I consider myself a nationalist. I believe in Canada and want to see it do well. I don’t get all choked up about flags or symbols, as George Carlin said, “I leave symbols for the symbol minded.” For me, there its all about the people. Are the people doing well? Are they leading happy, secure lives? I’m also an economic nationalist. I want Canada’s economy to provide a good, middle class life for its people. Barring any sort of social revolution, the best way people can obtain a good, middle class lifestyle is through a good job.
Problem is, good jobs, or any jobs, are becoming harder and harder to find in Canada. Many have gone overseas to Third World countries where wages are lower. Now foreign temporary workers are brought in to Canada to work for lower wages than Canadians. There simply aren’t enough Canadians employed in the Canadian economy anymore.
But you have to be careful in criticizing these things, because arguments against offshoring or foreign workers often fall pretty close to downright racist views about ‘foreigners taking our jobs’. Poor workers in Third World sweatshops or Foreign Temporary Workers aren’t capable of taking our jobs. They’re just trying to make a living, feed their families, just like you or me. Most of them have things way worse than we do. In China, for example, where a lot of our jobs went, you can’t even complain about the government without the risk of going into a prison labour camp. The uncomfortable truth is that foreigners didn’t take our jobs. Our own government and businesses gave them away.
It was democratically elected Canadian governments that signed Free Trade Deals and Canadian and Foreign-owned businesses operating in Canada that took advantage of these deals to move jobs overseas. It was our own government that set up special programs to allow businesses in Canada to hire foreign workers for a fraction of our wages. Its easy to beat up on poor foreign workers who have no power or rights in our country, but these people have no real control over the policies and programs that cost Canadian jobs. If we really want to change things we need to place blame where it belongs.
Can there be a nationalism that doesn’t resort to racism and hating foreigners? I believe there can be. Its not a nationalism based on race or religion. Its based on a shared commitment to the country we all live in. As far as I’m concerned, a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, no matter their colour, religion, ancestry or how long they’ve lived here. I don’t care if you hyphenate your Canadian identity. I don’t care if you weir a veil. If you’re a citizen, if you live here, pay taxes here, vote here, raise your kids here, then you’re a Canadian.
That said, I do think it’s the responsibility of a government to put its citizens first. I feel bad for foreign workers but I think their struggle for a better life begins in their own country, just like our struggle is here. It just doesn’t make sense to have Canadians unemployed while Canadian jobs go overseas or are done by Foreign Temporary Workers. We can’t employ the entire world. But I think there’s a big difference between wanting to see all Canadians employed and hating foreign workers for a situation they didn’t create.
Again and again recent polls show the federal Conservatives and Liberals essentially tied. We’re heading into the home stretch before this fall’s election with a very different dynamic than the past two years of Liberals leading by 5-10%. What does this mean for the next election?
The Conservatives have been trying very hard to change the channel recently, from the economy, their former strong point, to terrorism (and anti-Muslim prejudice more generally). I’m not sure this will work in the long run, but it might have been enough to give him a bit of a boost recently.
But probably more so than any other issue, more than the economy or terrorism, the next election is likely to be about Harper himself. He’s a polarizing figure. Those that like him, like him (note I didn’t say love), and those that don’t like him just plain hate him. This means that the next election will really be a contest between Harper and whoever is seen as having the best chance of defeating him.
So who is that? I think some of the shine has worn off Trudeau recently. Too many dumb comments and too many cynical moves that contradict his ‘different politics’ brand. But the Liberals are still ahead of the NDP by over 10%, so they could still be seen as the best shot for those who want Harper out. In actual fact, the NDP could end up doing very bad if the Conservatives remain competitive.
Consider the 1993 election. Seriously, you should look it up, because it was an historic election in Canada’s history, a game-changer that saw the rise of two new parties and two established parties get almost wiped out.
But first, some background. The previous two elections were won by Brian Mulroney and the old federal Progressive Conservative Party. Mulroney contributed three lasting legacies to our national politics, none of which could be described as very popular. The first, which I complain endlessly about, was Free Trade. No need to go into that here, suffice to say, IMO it was a disaster for Canada and set us on a long downward slide. The second was the GST, a federal sales tax that I don’t really think was so bad, but which anti-tax crusaders on both the left and the right hate. Yeah, yeah, I know, ‘taxes bad’. Whatever.
