A Year of Broken Liberal Promises

On the Oct. 15-16 weekend, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Canada met in Toronto to analyze global and domestic developments since the CPC’s convention last May. The meeting adopted a political report, including the following sections on the Trudeau Liberal government’s first year in office.

The bloom is off the rose for the Liberals who have finally lost some of the broad support they have enjoyed since their election a year ago. The reasons are straightforward: lack of delivery on the promises made during the election and in the March federal budget.

Chief among them are the broken promises to Indigenous Peoples to embrace the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to respect Aboriginal sovereignty and the environment by opposing pipelines, fracking, and other development on Aboriginal lands. The Liberals have lobbied hard for the now defunct Keystone XL pipeline, indicated their strong support for the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline, for Energy East, Line 9 in Ontario and Quebec, and for fracking in northern BC. They have just approved the Site C Dam on the Peace River, which will run through Treaty 8 lands which are environmentally sensitive and unique.

In response, more than 50 Indigenous nations from all over North America formed a treaty alliance “to resist the use of our respective territories and coasts in connection with the expansion of the production of the Alberta tar sands, including for the transport of such expanded production, whether by pipeline, rail or tanker.”

On September 28, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced the government’s support for the Pacific Northwest LNG (liquefied natural gas) project which includes a pipeline through northern BC and a plant on Lelu Island in the mouth of the Skeena River where the gas will be turned into a liquid for transport on deep-sea tankers to Asia.        McKenna tried to cover up the betrayal focusing on “the 190 legally binding, and scientifically determined conditions” attached to the approval, but she couldn’t hide the environmental devastation that the project will reap, or sidestep the opposition and anger of the Indigenous Peoples, which had already reached boiling point with the approval of the Site C Dam.

During the election the Liberals also promised to advance significant investments in Aboriginal education, healthcare, housing, social programs, and job creation, very little of which has been delivered. The Assembly of First Nations, and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society have endorsed the Canadian Human Rights’ Tribunal’s court case aimed to compel the federal government to deliver equitable education and services to Aboriginal children on reserve as it does to all other children in Canada. Two orders have been issued against the government to deliver these services since January.

The government also promised to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including recognition and compensation to the survivors of the Sixties Scoop, but is still fighting class-action lawsuits against survivors.

The government has also lost public support for endorsing the inadequate climate change targets set by the Harper government, the $10 per tonne carbon tax (rising to $50 per tone in 2022), and for long delays and “consultations” on everything from the post office, to Bill C-51, electoral reform, the TPP, AND foreign policy. These look more and more like stalling tactics, rather than real public consultations, with an extraordinarily narrow focus, and very short time allowed to hear from the public…

A visit to the House of Commons by IMF Chair Christine Lagarde in September, left no doubt that the IMF sees the Liberal government and their policies of support for CETA and stimulus spending as vital on a global scale. “I very much hope Canadian economic policies would go viral” she told media.

For his part, PM Trudeau said, “What Canada offers to the world right now … characterized by populism and anti-globalization, is an approach that offers political, financial, economic, social stability, predictability and openness to globalization.”

He added that the government will offer to the Blackrock Group (one of the biggest pools of private capital in the world) meeting in Toronto in October, “a more innovative and cleaner” natural resources sector, and a growing list of “opportunities” for public-private partnerships in infrastructure.

What the PM offers is huge subsidies for the trans-national mining companies, and more struggles over Indigenous land rights and environmental concerns, along with privatization of public assets and services. This massive sell-off will also generate the capital needed to fund the promises in current and future government budgets, since corporate taxation is out of bounds (and lowering the corporate tax rate even further is still on the Liberals to-do list). The Liberals’ real agenda starts to appear.

What’s not on their agenda is good jobs in industry and manufacturing and in housing construction, higher wages, higher pensions, plant closure legislation, jobs for youth, pay and employment equity, or expansion of Employment Insurance. In fact, plant closures continue at a steady pace, along with layoffs. Low wages and precarious work, combined with soaring levels of household debt, are leading to conditions of absolute and relative impoverishment.

Instead, we need expansion of the public sector including the expansion of Medicare to include vision, dental and long term care; Pharmacare, and the nationalization of the pharmaceutical industry; a universally accessible, affordable quality public childcare system; free post-secondary education and stipends for students; an emergency program to build and repair 1 million units of affordable social housing; public investment in public infrastructure; and immediate action to provide equitable and needs-based funding for education, healthcare, housing, social programs, infrastructure and jobs to Indigenous Peoples across Canada.

Rather than corporate investment in public assets and services, we need to double the corporate tax rate, restore the capital tax, increase the capital gains tax to tax 100% of the gain, put wealth and inheritance taxes on estates over $1 million, close tax loopholes and collect unpaid and deferred corporate taxes. We need to close off access to offshore tax havens, and to nationalize the banks and insurance companies.

Instead of austerity and capitalist globalization, we need public investment in good jobs, higher wages, pensions, and higher living standards for all. We need strong universal social programs, an environmentally sustainable industrial and manufacturing policy, public ownership and control of natural and energy resources, a multi-lateral trade policy that is mutually beneficial, and a foreign policy of peace and disarmament that cuts the military budget by 75%.

That’s the stimulus spending that’s urgently needed to get the economy moving, not the fire sale of public assets and services proposed by the Liberals.

One key target of the privatizers is Canada’s universal Medicare program. Dr. Brian Day’s Charter Challenge to the BC Medicare Protection Act is being heard by the BC Supreme Court this fall. Day is a long time proponent of a parallel private system which would co-exist with Medicare, paid for by private billing of patients or their private healthcare insurance providers. In other words Day is fighting to replace the single payer system that underpins Canadian Medicare, with a multi-payer system that will enrich doctors and insurance companies and allow the wealthy to jump the queue for medical treatment, while parasitically sucking the life-blood out of the public system.

