CCPA MONITOR - CANADIAN CENTRE FOR POLICY ALTERNATIVES
Feature Article - 30 WAYS TO DISMANTLE A COUNTRY
Canada is being dismantled. After more than a century of nation-building, the social, economic, and even physical infrastructures that make this a sovereign land are being torn apart.
Continuing the destruction begun by the Conservatives, Jean Chretien and the Liberals have been replacing east-west transportation and communication links with north-south; national institutions once considered untouchable have fallen (the Crow Rate, CN Rail, the Canada Assistance Plan) or been weakened (the CBC, Canada Post, Environment Canada). Others are being prepared for demise (the Canada Pension Plan, Medicare, the Canadian Wheat Board, public education).
Indeed, over the past decade or more, federal governments, working in co-operation with business, academic and media interests, have been transforming our relatively collectivist, sharing and democratic society into one that is individualistic, profit-driven and corporate-dominated -- an unprecedented revolution.
Canadians have heard a lot about Canada being "the best country in the world." We have been promised that the worst of the anti-deficit "healing" process is over and we will soon begin to benefit from painful deficit-reduction and restructuring. But, in reality, this country is being privatized, decentralized, deregulated and continentalized to such an extent that the tools once used to ensure fairness and equity are being destroyed.
Our country is being redesigned to serve a small, powerful elite and to fit into a financially-fluid global society, a virtually borderless world dominated by transnational corporations (about 200 giant companies already control 80 % of the world economy!) where nations are nothing more than "economies," government leaders behave like "chief executive officers" and citizens are reduced to "clients" or "consumers."
How have the Liberals, the Tories and the large corporations which fund them and firmly control their agendas managed to get away with this wholesale dismantling? For one thing, although Canada is an extreme case in terms of the speed of its transformation, we are not out of sync with the world. Other nations, too, are being restructured. The International Monetary Fund has a "structural adjustment" program that consists of paring down government, privatizing national assets, weakening social programs, opening up investment, and liberalizing trade. Sound familiar?
But Canada is unique. We border the most powerful nation in the world. We are vulnerable. Tearing down what makes us different politically, socially and culturally will prove fatal. The list below has been prepared to help Canadians more clearly understand what is being done in the name of cost-cutting, competition and globalization. It is not easy reading. But remember: "Knowledge is power!"
1) "FEDERAL LOBOTOMY": Years ago, British writer G.K. Chesterton remarked that "the poor object to being governed badly; the rich object to being governed at all." Nothing has changed. Governing requires the sharing of wealth and power, and the rich (with the help of their allies) want to keep what they have. True to form, Canada's elites have consistently attacked our federal and provincial governments in recent years -- and won many victories. Their virtual coups d'etat have been cleverly disguised as an agenda for all -- the need to cut costs sharply in the face of a debt and deficit "crisis" which, ironically, was created by the elites themselves. Ottawa's dismantling has included departmental budget cuts averaging 22-per-cent (reaching as high as 69 per cent for Transport Canada); total federal spending is almost down to the 1949-50 level. In a hara-kiri style exercise, the Liberals will have chopped 55,000 public servants by 1998-99 (from more than 200,000). As an Industry Canada employee remarked: "A lot of knowledge has walked out that door." Knowledge that once served the country. At the same time, the role of government is quietly being revamped through "administrative" changes. Departments are disappearing, being commercialized or privatized in the name of "Alternative Service Delivery" and cost recovery. User fees are being charged for government services such as food inspection, drug testing and the coast guard. (Compromising the government's independence and neutrality.) As well, the Auditor-General has reported that every year more than 30 million calls to federal departments and agencies go unanswered. Canadians no longer have a federal government designed to assist and protect them.
2) "GOING, GOING, GONE": Those who brought us deficit hysteria and government downsizing are also behind decentralization -- a further weakening of our federal system. Right-wing economist, Thomas Courchene, much loved by Premiers Mike Harris and Ralph Klein, puts it this way: "... the more Canadians do business with the world, the more they see the central government as a hindrance rather than a help. By early next century, while a political entity called Canada will exist, practically speaking it probably won't matter." In other words, the country will be an unruly patchwork of competitive, often-conflicting interests. Last year, the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI) which represents 150 powerful corporations prepared a document, entitled "Confederation 2000," advocating "renewed federalism" (a euphemism for giving away federal powers to the provinces). Former Ontario Premier Bob Rae and other so-called progressives helped prepare the document. Although decentralization -- or devolution -- is being touted as a way of preserving national unity and pleasing Quebec, it is nothing more than a clever and cynical manoeuvre by giant corporations. They much prefer to deal with 10 (or 13) smaller, weaker governments rather than one powerful entity. It's a clear case of divide and conquer. The Liberals have certainly delivered the goods in areas such as social housing, child care, job training, tourism, mining, and the environment. As well, "national standards" for social programs are being replaced by weaker "values and principles" developed through provincial consensus. In other words, Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord, rejected by Canadians, are being brought in by the back door! One final note: some responsibilities devolved to cash-strapped provinces are being forced onto the municipalities which have neither the resources nor the expertise to cope. Going, going ...
3) "MAD CAPITALIST DISEASE": The Krever Commission on tainted blood and the Westray Inquiry into a mining disaster in the Maritimes should have shown all Canadians that this country needs well-defined, well-enforced regulations. Not so. The Liberals are in the process of dismantling our regulatory system which covers everything from industry to the environment -- all in the name of business competitiveness. Earlier in its mandate, the Chretien government (pressured by what was then the Canadian Manufacturers Association and others) tried to push through a bill that would allow corporations to negotiate special deals with cabinet ministers in regard to certain regulations. This was roundly condemned as elitist, undemocratic and possibly unconstitutional. But the government is still attempting to subvert parliamentary control over the whole regulatory process with Justice Minister Allan Rock's "Regulations Act." This bill allows cabinet to exempt certain regulations from public and parliamentary scrutiny. It also opens the door for private groups -- from industrial organizations to the U.S. government -- to "incorporate" their standards and regulations into the country's overall regulatory framework. And, once the regulations have been entered into the system, they can be changed or modified without specific authority from Parliament. This is incredibly undemocratic. Regulations affecting everything from the safety of our workplaces to the food we eat could be wiped out or weakened behind closed doors! Also, the push toward deregulation in areas such as telecommunications and air travel have led to marketplace chaos, business bankruptcies, fewer customer services, higher prices and increased U.S. penetration. AT&T, go home!