The third was his constitutional efforts. When Trudeau Sr. brought our constitution home in 1982, Quebec refused to sign on. Mulroney, an Anglophone Quebeccer with a strong base in the province, was determined to bring Quebec in. So he pursued two constitutional amendments, the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord, both of which failed and both of which seemed to piss just about everybody in Canada off.
Given this legacy, it should come as no surprise that the Tories were REALLY unpopular by 1993. On top of this, their main support bases in the West and Quebec were undermined by two Reform and the Bloc Quebecois. Mulroney jumped ship and left poor Kim Campbell in charge.
Isn’t that ironic? Canada gets its first ever female Prime Minister, but only as a sacrificial lamb. Campbell’s Tories got the worst defeat in Canadian history. They went from a majority of 156 seats to just 2. NO TYPO, THEY LOST 154 SEATS. To be fair, their support didn’t decline as much as their seat totals, that’s just the magic of our highly un-proportional electoral system.
But the PCs weren’t the only ones to suffer that night. The NDP went from what at the time was their best ever showing of 44 seats to only 9. Neither the NDP nor the PCs won enough seats to qualify for official party status. While the unpopular Ontario NDP government of Bob Rae and the rise of Reform in the West contributed to NDP losses, they also lost a lot of support to the Liberals through strategic voting against the Tories.
Which brings us to 2015, where I see a strong possibility for history to repeat itself, at least for the NDP. Even though Trudeau is doing himself no favours lately in winning over leftwing voters (i.e. voting for Harper’s new anti-terror bill), anti-Harper voters may still swing behind the Liberals just to get Harper out, producing a Liberal majority government and an NDP rump more like its pre-2011 days than their currently projected 62 seats.
Surprisingly, it’s a Conservative, our 13th Prime Minister, John George Diefenbaker. Although this might seem surprising, it also bears mentioning that this was a different era, when politics as a whole was to the left of our current political culture. Conservatives back then were still called ‘Progressive’.
Diefenbaker was born in Neustadt, Ontario, but moved to Saskatchewan at age 8 where he grew up to become a lawyer before entering politics. Though his early political career was marked by many defeats, both provincially and federally, after 15 years of trying he was elected as MP for Lake Centre in 1940.
Despite strong support in Saskatchewan and reputation as an inspiring public speaker, Diefenbaker’s repeated bids for party leadership faced stiff opposition from Ontario members, especially Bay Street Tories who disliked his prairie populism. It was not until 1956, on his third attempt in 14 years that Dief won leadership of his party. He would go on to win a minority government from the complacent Liberals in 1957, followed by what remains proportionately the biggest majority in Canadian history in 1958, before rapidly losing popularity and power in 1962 and 1963.
Despite his short term in office, Diefenbaker the Prime Minister left a lasting impact on our political culture. Owing to his upbringing on a poor prairie farm, Dief introduced extensive support for farmers, and helped sell prairie wheat to China, an important diplomatic recognition at the time.
He also began a Royal Commission that would eventually produce public healthcare, increased pensions and began an ambitious national development program, aimed primarily at the North but also including the Maritimes. While committed to trade with the Commonwealth, he was wary of American control over the Canadian economy and expressed a strong economic nationalism.
Having faced racism due to his German background in his political career, Dief was a firm believer in the equality of all Canadians and all people around the world. While an opposition MP during WWII he opposed the internment of Japanese Canadians. As PM he appointed the first woman and first Ukrainian Canadian to cabinet and the first Aboriginal Canadian to the Senate. He gave Inuit and First Nations the vote, and opposed English-French dualism as making all other Canadians second-class citizens. Internationally, he supported the independence of non-white Commonwealth countries, and succeeded in getting Apartheid South Africa kicked out of the Commonwealth.
He was also a strong believer in civil rights, including freedom of speech, belief and association. Despite the tense politics of the Cold War, he successfully blocked a campaign from his own party to outlaw the Communist Party of Canada, and as PM refused to join in on US anti-Cuba hostilities. He also introduced Canada’s first Bill of Rights, guaranteeing freedom of speech and equality rights, over two decades in advance of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But perhaps most of all, I like Diefenbaker the best because of his reputation for being a passionate speaker that never lost sight of the common person. He could inspire people with his words, and in the 1958 election regularly filled venues both big and small with average people come to hear him speak. He had a vision for Canada, and was never shy about sharing his beliefs. In this day and age of talking points, ‘staying on message’, or consulting the polls and strategists before any major policy move (i.e. the NDP’s recent opposition to Bill C-51, which should have been immediate like Elizabeth May, not delayed over two weeks), the honesty and passion of politicians like Diefenbaker, or of Tommy Douglas, strikes a chord in me.