Day’s challenge is not to the Canada Health Act directly, but to the section of the provincial Act concerning extra-billing. If successful, his challenge will be a mortal blow to Medicare. It will open Canada up to a parallel private healthcare system based on ability to pay, not on the universal right of citizens to healthcare anywhere in the country. Most Canadians are unaware of this Charter case or of what is at stake here. This is privatization by stealth.

Successive Liberal and Tory governments have looked the other way at provincial governments that allow extra-billing, rarely enforcing the Canada Health Act’s prohibitions on extra-billing or using its powers to withhold federal healthcare transfers to the offending provinces. Until now, extra-billing has mainly occurred as private clinics move in to charge patients for services which provincial Health ministries have de-listed from Medicare coverage.

If Day is successful, every medical service and procedure will be available for a price, for those wealthy enough to jump the queue in the public system. Further, the private system will take patients with easily treatable illnesses or conditions, leaving the under-funded public system to treat patients with complex conditions and illnesses. Doctors interested in medicine as a business will be attracted to the private sector where the paydays are much bigger. Before long, the public system will become chronically and fatally ill, as the whole system is transferred into the private sector. This is what the US HMOs are impatiently waiting for, once their entry into Canada is permitted, if the courts support Day’s challenge. Further, the investor state dispute settlement sections of NAFTA would make it difficult if not impossible for future governments to reverse course and restore a single payer system in Canada.

Clearly this vital issue cannot be left to the courts to determine without public opinion making itself heard loud and clear. The Canadian Health Coalition has intervener status in this case, and is mobilizing support across the country to defend Medicare. We should do everything we can to broaden this struggle and make the public aware of what is at stake. Mobilizations and public actions in support of Medicare can impact both the courts and parliament. Medicare is a universal social program and a right that must be defended at all costs, by all Canadians whose health and well-being depend on it.

The Liberals have put another nail in Medicare’s coffin by reducing healthcare transfers to the provinces to 3% – half of what the transfers were under the Harper government, and far less than what is needed to keep Medicare afloat. Healthcare unions are calling for restoration of transfer to 25%, and we support that demand as a first step towards the 50% of healthcare costs that the federal government should pay, leaving the other 50% to be paid by the provinces.

This spring and summer, the Liberals have launched consultations on a whole slew of issues, providing good media optics, but little real opportunity for the public to be heard. Such is the case on electoral reform. We have not been included as a presenter in the consultations, though we have filed a written brief reiterating our support for a Mixed Member Proportion system to make every vote count, without any threshold barrier to small party representation. We also indicated our view that while corporate donations should be banned, donations from trade unions should not be banned. Corporate donations represent the private for-profit interests of the corporation, while donations from unions represent the collective interests of people – workers.

Further, the financial doings of corporations are virtually impervious to access while the financial doings of trade unions are regularly reported to their members and are tightly controlled by government regulations and easily accessible to government audit. We also indicated our view that limits on expenditures by political parties should be sharply reduced; that subsidies to political parties based on votes should be eliminated; that universal door to door enumeration should be restored; that all-candidates meetings during an election should include all candidates and Leaders’ debates should include all party leaders…

We do not support the various other electoral systems being reviewed including Single Transferable Vote or Ranked Ballots, which would result in virtually the same unequal distribution of parliamentary seats as at present, and would not make every vote count. These proposals don’t reflect a democratization of the voting system. Nor do we support mandatory voting which punishes voters, rather than engaging them with meaningful policies that address important issues.

Another consultation was on the future of the post office and the review of postal services. We have submitted our views in a brief, as well as attending many of the consultations, where opposition to privatization plans were vocal. Business interests were very well represented in these hearings and in others too. We call for the restoration of door to door to delivery across Canada, and the expansion of services in the post office to include postal banking. We also stated that Canada Post must respect free collective bargaining, negotiate in good faith, and end its attacks on its employees and their union.

Another consultation is on National Security and Bill C-51. During the election, the Liberals promised to amend this legislation, but in fact they would be quite happy to keep it as is. Bill C-51 is a threat to civil, democratic and labour rights, allowing for arbitrary arrest and detention, secret trials, and massive spying on individuals and organizations without cause or legal justification. The rights afforded to the police under the legislation leave protesters and striking workers and their unions subject to arbitrary arrest and detention if their actions “interfere with critical infrastructure”. The public, and the labour and democratic movements must intervene to force the government to rescind this legislation.

The Liberals have yet to make known their decision on the TPP, but they have certainly embraced CETA and are encouraging their European counterparts to show the same enthusiasm for the deal. While CETA has been ratified (by the Harper government), the TPP still has to be ratified by Parliament.

Significant opposition has developed against the TTIP in Europe, and against the TPP in the USA, Mexico, Canada and Japan. The TPP has dominated the US election, as the real impacts of capitalism globalization become felt: mass job losses and unemployment, de-industrialization and loss of sovereignty; slashed wages, benefits, and working conditions and pensions; reduced social expenditures; environmental degradation; and loss of civil, democratic and labour rights…

If the US does not ratify the TPP, the deal is effectively dead. That is why Trudeau and the Liberals are waiting before opening up a debate in Parliament that can only cost them support and congeal a growing extra-parliamentary opposition. This is why the campaign against the TPP needs to ramp up. The Liberals need to know that they’ll have a fight on their hands from coast to coast. This deal can be defeated – as were the MAI and the FTAA – but a strong, vocal and visible opposition is crucial.

 



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