4) "NATIONAL LAWN SALE": In many ways, Canada is an impractical nation. Our vast landmass, unevenly-distributed population and often severe weather make the delivery of services to people in all regions a challenge -- and rarely cost-effective. Because of this, the rules of the marketplace, where companies exist only to make money, often don't coincide with our needs. This is why Crown corporations were formed -- to build and maintain the nation. They are public assets, owned by Canadians and accountable to Parliament, set up to protect areas crucial to the country's well-being, such as energy, communications and transportation. Over the past decade, however, many of these public assets have been sold, often at ridiculously low prices. Here's a short list: de Havilland Aircraft of Canada, Eldorado Nuclear, Teleglobe Canada, CN Hotels, Northern Canada Power Commission, Air Canada, PetroCan, Telesat Canada, Canadair Limited, CN Rail. In many cases, these valuable assets were sold to eager transnational corporations: de Havilland was sold to The Boeing Company. At least 60 per cent of CN Rail shares are in U.S. hands so far. (Under NAFTA, once privatized, probably continentalized.) In Europe, citizens are marching and demonstrating to prevent the full-scale sell-off of national property -- which they consider theirs. One slogan, "To Privatize is To Destroy," expresses their anger at job cuts, decreased service and the transfer of state wealth to the private sector. Here, the Great Canadian Sell-Off continues at a fast pace with too little fuss or fanfare. Other institutions affected by the Liberal government's privatization spree include: the National Capital Commission, parts of Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada's weather system, the inspection and regulation activities of Agriculture Canada, Health Canada facilities, parts of the Department of National Defence (including bases), the Canada Communications Group (formerly the Queen's Printer, responsible for printing the federal budget.) At the same time, the provinces are selling off everything from telephone companies to liquor boards to public television.
5) "CONTINENTAL DREAM": When Canada was founded by the Fathers of Confederation, an east-west transportation link was considered essential for the new country's survival. Hence, the National Dream of a publically-owned and -operated railroad from coast to coast -- a dream that was eventually expanded with a system of airports, harbours, ferries and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Now the Liberal Fathers and Mothers of Defederation are recklessly undoing their predecessors' work. East-west is being replaced by north-south to promote further economic integration. The National Dream has become a nightmare -- or a Corporate Continental Dream -- with the dismantling of Transport Canada, the privatization of CN Rail, the handing over of our airports and air traffic control system to non-profit user groups (mainly corporations) and our harbours to private Port Authorities. Our ferry system and the St. Lawrence Seaway are also being privatized. The Canada Transportation Act, passed last year with very little media attention, is actually designed to promote the break-up of our rail system and its replacement with short-line (mainly U.S.-owned) railways. (Rail is also giving way to trucking which raises the cost of highway maintenance, increases pollution and endangers drivers. Many of our roads are already substandard.) All aspects of the newly-privatized transportation system are expected to be more competitive, efficient and commercially-oriented -- meaning the marketplace, not national interest, will prevail. The system is no longer a tool for national and regional development, as seen by the closing of lines in northern Manitoba. (Now, a U.S. firm is moving in.) It is interesting that our publically-owned CN Rail managed for decades to transport prairie wheat to harbours, but, this year, the privatized CN Rail could not or would not handle the job, costing farmers millions of dollars. What is most frightening about the demise of Canada's National Dream is that the U.S. continues to have a strong, federally-subsidized transportation system, based on its national interest. So much for harmonization!
6) "POST SCRIPT": They've taken the Canada out of Canada Post. It's now simply Mail/Poste or Poste/Mail on the postal boxes dotted around the country. Our national mail delivery system has survived -- one of the few public links remaining -- but it has been badly damaged. Under the Tories, 1,635 post offices (which served as an important federal presence and community meeting place) were closed and replaced by private operations. To their credit, the Liberals have imposed a moratorium on closures, but they are now "reviewing" Canada Post's mandate. A frightening thought. In fact, Public Works Minister Diane Marleau has asked TD Securities to determine, among other things, whether certain changes to the post office mandate would be "consistent with the objective of possibly privatizing Canada Post Corporation." Such a sell-off would make courier and delivery companies, many of them U.S., very happy indeed. The nationalist Council of Canadians argues that Canada Post should provide a public cross-country network for the information highway, electronic mail, the Internet and facsimile communications -- creating stronger, more versatile connections for Canadians. The Council also points out that the post office's so-called monopoly on mail delivery must be maintained because, in private hands, services would be directed at highly-profitable urban centres, wealthier regions and the rich, while neglecting rural areas, poorer regions and the poor. Despite their rhetoric, the Liberals certainly appear to be moving in the opposite direction. In response to an earlier independent report on CPC, they turned the lucrative "junk" mail delivery (which helped generate profits for Canada Post) over to private deliverers, including large newspapers, thus cutting about 10,000 part-time, recently-unionized Canada Post jobs. Bad sign.