I want my politicians to inspire with a vision for a different Canada, not read from a teleprompter about ‘practical, affordable change’. Are these days gone? Are there no more men and women of integrity who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, no matter what the political consequences are? Maybe, just maybe, they could provide the spark to ignite a movement to bring real change, and inspire some of the 40% of Canadians who don’t vote.
This is really just a press release dressed up as a proper article, but I will attempt to dissect it as it is basically a counter argument to the reasons I left the NDP. Cutting out the fluff, vague generalities and talking points, we get the following ways in which the NDP says it offers an alternative:
“While Mr. Harper has proposed another round of tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 per cent, Mr. Mulcair has proposed a plan for quality, affordable childcare that will cost families no more than $15-a-day.”
Fair enough, though I think the 8 year implementation is pretty unambitious. What if you don’t get that second term?
“Where Conservatives have allowed fast-food chains like McDonalds to pay temporary foreign workers 15 per cent less than Canadian workers, the NDP has proposed a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage.”
The $15/hour minimum wage sounds good until you do a little research and realize it only applies to a small part of the Canadian workforce, and most of these already earn more than that. Furthermore, as with daycare, this is a longterm goal, phased in over four years. I’d be more impressed if it was an immediate increase. Inflation is likely to eat up much of this over four years. This is more symbolic than substantive.
Also, what is the NDP’s position on Foreign Temporary Workers? If its such a bad program I”m sure they’d either abolish it or at least seriously reform it? Uhhh, hello? (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQFEY9RIRJA)
“While Mr. Harper makes it harder for Canadians to retire, Mr. Mulcair plans to roll back OAS eligibility to 65 years.”
This is good but it bears pointing out that the increase in age isn’t slated to begin for another 18 years, so its also more of a symbolic move. That’s five elections away and alot could happen between now and then. How about raising the currently low rates for OAS and CPP right now so no more Canadians retires into poverty?
“While Mr. Harper plans to cut health-care transfers to the provinces, Mr. Mulcair defends our universal health care as a core value.”
Vague generality – are you going to give more money to the provinces, crack down on private clinics or what? This is a talking point, not an actual policy difference.
“Mr. Harper has given a blank cheque to the oil and gas industry, he’s ignored every other sector of our economy and put us all at the mercy of falling oil prices. He’s heaped tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks on the boardroom tables of the most profitable corporations – even as small businesses have struggled and hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have disappeared.
Mr. Mulcair wants to reduce taxes for small businesses – not just the biggest, most-profitable corporations. He wants to jumpstart manufacturing by helping companies invest in new equipment.”
Lets start with the economic/jobs portion. In contrast to the Conservative corporate tax cuts, the NDP is going to give tax cuts to smaller businesses. This move has been criticized from both the right and the left as benefitting the rich more than struggling small businesses (see here and here). I would add a further criticism that they don’t work – governments of all stripes have been doing this for decades now and we’ve still lost jobs. Also, you can’t argue the NDP is different for offering tax cuts to create jobs because THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THE LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES DO.
Next there’s tax policy. The Conservatives are criticized for their corporate tax cuts. OK, so what’s the NDP position on this? They have said in the past they’d raise corporate taxes to pre-Harper levels, aiming for combined federal and provincial corporate tax rates equal to the American rate of 40%. WHY NOT SAY THIS? I’ve also heard them talk about cracking down on tax loopholes and evasion. Is this still on the table? Instead of repeating talking points and criticizing the other parties, just tell us clearly what you would do different.
“And Mr. Mulcair wants to build a more balanced, sustainable economy by ending subsidies to oil companies and making polluters pay for the pollution they create.”
Ending subsidies is a good, clear point. Making polluters pay needs clarification. Are we talking Carbon Tax, Cap and Trade or what?
Left out are a host of other big issues such as First Nations, foreign policy, education and other social funding, equalization payments, etc. But two I’d most like to see dealt with are Trade and Taxes.
