canadians for Peace and Socialism

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech before a big business crowd in Mississauga Brampton Ontario on March 10th re-stated his government’s pledge that the interests of wealth and privilege will continue to come first as the country slides into depression, and the working class and the unemployed are welcome to go along for the ride. He was heartily applauded by the partisan audience.
As he was speaking to the upscale crowd, GM workers and retirees with their backs against the wall were being urged by their union leadership to vote in favour of a roll back in wages and pensions to keep GM in business and a shrinking work force temporarily employed to produce cars that most people can’t afford to buy.
Meanwhile in the House of Commons, the Liberals and the NDP chided Finance Minister Flaherty for not admitting the economic situation for wage earners was dire, as though the Conservative minister really cared. The Conservative finance minister is content to rebut all criticism of his failed policies for working people by claiming that Canada is hostage to the financial melt down in the USA. Flaherty claims that until US banks start lending there is nothing to be done. Finger pointing is a safe bet for Flaherty and a convenient way of dealing with any future failure as the US economy continues to slide with no bottom in sight. Even as Flaherty was speaking in the House Ben Bernanke, head of the US Federal Reserve Board characterized the economic debacle as worse than the Great Depression.
At the same time Minister Flaherty boasts that Canada is the envy of the G20 because the Canadian chartered banks aren’t failing and are well capitalized unlike US banks. Canadian banks are all reporting quarterly profits in spite of the real economy tanking. What’s up? Bank profits and unemployment are rising at the same time! Minister Flaherty is mute about rising bank profits and a disintegrating real economy. He says nothing about this obvious anomaly because he worked for this outcome.
The Finance Minister was instrumental in backstopping the banks with $200 billion of government guarantees long before there was any talk in Parliament about a stimulus budget for workers and communities. Flaherty knows that the banks don’t have to lend to the real economy to make profit. They are doing fine on spreads between a falling Bank of Canada rate, high interest credit cards, safe mortgages and loans (the government removed the toxic debt and burdened CMHC with it) to preferred lenders that really don’t need the money anyway. Canadian Banks got their Harper Government “stimulus” up front last October after President Bush convened the G20 and all present agreed to pump 2% of GDP into the economy. Do the math. Two percent of $1.3 trillion GDP is about $260 billion; $200 billion for the banks and the rest for a “stimulus” budget that has within in lots of room for big business insiders to do very well. Flaherty only presented the budget to Parliament after it was vetted by a blue ribbon big business committee.
The actual amount of stimulus that will reach workers and communities is dubious. There is no reason for the opposition parties to rubber stamp it. There is stimulus and then there is talk of stimulus. The opposition charges that the budget is entangled with a number of Conservative plans having nothing to do with infrastructure funding. Environmentalists are concerned about the removal of restrictions on industrial development on inland waterways. Women workers are angry about the budget endorsing pay equity discrimination. The budget is not user-friendly compelling small communities to come up with co-pay money they don’t have and foisting P3’s on infrastructure projects that private investor abuse. Flaherty is bullying the Senate and the opposition to rush through the budget, before the people realize what is really in it. The Conservatives do not want the public to look too closely at the budget (all 300 plus pages of it) for fear of what they might find there. The Conservatives have stuffed the budget with barbs and hooks and at the same time, as a side show, are attempting to slip through the Finance Committee a $3 billion no strings attached pork barrel.
The Canadian people are paying a heavy price for the failure of the faint-hearted Ignatieff Liberals recoiling in fear from joining with the NDP and the Bloc to administer a crushing defeat to the Harper Conservatives when they had the chance. The Liberal and Conservative back room brain trusts held their noses, gave each other a little “upper class hug” and signaled to the Bay Street, Calgary Petroleum Club, the Irving Empire, the Montreal and Vancouver investor groups, and the TSX, that as much as they find each other distasteful, when the chips are down they will unite against any threat of organized labour and the movements of the people gaining a position of influence over Parliament.
The academic-intellectual left advice to labour to be “more clever and persuasive” in pleading with capitalism to reform itself is not helpful. An article in the last issue of CCPA Monitor suggesting to their 10,000 readership that progressives should support pleading for a place at the corporate table as a means of democratizing capitalist decisions is typical. Likewise, the Lakeland Institute, correctly lambasting the Stelmach government for funneling $5 billion to the oil investors continues to fail to demand nationalization the whole energy sector as the way to end its privileged position in the economy. The entire gamut of left academia remains timid and mute about the ruinous influence on the economy of $492 billion over 20 years allocated by the Canada First Defense Policy of the Harper Conservatives.
The G20 finance ministers will be meeting next week in preparation for their April Summit. The global depression is much worse than Flaherty and Harper are prepared to admit. The Conservatives are going to the G20 with one eye on the event and the other on their political base. That base doesn’t include organized labour. Flaherty and Harper will be coming back to Canada after the G20 to sell the plans of the IMF, the World Bank and G7. They will confront at the meeting a brawl among the USA, the EU, as they confront the rising power of China, Brazil, India.
Now is the time for organized labour to send a message to the Government that Canadians will not accept any plans of international finance capital that require the working class and the farmers to make more concessions to save the profit system.
Organized labour and the left-progressives confront a challenge. Either continue to support one of the alternatives offered by the Liberals or the Conservatives, fronting for corporate and banking capital, or begin the difficult task of organizing now around an independent program of economic development for Canada.
What is happening to the autoworkers, forced into concessions and condemned to long term unemployment is a template for what the employers will be demanding from steel, forestry, transportation, the energy sector and what remains of manufacturing. Following employer attacks on the productive sector workers will be pressures on the civil service and the entire service industry for wage rollbacks and benefits concessions.
Labour needs its own summit! Relying on the banking and corporate elites to plan our future is a mugs game. Labour can and must lead the country!
Left Turn Canada!