7) "LAST RESOURCE": It's ironic that government and business leaders are quick to voice their concerns about "the legacy of debt" we might leave to our children and grandchildren, but they ignore another equally frightening prospect for future generations -- freezing for six months a year. With full government approval and millions of dollars in grants and subsidies, Canada's western oil patch (controlled mainly by U.S. transnationals) is diverting its shipments away from the dependent central and eastern provinces toward the United States, our insatiable, energy-devouring neighbour. Natural gas exports have increased 50 % since 1990. Total annual exports have now reached the $7-billion mark -- a boon for those in the business, but disturbing for anyone who doesn't think "conservation" is a silly, old-fashioned idea. (Under NAFTA, the export tap cannot be turned off, even in times of shortage.) Sadly, corporate profit-making has successfully pushed aside the concept of Canadian energy self-sufficiency, and the very idea of a National Energy Policy to regulate oil field prices and exports and protect energy reserves for Canadians-to-come has been ground under the heels of those running to the bank with increasing export earnings. This is the story of one valuable resource; there are others -- equally disturbing.
8) "THE GREED MOVEMENT": In spite of polluted cities, poisoned rivers and lakes, disappearing plant and animal species and flood-causing soil erosion, the Liberals are abandoning the area of environmental protection. By 1998, Environment Canada will have lost 1,500 jobs and 32.9 per cent of its budget -- making it the smallest ministry in the government. Priorities anyone? "The Chretien government ... has shown a more hostile position to environmental decision-making than potentially any other government in the 25-year history of the (Environment) department," says Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club of Canada. "I don't think the public has any idea of the scale and scope of what's been cut, what's been damaged, and what's been dismantled by a government that has the image of being environmentally friendly." As well, the Liberals are decentralizing environmental responsibility in the name of "building partnerships" with the provinces. (How can air, water and the protection of endangered species be provincial?) A newly-formed Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment meets in private with no clear accountability, no clear authority. Increasingly, environmental national standards will be set in co-operation with the provinces, and the federal government will have little or no ability to enforce them or impose penalties. Typically, there is a lot of talk these days about "fiscal realities" and regional "flexibility," which translated means that corporations will have more leeway when it comes to following these so-called standards. Again, in spite of its "green" rhetoric, the Chretien government has deliberately held up its Canadian Environmental Protection Act (at the behest of the chemical industry et al); it appears to have broken its own Environmental Assessment Act to allow the sale of two Candu nuclear reactors to China, and its voluntary controls on greenhouse gas emissions have failed miserably. Rather than stabilizing the output at 1990 levels we're actually almost 10 % above. Sadly, Canada's increasingly short-sighted, anti-green policies have become an international embarrassment.
9) "TILL OR BE TILLED": With its northern climate, Canada has had to work hard to maintain a reasonable degree of food self-sufficiency -- necessary for an independent nation. But now, the corporate survival-of-the fittest mentality is tearing our historically co-operative agricultural base apart and threatening our farm communities. The result will be fewer family farms, more U.S. agri-business control, and increased dependence on imported produce (such as those toxic strawberries). After more than a century, the Liberal government has abolished the Crow Rate, a federal grain transportation subsidy that helped our prairie farmers compete globally. This could mean up to $6,000 a year in lost revenue for each. Moves to eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) by a vocal group of grain and barley growers -- who want the "right" to fend for themselves in the free market against U.S. agri-giants such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland -- could be more devastating. The CWB -- referred to pejoratively as a "monopoly" by many media types -- wins contracts for farmers in about 70 countries by guaranteeing both the quality and supply of grain. Recently, a majority of barley farmers voted against the dismantling of the CWB, but the federal government has other plans of attack. It has been trying to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act, removing the CWB's Crown Agency status and making it a "Mixed Enterprise" instead. Sounds like pre-privatization! At the same time, the mighty U.S. is also determined to kill Canada's "state marketing enterprises" -- the CWB and dairy, egg and poultry marketing boards -- and any remaining protective tariffs through NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (both supported by the federal government). So, Canadians will be increasingly bombarded with arguments that competition (mainly from the U.S.) will mean cheaper food and milk. Maybe. But it will also mean more artificial growth hormones and abandoned farms.
10) "CORPORATE FISH STORIES": Can Canada tear apart whole communities on its east and west coasts without enormous, even fatal, repercussions? The Liberals' Pacific Salmon Revitalization Strategy or "Mifflin Plan" -- named after the hapless Minister for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Fred Mifflin -- is a blatant move to "rationalize" and corporatize the west coast salmon fishery. The strategy which aims to reduce the fishing fleet by 50 per cent is buying back licences to the tune of $80 million. It also jacks up fishing licence fees, making them affordable only for corporations and the rich. (This unpopular move will be put to a vote later this year, but, by then, many fishers will have "voluntarily" taken the buy-out.) The plan is being implemented in the name of conservation, but as former DFO economist, Chris Newton says: "What Mifflin is doing is moving everything towards dividends and profits and away from fishing communities ... There will be fewer boats, but even more capital invested. There will actually be greater fishing capacity and even greater pressure on the salmon stocks." The east coast experience proves his point. After years of over fishing by huge factory freezer trawlers (which scoop up 30,000 pounds of fish in three hours compared to the 12,000 pounds a year pulled out of the water by a single-line fisher), the cod disappeared. In spite of this, the federal government has introduced a new Fisheries Act which will lead to further corporatization and privatization of what has been for centuries a public resource. The Act calls for "partnering" and allows the minister to enter into fisheries management agreements with organizations giving them more say in areas such as the management and conservation of the fishery. The government claims it is encouraging industry self-reliance, but many fear it is simply handing its responsibilities to those in the best position to "partner" -- corporations. (For fishers who can't survive in the new fisheries, the government has cut "employment" insurance benefits.)