What is the NDP’s position on Free Trade? It used to say it was bad and agreements like NAFTA should be renegotiated. Is that still the case. I think there’s a large chunk of Canadians who (rightly IMO) see Free Trade as costing Canada jobs. These lost jobs reduce government revenue and make social programs like EI and Welfare more expensive, playing a big part in ongoing fiscal problems. Free Trade encourage a ‘race to the bottom’ where Canadians have to compete with Third World sweatshop wages (not to mention Temporary Foreign Workers). The ability of companies to move their operations overseas also makes taxation and regulation problematic. Its been said countless times, Free Trade undermines our sovereignty. Why not talk about trade?
Taxes are sort of talked about, but its mostly to criticize other parties. “Their tax cuts for business haven’t created jobs, but ours will”. That’s stupid. Even where the NDP has a clear position, they don’t talk about it, as if they’re afraid. They’ve ruled out income tax increases and have shown they’re against sales taxes in the past, so I guess it wouldn’t do any good to mention these if the point is to show how you’re different from the other parties.
Given that your party has ruled out two major revenue streams, just how do you plan to pay for National Childcare? I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the NDP talk about increased health care funding and major investments in infrastructure to stimulate the economy. Thats a lot of new spending. Raising corporate taxes, ending oil and gas subsidies and (maybe) cracking down on tax evasion are good, but I’m not sure they’re enough. I’m not a fiscal conservative (they wouldn’t spend the money at all), I say do these things, just make sure you raise revenue to match new spending.
Ultimately, this letter is more interested in scoring points against the other parties and talking in vague generalities than laying out clearly the differences that set the NDP apart. The reason why its so hard for Mr Godin to identify differences is because his party HAS moved to the ‘mushy middle’. This forces them to hold up whatever small differences they have left (or in the case of their ‘jobs plan’ pretending a similarity is a difference) and shout all the more loudly. Leaving out taxes and trade, two issues that affect virtually all other policy areas is immature and cowardly. The NDP are so afraid of being labelled ‘tax and spend socialists’ or ‘Free Trade deniers’ that they refuse to debate these things. Rather than offering true leadership in troubling times they merely offer to tweak the status quo and spin such tweaks as ‘stark choices’.
Well, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about why Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were leading the polls. Just to prove me wrong, he has proceeded to screw up that lead pretty badly in the past couple weeks. Admittedly, the Liberals were already slipping when I wrote that, most likely based on the bump that terrorism gives the Conservatives, but Trudeau ain’t helping himself with a couple of really, really stupid moves.
The first is voting in favour of Harper’s new anti-terror bill. You know, the one that basically turns CSIS into the KGB. This is a bad bill, as numerous commentators have pointed out. It defines terrorism very broadly, including defending terrorism, or undermining the economic or financial stability of Canada. It empowers CSIS to spy on and detain people before they’ve committed a crime, without even charging them. Given the Conservatives history of labeling environmentalists terrorists, using Canada Revenue to attack left-leaning charities and in general criminalizing dissent, this bill is very scary.
That the Liberals under Trudeau would vote for this is not only disappointing, but also a stupid move politically. Part of Trudeau’s strategy is to siphon off progressive voters from the NDP. All he has to do for this is to essentially occupy the same mushy middle the NDP currently occupies: leftwing social policy with rightwing economic policy. Voting against civil liberties is bizarre for a party that proudly boasts of the legacy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Maybe I’m just not familiar with the Liberal base, but alot of them strike me as caring deeply about rights and freedoms and are very critical of the way Harper has criminalized opposition to his own narrow view. I don’t know if this move is enough to drive these voters away, but it will certainly make attracting NDP voters harder no matter how much they hate Harper.
To their credit, the NDP has pledged to vote against the bill, though their criticism is muted by the same fear of being seen as ‘soft on terror’ that intimidates the Liberals (C’mon Mulcair, what happened to the guy with the guts to call the Parliament Hill shooter a criminal, not a terrorist?).
The other stupid move is welcoming former Conservative MP Eve Adams as if its something to be proud of. Taking her in is one thing, but to hold a press conference and sound off about values and morals is ridiculous. So what if she comes with a key former Tory strategist, her husband Dmitri Soudas? Both her and her husband were dumped by their party because their ethics weren’t up to Conservative party standards. Just take a moment to let that sink in. The party that has become synonymous with hardball, win-at-any-cost tactics dumped her for her lack of morals.