11) "DISNEY BANFF": Canada has the oldest system of national parks in the world -- a magnificent testament to the pride and vision of those who built this country. Unfortunately, in their push to privatize and commercialize everything of value in this country, the Chretien government has turned its attention to these parks and national monuments. Contrary to their recent grand gesture to save Banff National Park, the Liberals are drastically cutting needed funding. They have plans to get rid of professional Parks Canada staff and hire private companies (some, at least temporarily, made up of former employees.) Unionized, reasonably well-paid public servants will be replaced by employees of profit-directed businesses who will likely be fewer in number, have less training, no job security, lower wages and weaker benefits. Several years ago, the operations of a campground in Banff by an outside company was short-lived after the public complained that facilities were cramped, dirty and run-down -- and millions of dollars had to be spent because of environmental damage. The Liberals are also setting up a Special Operating Agency (usually the first step toward privatization) to oversee the parks system, This agency will be very concerned with the bottom-line -- meaning more user fees, cost saving, and money-making ventures. The controversy over plans to convert the historic Upper Canada Village run by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission (and sponsored by Holiday Inns and American Express!) into a theme park with video arcades, batting cages and mini-golf offers a taste of things to come. But how much business intrusion can our parks and monuments withstand before they become public and Canadian in name only?
12) "LIBERAL DIMOCRACY": As our national institutions, standards and infrastructure are being dismantled, our democratic traditions are being pummelled in what has become a one-party state. Right-wing Liberals enjoying their first term in Parliament have faced little effective opposition from ideologically-scattered Quebec separatists and those free-enterprise-obsessed, pseudo-populist Reformers who manage to make the government seem humane and reasonable in comparison. The nine NDP members, lacking official party status, have been practically ignored by the Liberals and the media; and, if any progressive back-bench Liberals remain, they have mothballed their social consciences. This has given corporate-backed, extra-governmental organizations -- the Business Council on National Issues, the Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters Canada, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Fraser Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute, along with hundreds of other lobby groups, consultants, public relations companies, law and accounting firms and corporate relations hacks -- unimpeded influence over government policy. To further eliminate debate or opposition in Parliament, the Liberals have "fast-tracked" bills through the House of Commons, emasculated parliamentary committees and cut their budgets; they have strengthened the role of the executive (ministers) and impeded the public's access to information. Defence Minister Doug Young's arrogant muzzling of a public hearing -- arbitrarily shutting down and then changing the mandate of the Somalia Inquiry -- is reprehensible in a democracy. We are being left with unanswered questions about document tampering and destruction, alleged murders and high-level cover-ups. Indeed, the most harm the Liberals have inflicted on our democratic system has been their broken promise to raise the level of ethical standards in government. (The prime minister appointed an Ethics Counsellor who reports to him privately!) They have raised the level of cynicism and despair among voters.
13) "BUSINESS WITHOUT BORDERS": As democracy and public rights are being eroded, private and corporate power are expanding rapidly. This is largely due to the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) introduced over the past eight-plus years. The Liberals, who adamantly opposed free trade while in opposition, backed down on their pre-election promise to re-negotiate NAFTA. Now, they are pushing global free trade in a way that would make the Tories blush. They are also eager backers of the World Trade Organization (WTO), an unofficial world government for corporations. With the FTA and NAFTA, our federal and provincial governments can no longer establish new public programs or enterprises -- unless they are prepared to compensate relevant corporations for future lost income. Incredible! U.S. and Mexican companies now have the "right of national treatment" and must be regarded as Canadian in business matters. In effect, there are virtually no commercial borders anymore. And, we are losing our political sovereignty as more and more Canadian policies come under attack as "unfair" trade barriers. (A plan to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes was cancelled after being threatened under NAFTA.) Also, Canada has become a perilously dependent nation with 80 % of our trade going to the U.S. Our exports south increased 88 % between 1990-1995, but only a limited number a companies are really benefitting -- many of them U.S.-based transnationals. Meanwhile, our industrial base has diminished as firms have moved to free-trade zones with lower wages, minimal health and safety regulations and no unions. But the Liberals have free-trade fever. They are pushing to annihilate Canada's control over foreign investment with the proposed new Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) now being secretly negotiated among OECD countries. And they have introduced the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) which destroys provincial protections for Canadians, such as local buying and hiring requirements, thus allowing corporations to plunder our resources and services with no strings attached.
14) "MONETARY MADNESS": There are several other threats to Canada on the economic front. For one thing (which may seem difficult to comprehend), much of our indebtedness is the result of monetary policies endorsed by the same elites (business, political, academic, media) that launched the anti-debt, anti-deficit, government-downsizing crusade a few years ago. In fact, the Dominion Bond Rating Service says 93 % of our debt since 1984 was due to high interest rates, imposed by the Bank of Canada to achieve ridiculously low inflation. Nominal interest rates have finally been reduced (and so has the deficit), but not before the economy was dangerously weakened and unemployment driven to double-digit heights. Only the private banks and other big lenders and investors have profited from this policy, to the tune of many billions of dollars in interest payments. Unfortunately, few Canadians realize that the Bank of Canada is a public bank -- theirs -- and is supposed to serve the country. When it buys federal bonds, the interest paid goes back to the bank's sole shareholder -- the government representing the people of Canada. Between late 1989 and mid-1994, however, the Bank of Canada reduced its stock of government bonds by 38 %, while the now-wealthy private banks were allowed to increase theirs by 900 % -- sucking up many billions of taxpayers' dollars in interest charges. Scandalous. Again, this re-routing and privatization of the debt was achieved by the very people who claimed to be most concerned about the country's fiscal health. They succeeded in part because we live in an era of financial deregulation which is causing problems for Canada and the world. We are trying to survive in what can only be described as a "Casino Economy" where $4 trillion dollars a day changes hands in speculative currency, stock, bond, and futures commodity transactions on world markets. This is money divorced from the kind of productive investment which creates real jobs. How long can such short-sighted greed last? Good question.