Trudeau built the first two years of his leadership, and a considerable lead in the polls, on inspiring people that he was different. It wasn’t based on much, but hey, it worked. Well, lets just throw all that away and act like any other party. We’ll vote against rights and freedoms because we might lose votes by taking a principled stand consistent with our party’s history. Lets take in a mean, opportunistic defector and pretend like its a moral victory. This is the kind of crap that non-partisans, you know, real people, hate. Believe it or not, there are people who aren’t totally cynical about politics, and I think they really believed Trudeau was different. I’m not sure he’s totally ruined his image (and face it, his image is basically all he’s got) but the cracks are starting to show.
Thing is, this year’s election is really about Harper. Aside from NDP, Liberal and Green partisans, most people who hate Harper are likely to vote strategically for whoever has the best chance to get him out. If the Liberals keep pulling moves like this he risks narrowing the gap between themselves and the NDP. They might still be able to gather the anti-Harper vote to themselves, since they still lead the NDP by over 10%, but they really need either some bona fide progressive policies or to recapture that inspiration Trudeau used to have.
Last week the NDP announced its strategy for job creation that will be the economic centerpiece of its 2015 platform. What is this great strategy you might ask? Tax cuts. No seriously, that is their strategy. The “leftwing” NDP is going to help create jobs by offering businesses tax cuts.
Specifically, they would cut the small business tax rate from 11% to 10% immediately, with another 1% reduction when the fiscal situation allows. They would extend the Accelerated Capital Costs Allowance, which allows businesses to write off investments in equipment. This is actually a policy currently in place under the Conservatives, so how this represents any kind of alternative to the current jobs strategy is beyond me. Finally, they would introduce an Innovation Tax Credit for businesses investing in research and development, at a modest cost of $40 million per year.
Wow. That’s it. Is there anything in this package that you couldn’t also see the Liberals and Conservatives offering? It’s a rightwing strategy for politicians who prefer to shrink government and its revenue, based on the assumption that the free market will produce jobs naturally (instead of the opposite, which is what we’ve been seeing for the past decade.
Within days of the announcement national news articles were quoting both a rightwing economist from the University of Calgary and a leftwing economist from the Centre for Policy Alternatives that such cuts predominantly go to wealthier businesses while not helping either employment growth or struggling smaller businesses.
I wouldn’t mind so much if such tax cuts actually produced jobs, but governments have tried this for decades and it doesn’t work. Take the London area: Ford Canada used government money that was supposed to keep its St Thomas plant open to upgrade its Oakville plant, closing St Thomas anyways. Stephen Harper did a photo op for his ‘jobs-creating tax cuts’ at Electromotive in 2008, promising that these tax cuts would keep jobs safe. Three years later the plant closed after employees refused a 50% pay cut demanded by the same company that raked in millions from such tax cuts. Kelloggs received over $14m for its Ontario operations and still closed its London plant.
All these factories and more were bribed with public money and they all left anyways. Because at the end of the day, after all the write offs and tax credits and investment funds and no-interest loans, it’s STILL cheaper to move to where the wages are lower, since other governments offer just the same or better bribes. How about you just give the money directly to the workers, don’t funnel it through some company that’s just going to fold up in a few years anyways. At least then they’d benefit directly.
The NDP should be an alternative to the failed policies of recent Liberal and Conservative governments. Instead they offer the very same failed policies. The sheer lack of imagination, of vision and of courage is depressing. Where exactly is the good side to this strategy of moderation, because I can’t see it. They’re selling out their values, not offering solutions that Canadians need AND THEY’RE STILL IN THIRD!
Pity the poor NDP. From an historic breakthrough in 2011 they’re now firmly back in third place. Probably the biggest annoyance is who’s overtaken them: Justin Trudeau. Dippers rage on and on about how he’s inexperienced, doesn’t talk policy, is not as good an opposition leader as Thomas Mulcair, etc.
I think the NDP underestimates just how much 2011 was due to Jack Layton’s charisma. Hating Trudeau for this same quality is pretty ironic. Sadly for the NDP, Mulcair ain’t no Jack. He may be a good politician, but he doesn’t inspire people. Trudeau does, not through policy or speeches but by the same kind of charm Jack had.