15) "STARVATION DIET": The destructive revolt of Canada's wealthy elite -- those who prefer not to be governed -- is most blatant in its refusal to pay its fair share of the taxes needed to make the country's programs and institutions work. In fact, it has been estimated that up to 40 % of our original debt problem was due to decreased tax revenues from corporations and wealthy individuals. In the early 1970s, corporations paid 21 % of all income taxes, now they pay less than 6 %, and every year about $18 billion or more in profits go completely untaxed. In 1994, 81,000 profitable corporations avoided paying income taxes. Last year, the Auditor General's report listed the various ways corporations avoid paying taxes. The report also questioned a Revenue Canada decision allowing Seagrams to transfer more than $2 billion to the U.S. tax-free. (In an amazing display of Liberal bias, the Auditor General had his knuckles rapped for speaking out.) Corporations owe almost $40 billion in what are called "deferred" taxes. Yet they have been the most outspoken critics of government debt! Canada is one of the few countries without a wealth tax or an inheritance (wealth transfer) tax, and the concept of progressive taxation -- where the rich pay more for the common good because they enjoy more benefits -- is a thing of the past. Instead, we have more consumer taxes -- such as the GST and the Liberals' politically-motivated HST -- which hit the poor harder than the rich. Right-wing tax cut proposals are nothing more than another attempt to further weaken government and our ability to act collectively. (No money, no power!) Canadians tempted by these promised tax cuts should be aware that user fees have risen to more than $23 billion annually in recent years (twice the total amount of corporate taxation.)
16) "ASSISTANCE RESISTANCE": Businessman Conrad Black has ridiculed "the mad concept of trying to define a nationality and a country by its social programs." In its 1995 budget, the Liberal government catered to Black and his ilk by destroying the foundation of our social programs -- the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP). Killing CAP was easy because most Canadians didn't know what it was or why it existed. CAP was an attempt to provide equal and accessible programs and services across the country. Under CAP, the federal government helped fund provincial programs, including welfare, child care, independent living for people with disabilities and services for the sick and the elderly. But there were important strings attached: accessibility to anyone in need at a rate which reflected that need, an appeal mechanism and a ban on residency requirements. The federal government also funded health and education through Established Programs Financing (EPF). This separation of funding meant that provinces could not take money from the poor to pay doctors. But in its infamous 1995 budget, the Liberals combined CAP and EPF into the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST); they also removed all strings except the residency requirement leaving the provinces free to move the money around according to need or political expediency. The Liberals have also drastically cut transfer payments from $18 billion in 1995/96 to $9 billion by the year 2000. This means Ottawa will no longer have any real say over provincial spending, and talk of maintaining "national standards" is cynical and empty rhetoric. One final note: The government's efforts to improve its image by offering tax credits to the poor also reveals its ideological position. Tax credits work on an individual basis rather than a universal or collective one -- as the programs being destroyed were designed to do. Again, our sense of common purpose is being destroyed.
17) "POLITICAL MALPRACTICE": Medicare, another pillar of Canadian society, is being revenue starved into oblivion. As mentioned, the Liberals are cutting funding for social programs, including Medicare, by about 40 % over the next few years. At the same time, the CHST no longer designates what money must be spent on health care -- it could be spent on roads instead. A frustrated Ottawa doctor warned that governments are making the health-care system so ineffective that Canadians will soon be willing to throw Medicare away! This is exactly what right-wing lobby groups such as the Fraser Institute (which wants to get rid of the Canada Health Act) and corporations want Canadians to do. Powerful, private health-care firms south of the border are already taking advantage of every crack they see in our "socialist" health-care system. High-priced U.S. consultants are helping to transform our hospitals into efficient "corporations" run by people with degrees in business administration rather than health. These people talk of "quality merchandising" and are inclined to refer to cancer and other diseases as "product lines" So-called efficiency experts are "delayering" hospital staff; registered nurses are being downgraded or fired. At the same time, corporations such as U.S.-based Marriott Hotels have moved into areas ranging from food services to research. Under NAFTA, nothing can stop them.
(Canadians should keep in mind that the privatized U.S. system which we are being pushed to adopt is less efficient, but much more expensive in spite of the fact that 40 million people have no coverage.) As the Chretien government repeats its pro-Medicare mantra, it has spent much of the past few months defending the indefensible -- Bill C-91, the Drug Patent Act. While in opposition, the Liberals opposed Bill C-91 which extends patents to transnational drug companies to twenty years or more, making it almost impossible for Canadian-based generic drug companies to offer cheap alternatives. This has added great pressure to our health-care system increasing drug costs by billions of dollars. In spite of this, Industry Minister John Manley and Health Minister David Dingwall insist that Bill C-91 cannot be repealed -- because of NAFTA, the deal they signed. That's a pretty frightening diagnosis.
18) "SAME OLD STORY": The propaganda war around the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is another example of misinformation and public manipulation at this treacherous time in our history.
Quite simply, the banks, insurance companies, The Globe and Mail, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Liberal government, the World Bank and the right-wing generally have been ganging up on public pensions. They want to replace them with "Super RRSPs" which, like RRSPs, would be self-directed through huge financial institutions -- for a tidy profit. To do this, they attempted to erode public confidence in the CPP by creating another "crisis," spreading myths that the plan was "bankrupt," "unsustainable," and too expensive. (When the Liberals came into power, Canada had the lowest pension payroll tax rate among the major industrialized countries.) The Canadian Youth Foundation, a corporate front group headed by a CIBC executive, tried to whip up "inter-generational" conflict by arguing that public pensions were "unfair" to young people. In fact, the anti-CPP campaign was so blatantly distorted the National Council on Welfare, a federal government advisory body, cried foul saying the research behind a federal-provincial consultation paper on pensions was "shoddy." Knowing that Canadians would not accept full-scale privatization of pensions at this time, the Liberals announced that they would "save" the CPP by cutting benefits to the disabled, changing the premium structure in a way that hurts women, the working poor and part-time workers the most, raising premiums more quickly than necessary (to create a backlash, perhaps?), and privatizing the reserve fund. The Liberals refused to accept the B.C. government's suggestion to raise the upper contribution limit, thereby affecting wealthier Canadians instead. At a time when most Canadians can't afford private pensions -- 700,000 people cashed in their RRSPs early in 1994 -- and 53 % of elderly women are already living in poverty, attempts to wreck our public pension system are monstrous. Shame.
19) "HITTING THE ROOF": Necessity, in the form of cold weather, has forced most northern countries to deal with housing needs communally. For years, Canada was no exception. It founded the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to assist individual home-buyers; it subsidized public housing for the poor. But the former is threatened and the latter is now history. The Liberals have cut funding for public housing (except on Native reserves) and passed responsibilities in this area to the provinces, territories and municipalities. (It will continue to fund home maintenance and subsidies to meet its existing obligations.) Once a world leader in innovative and sensitive public housing, Canada is now the only OECD country without some form of national support for providing shelter. Also, federal and most provincial funding for community-based housing groups has been cut, thus threatening two decades of growing expertise in this area. At the same time, the CMHC is being downsized and compromised. To compete with a new giant in the mortgage insurance business -- the U.S. transnational GE Capital, as in General Electric, the CMHC is being "commercialized." This means it might soon have to put its own bottom-line before the needs of Canadian home-buyers. Ironically, at the United Nations' Habitat II conference last year, Canada supported a resolution which boldly declared that adequate housing is a basic human right which governments are obligated to provide! Perhaps, it's not surprising that the Liberal government has since withdrawn Canada's membership from the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements which promotes progressive housing policies around the world.
20) "DUMBING FOR DOLLARS": Because of funding cuts, primary, secondary and post-secondary systems of education are finding new ways to survive. With overcrowded classrooms, overworked teachers and fewer supplies, many are turning in desperation to the corporate sector. Naturally, business leaders are eager to promote their products to captive young audiences and influence their plaint minds. (One former Xerox CEO openly declared: "It's time for business to take ownership of the schools.") Hence, Pepsi machines in the hallways, Microsoft in the classrooms, corporate-run MBA programs, and corporate-funded research. The Liberals have handed Canada Student Loans to the banks, giving them too much say over who gets funding and how much. This at a time when tuition fees are rising by 10 % or more. (They have also made it more difficult for students and all Canadians to declare bankruptcy.) Few Canadians have heard of the Corporate Higher Education Forum (CHEF) -- made up of corporate leaders and university presidents and government officials -- which is working to bring about an "academic common market" in North America. Early in their mandate, the Liberals announced a program to promote joint student projects among the three NAFTA countries designed to "strengthen the human dimension of North American economic integration" (you can't get much clearer than that!). With such pressure to integrate with the U.S. system, as well as anti-public-school, anti-school-board attacks from the right, can private schools and universities be far off? Brad Lavigne, national chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, doesn't think so: "If the trend continues, by the time the Liberals are finished their second mandate, a two-tiered post-secondary system -- one for the rich and one for your kids -- will be a reality."
21) "DRAINING THE BRAINS": Research and development are a nation's way of investing in future improvements to its productive capacity and quality of life. Canada has long been seen as a slacker in this area; its total R & D expenditures are lower than in most industrial countries. We have slipped from fourth to twelfth in competitiveness among the OECD countries. That was why the Liberals devoted a section in their Red Book to the creation of "An Innovative Economy." They promised a Liberal government would play a more active role in supporting basic research. What has actually happened? Paul Martin's 1995-96 federal budget cut crucial R & D programs at Industry Canada, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment. By 1998, the National Research Council be cut by 15 %; the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council by 14 %; the Canadian Space Agency by 15 %; the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council by 14 %, and the Medical Research Council by 10 %. This year, the federal budget announced the creation of the Canada Foundation for Innovation which will distribute $900 million over the next five years to hospitals and universities for high-tech equipment and research facilities. But there's a catch. The feds will only provide 40 to 50 per cent of the research dollars needed for a project -- the rest must come from the private sector and elsewhere. This means projects might be more "commercially-driven" rather than "curiosity-driven." An economist with the Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters Canada put it bluntly: "We feel that universities should see themselves as suppliers of knowledge to industry." So much for the interests of society as a whole.
22) "CANADA MUST WORK": The country's work-force is being systematically degraded and downsized. Our official unemployment rate is about 10 %, but stands closer to 18 % if you include discouraged and underemployed workers. This is due in part to "downsizing" by those same corporations which promised that free trade would create jobs, jobs, jobs. In 1995, General Motors Canada increased its profits by 36 % and cut 2,500 jobs; CP Rail's profits jumped 75 % while it sacked 1,500 workers. A Canadian Labour Congress study has shown that women are losing whatever hard-won workplace gains and security they once had. Many are trapped in low-wage, part-time or temporary jobs with few or no benefits. The largest job growth area in the country is "self-employment" which can be insecure and low-paying. Now, with the workforce on its knees, the Liberals are telling foreign corporations to invest in Canada -- because we have the lowest labour costs among the G-7 nations! (NAFTA ensures that the government can't require investors to actually create jobs.) But, beware, Paul Martin is still complaining about labour rigidities -- he must mean those troublesome 20th-century innovations such as unions and minimum wages. The heartless changes to Unemployment Insurance (now called Employment Insurance in true Orwellian fashion) -- longer eligibility periods, shorter duration and lower benefits -- are another example of harmonizing with the U.S. in the name of competition. Desperate workers come cheap. (Money isn't the issue. The UI fund will have a $12-billion surplus by the end of the year! Much of this was contributed by workers in good faith, but now they are being told they can't have it when they need it.) Again, the UI changes were finessed by a misinformation campaign which blamed high unemployment figures on "lazy" workers and overly-generous UI payments. However, in 1971, when UI was almost universally available (it now covers about 40 % of workers) at a more generous rate, unemployment stood at 6.5 %. Go figure.