If there’s anything a decade and a half of studying Political Science has taught me, its that politics ain’t no science. A lot it is just plain irrational. Symbolism and unconscious emotional reactions are important, especially when people crave change. For Canadians sick of Harper, Trudeau appears as more of an alternative than Mulcair. He isn’t really proposing much that is different, but then neither is the NDP. But Harper and Trudeau themselves appear so incredibly different they could star in a remake of the Odd Couple.
Remember that not everyone follows politics that closely, so their impressions aren’t always based on watching CPAC or reading op-eds from dedicated Ottawa journalists. To them, Harper and Mulcair appear similar: smart, angry old white men. Trudeau, by virtue of his youthful, upbeat personality, physically symbolizes change.
He also doesn’t come across as just another politician. Consider Rob Ford. This is not a smart man. He wasn’t good on policy. He wasn’t coherent. Or sober. But he could tap into people’s emotions and establish himself as a real person, someone his core supporters, ‘Ford Nation’ could relate to. It may have been like watching the ghost of Chris Farley in some weird sequel to Black Sheep, but he won in 2010 with almost 50% of the vote, and in 2014 he was in contention until he switched with his brother. Everyone knew he smoked crack. Everyone saw his drunken antics on YouTube, and he still outpolled Olivia freakin’ Chow!
What Trudeau and Ford both have in common is that they have this ability to come across as something other than a politician. When they speak, for all the ‘bozo eruptions’, it seems like you’re hearing an honest opinion instead of carefully considered talking points. This honesty helps them connect with people cynical about politics.
Only 61% of voters voted in the last election. Now, some people just ain’t gonna vote. Some are too busy, some don’t see anything worth voting for, some want to punish a party or candidate. And there is definitely a large chunk that are just like, “Fuck politics, it’s boring.” I’d give a conservative estimate of around 15% of voters ain’t gonna vote no matter what, since we’ve never even gotten 80% turnout in a federal election.
But that would still leave 24% of the 39% who didn’t vote in 2011 up for grabs. Trudeau’s inspiration may be shallow, but it might be enough to win back some cynical non-voters who don’t follow politics, especially young people. What this country really needs right now is to believe things can be different. Different from Harper’s style of government, different from chronic underemployment, different from constantly feeling scared of terrorism or losing your job.
Trudeau speaks off the cuff, and for all his mistakes, this endears him to a public cynical about politicians. He also smiles more than Harper or Mulcair. Remember Jack Layton’s nickname, “Smilin’ Jack”? Mulcair can smile, though he doesn’t do it that much. Harper can smirk, but when he smiles it’s just so godawfully unnatural it frightens babies.
Now, personally, I’d like to think that cynical non-voters could also be inspired by visionary policy that gives people hope that their lives could get better. Say like what happened in Greece just recently. But in the absence of any real alternative, can you blame Canadians for pinning their hopes on nice hair and a friendly face? Simply by coming across as different from Harper (and Mulcair), Trudeau has tapped into this desire for change. Without actually promising anything different, he gives off a sense that things under him could be different. And this, in my opinion, is why he’s fighting Harper for government while the NDP fumes on the sidelines.
Whoaaaah! Big news item this morning. The Bank of Canada has cut its interest rate by .25%. That’s quite significant as it’s the first time it’s been cut in about four years, going all the way back to 2011. Thing is, it was already REALLY low, at 1%, so now it’s at 0.75%. Economists were mostly expecting it to be raised sometime in the next year, but that was before oil prices started sliding.
Personally, with all the debt I’m carrying (student loans, mortgage, credit card) I’m happy about this. There’s some noise from economists about how this could worsen household debt, encouraging people to borrow more, but what are us poor working schmucks supposed to do? I really don’t think household debt is being driven up by frivolous purchases. Certainly in my house you don’t see any big flatscreen TVs, we have one car, barely bigger than a golfcart, certainly not a luxury car, we take no trips, we don’t go out, etc. Our debt is the product of just trying to put a roof over our heads and paying the bills, and I think it’s the same for a lot of us ordinary Canadians. The middle class dream used to be pursued through education and work, but now has to be put on credit. Education doesn’t pay off and there’s no more jobs. Unless these economists and politicians are willing to do something to bring the jobs back then the debt will just keep piling up, because there’s really no other option for the working class to maintain any decent lifestyle anymore.