23) "THE REAL DEFICIT": About 1.5 million Canadian children live in poverty. UNICEF places us 16th out of 18 developed countries in terms of the gravity of the problem. Our rate of youth unemployment is 17 %. What is this country doing to its future citizens? Astonishingly, as the Liberals toughened the Young Offenders Act to combat a mythical increase in youth crime, they cut funding for groups assisting the most vulnerable young people -- such as the National Youth In Care Network, which helps kids in foster homes and institutions. The Liberal Red Book promised to provide 50,000 new child-care spaces a year -- up to 150,000 -- once the country achieved 3 % growth in GDP. The economy certainly hasn't been booming, but the government passed no child-care related legislation at all. Instead, it cut child- care funding, and appeared eager to dump yet another "problem" onto the provinces. (Only about 16 per cent of children 13 years or under who need regulated, affordable child care for at least 20 hours a week get it.) What about the much-touted Child Tax Benefit in the last federal budget? Well, it does nothing for children whose parents are on social assistance; it actually cuts benefits for 300,000 single-child, low-income families, and it doesn't help anyone for more than a year ... Saying that "no group faces bleaker economic prospects than Canadians under 25," the Liberal Red Book promised to spend millions to get young people back to work. After a weak start, it announced a youth summer job and internship program totalling $350 million over two years -- directed at university and college students. When the government held its first National Youth Conference, it refused to invite the Canadian Federation of Students which represents 375,000 post-secondary students, saying "lobby groups" weren't welcome. Instead, the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, funded by the Royal Bank, attended. This year, the conference is sponsored by the CIBC. Ordinary young people need not apply.
24) "CULTURAL PUNISHMENT": Keith Kelly of the Canadian Conference of the Arts says the Liberals have "absolutely no commitment to Canadian arts and culture." That means they have no real desire to protect the ability of Canadians to express themselves or to communicate with each other. National cultural agencies have lost an average of 10 % of their funding -- with Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board and the National Archives hardest hit. They are being told to "commercialize" their operations and maximize their revenue potential through strategic partnerships with the private sector. Imagine: the National Archives signing on with Microsoft; the Museum of Nature with Disney (along with the RCMP). Spare us! The Canada Council has told artists they should create -- or, perhaps more accurately, produce -- art that sells. What will this do to talent that might not readily make it in the retail business? Many of Canada's greatest artists don't "sell" well. And now, Trade Minister Art Eggleton is talking about ending cultural protection in this country. (Remember, this is a politician who wants to give transnational corporations a free hand with the Multilateral Agreement on Investments.) What protection? Right now, 85 % of newsstand magazines are non-Canadian; 96 % of cinema screenings are non-Canadian. But Eggleton's words aren't idle musings. The government is stripping away the foundations of our national culture. The Cultural Development and Heritage Program and the Cultural Initiatives Program have lost millions. So, too, have the Book Publishing Industry Development Program, the Publication Distribution Assistance Program (Books) and the Postal Subsidy Program. Then there's the CBC -- hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs slashed. One of the most important bonding agents in the land savaged. When Canadian Graham Spry and others lobbied for a public broadcasting system in the 1930s, their rallying cry was: "It's the state or the United States." Enough said.
25) "BLACK AND BLUE": Democratic nations need a diverse and independent media to enable their citizens to share their knowledge, experiences and opinions. Canada has gone a long way in the past year toward losing this fundamental right. As the Liberals turn a blind eye, our highly-concentrated, corporate-dominated print media have become even more so with the avenging-angel-style return of Conrad Black from self-imposed exile in Britain. Black has extended his newspaper empire to 58 of our 104 dailies, giving him access to almost half of Canadian homes. He owns more than 80 % of all Ontario dailies, 100 % of those in Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan (although an alternative has appeared). This is too much power and influence for any one person in a democratic country -- especially someone with an aggressive and elitist right-wing agenda and a general disdain for journalism. It seems ironic that there is concern in the U.S. because 11 companies control half the circulation there! Black's onslaught has already meant layoffs (which he calls "drowning the kittens"), firings, resignations, and the end of Canadian Press (CP) as a truly co-operative newsgathering and sharing institution in this country. (Coverage of the federal government is dangerously weak. In the late 1980s, for example, CP had 50 staff members covering Parliament Hill, now it has 18.) In New Brunswick, all four English-language newspapers are owned by the powerful Irving family, and in Quebec, 10 out of 11 dailies are owned by Black, Pierre Peladeau or Chretien-mentor Paul Desmarais. There is increased corporate concentration -- and American ownership -- in other forms of media as well, forcing Canadians into the role of passive consumers in the crucial area of communications. This does not bode well for the dynamism of our relatively-young democracy.
26) "WHY RESENT DISSENT?": Black's control of so much of our print media would not be as dangerous if it weren't for the fact that, at the same time, the voices of Canada's civil society are being silenced. Funding cuts by the federal Tories and Liberals and many provinces to citizens' groups (often derisively called "special interest groups" by the right) representing women, natives, seniors, people with disabilities, environmentalists and others have had a devastating impact. Groups have folded; staff have been laid off; projects collapsed, and lobbying efforts weakened. The federal government knows what it is doing. It obviously appreciates the value of a dynamic and healthy civil society because it has helped to fund the growth of such groups in post-communist countries in order to foster and protect the development of democracy -- and private enterprise -- there. This policy is based on the long-held political premise that a truly democratic society needs an active and aware citizenry in order to balance the power of government or any other potential power abusers. Edmund Burke, the conservative philosopher of the 1700s, supported the existence of "the little platoons of society" in order to maintain social dynamism and keep ideas flowing. But in the increasingly Brave New World that is Canada in the 1990s, this is hardly the case. The corporate elite has little tolerance for organized dissent, and it certainly sees no reason why the government should fund those who are hurt by and oppose its plans for the country. Enough said.
27) "THE FINISH LINE": Olympic sprinter Bruni Surim has said he runs for himself, his sponsor and his nation -- in that order. With government cuts to amateur sport, it's no wonder IBM, Bell Canada and Finesse might claim Canadian athletes' loyalty before the country. Like culture, sports can and should be wonderful grassroots expressions of community pride and patriotism. But can that survive in our pared-down, bottom-line-dominated nation? Sport Canada, now buried somewhere in the Heritage Ministry, has endured a funding drop from $72 million to $48.8 million over the past four years. In turn, it has compiled a list of amateur sport organizations -- in some kind of order of merit, perhaps established by Heritage Minister Sheila Copps -- and has begun chopping from the bottom. 21 of the 58 traditionally-funded groups have lost all assistance for training and administration so far. The others await their call. What this means is that fewer Canadians in these sports will be able to reach their potential. And, as one observer said, when personal wealth because the decisive factor, "the rich kids can always go somewhere to compete, the poor kids stay home." Just like it was in the 1940s and '50s before the government stepped in to make things fairer. (The good old days for some!) At the same time, the corporatization of professional sports is challenging Canadians' sense of community spirit and belonging. We no longer cheer for local heroes who represent us; we cheer for unknown mercenaries making big bucks working for someone's profitable business.
28) "ASSIMILATION AGENDA": You can judge the health and future prospects of any society by the way it treats its minorities. Canadians share their country with a growing Aboriginal community whose traditional lands and way of life are being threatened as cities and towns expand and resources are exploited. Our First Nations are demanding security, recognition and respect -- not that much really. Before the last election, the Liberals promised a renewed partnership between natives and non-natives, a comprehensive consultation process, support for an independent land claims commission and the recognition of the inherent right to self-government. Instead, the Chretien government is consulting, negotiating and "cutting deals" selectively; it is undermining native unity and leadership; it has not set up an independent land claims commission, and it has ignored the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. David Nahwegahbow, who helped develop the Liberals' pre-election Aboriginal policies, admits he feels "betrayed." He says they are dismantling Indian Affairs as promised, but in a way that seems driven by cost cuts rather than policy. They have pared down the support system without putting alternative structures and mechanisms in place. Many native leaders fear that proposed changes to the Indian Act will replace communally-held lands with a more individualistic system, leading the way to (you guessed it!) increased commercialization, greater division in communities and the eventual termination of Indian Status. In other words, the destruction of a culture and way of life -- assimilation.
29) "HOMAGE TO YUGOSLAVIA": It is not difficult to see why many Quebecers are ready to abandon the concept of Canada. Despite the federal government's multi-million-dollar throw-away on flags and unity propaganda, the demise of many of our institutions, programs and symbols and the government's BCNI-inspired Plan A -- decentralization -- are enough to demoralize the most ardent patriot. In fact, Tory and Liberal obsessions with the unity issue appear to be, at least in part, nothing more than a smokescreen as the country is being dismantled. Sadly, even the new BQ leader, Gilles Duceppe, has admitted that he doesn't understand the push to decentralize the rest of Canada. Such a move will not satisfy Quebec separatists, he says, and will only weaken Canada. Duceppe admits that the diminished federal role in Quebec might actually be helpful to his separatist cause: "If they (Quebecers) receive nothing (from Ottawa), of course that will be an argument for us." The floundering economy and the weakening of the federal government's social contract with Quebec have more impact than all the years of political wrangling. As one Quebecer put it: "You can't eat the constitution." After their lacklustre efforts before the 1995 referendum, the Liberals' Plan B get-tough-with-separatists approach rings hollow, and might well be increasing support for sovereignty. It is also polarizing Quebecers. A refugee from the former Yugoslavia once told me that his country degenerated into civil war because, unlike Canada, politicians there exploited the fears and divisions among the people. Watching the antics of the Liberals and other politicians, as well as some business leaders and opinion-makers, the difference seems less and less apparent.
30) "THE UGLY CANADIAN": Many Canadians travelling abroad have commented on the positive reaction they received with the simple words: "I'm from Canada." That, too, is being threatened. This country has earned an excellent international reputation because of past deeds: our record in two world wars, a multilateral approach to global problem-solving, 50 years of support for UN peacekeeping operations, relatively generous immigration and refugee policies, the dedication of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as CUSO and Oxfam Canada in developing countries, and a determination to be different from the U.S. But our image as a fair dealer is being tarnished by Tory and Liberal governments' knee-jerk support for aggressive U.S. policies (such as the most recent bombing of Iraq), our peacekeepers' behaviour in Somalia and Bosnia (a by-product of compromised military and political leadership), a head tax and new restrictions on immigrants, and the "Team Canada" policy of putting trade before human rights. As well, greedy, environmentally-callous and culturally-insensitive Canadian entrepreneurs -- in mining, for example -- are giving the country a bad name. (Did I hear Bre-X?) Equally important to the way the world sees us (and we see ourselves) are Liberal cuts to Overseas Development Aid -- now at its lowest in 30 years. A $46-million cut to NGOs has seriously impaired their programs and effectiveness in developing countries, especially in Africa. At the same time, Canadian arms -makers sell their goods to warring countries for big bucks. Cry, my beloved country.
Individually, none of these 30 changes has the potential to deal a fatal blow to the kind of Canada most of us cherish and want to preserve. But the cumulative impact over time can and will have one result -- to destroy the institutions, the traditions, the cultural values, the public services and the political integrity of this nation. In other words, to diminish or even destroy Canada.
This is the corporate strategy or agenda. Its purpose is to commercialize, privatize and plunder everything that can possibly be operated for a profit, including our health-care and education systems. Canada is being remodelled to fit more easily into the transnational's New World Order, and our eventual assimilation into an enormous trade bloc -- the United States of the Americas.
The Chretien Liberals have speeded up the "corporatization" process begun under the Mulroney Tories. But it is important to realize that the history and platforms of the Charest Tories and the Reform Party show that they would eagerly do the same.
If we are to save Canada, we must demand more from our politicians -- but we must also demand more from ourselves. Very few Canadians are politically active, even politically or economically literate. To be inactive or apathetic at this time in Canada's history is something many will later regret. As the above article demonstrates, the great majority of us are under siege -- students, teachers, workers, artists, single parents, the elderly, natives, farmers, fishers, immigrants, journalists, the unemployed, the underemployed and many more.
It is time to act -- together.