Immediately after the interest rate was cut the Canadian dollar dropped almost two cents, down to about 80 cents against the US dollar. Reminds me of my crazy punk rock teenage years, when I was always ordering records from the US. The Loonie was super low back then too, I can tell you, as I actually had a US Currency chequing account so I could write cheques to all these little independent American record labels. I used to lose like a third of my dollar to the exchange rate. My grandparents stopped spending their winters in Florida because the Loonie was so low.
There’s a lot of talk about how the low dollar will help bring manufacturing back to Ontario, but I’m not holding my breath. I think those jobs left more for the wage differences than the exchange rate, though that might have also been a factor. But that doesn’t explain why manufacturing lost over 270,000 jobs between 2000 and 2007 when the Loonie was still relatively low, ranging from about 70 cents US to 90 cents US over that time. The Loonie experienced its highest growth between 2007 and the onset of the Recession in 2008/09, before falling with the recession and then shooting up again in late 2009. Obviously we also lost a lot of manufacturing jobs during that time too, over 200,000 in the space of just two years, almost as much as in the previous 5 years.
BUT, my point is that why should we expect manufacturing to bounce back because the dollar is at 80 cents US when we lost over a quarter of a million jobs when it was in the same price range in the 5 years before the recession? Same thing goes for people who say Ontario is losing manufacturing jobs due to its high electricity costs. Hydro rates are higher, but that is such a recent development that it can’t explain manufacturing’s long decline over the past decade.
Its WAGES. That’s why manufacturing and all the other jobs left. WAGES. You can pay workers in China a fraction of what you have to pay Canadians. Even if Canadians abandoned unions and all took minimum wage, it’s still cheaper to use Third World sweatshops and ship your product across the globe. Now, with oil prices tanking (tankering?) it will be even cheaper to ship goods.
A lot of economists and defenders of Free Trade might point out that Canada actually didn’t do so badly in the first decade of Free Trade with the US and then Mexico. The 90s were actually a time of economic growth in Canada, something Liberals point to as evidence of their great economic management under Chretien and Martin. While Canada did experience some initial job losses after the 1989 Canada-US Free Trade agreement, and then some more under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, we did have a very low dollar during that time which did help hold off pressure on companies to move production offshore.
All this changed in 2001 when China entered the WTO. That was when you saw a mass exodus of manufacturing jobs to China to take advantage of its far lower wages (even lower than Mexico under NAFTA) and less costly regulations on things like worker safety, the environment, etc. That is why China became the fastest growing economy in the world in the early 21st century. That is why they are now the biggest economy in the world, having overtaken the US this January. That is why China’s middle class is growing and ours is shrinking. A similar trend occurred in India and other fast-growing Third World countries. Jobs exported out of the Developed world of North America, Europe and Japan are causing a boom in these countries. It really doesn’t take an advanced degree in global economics to notice the pattern. The countries losing the jobs are going down and the countries gaining them are going up.
So, while I hate to yet again rain on the parade, don’t count on either low interest rates, low oil prices or even a low Canadian dollar to cause a revival of Canadian manufacturing and other jobs over the past 15 years. The reasons we lost those jobs have much more to do with wages and production costs than exchange or interest rates. Until such time as Canada grows enough of a spine to start protecting its own jobs, to stand up against globalization and Free Trade, don’t expect anything to change.
Currency values over the past 15 years obtained from: http://www.cdhowe.org/the-seductive-myth-of-canadas-overvalued-dollar-globe-and-mail-economy-lab/22141
Manufacturing job losses from 2000-2007: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2011000/chap/man-fab/man-fab-eng.htm
And manufacturing losses during the recession: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2009112/pdf/11048-eng.pdf
Comparative wages China vs Mexico: http://tacna.net/mexico-vs-china/
I go on and on, ranting about Free Trade and how it’s killing our economy. But how exactly does it do this? Offshoring is a common term for moving jobs out of one country to another, typically where wages or other costs related to the operation of the business are lower.
Governments used to have a number of tools at their disposal to discourage offshoring and encourage companies to create jobs in their countries. They regulated investment coming in and going out of the country, which made it harder for companies to close down factories and offices and move them to other countries. Such methods were known as Capital Controls (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_control), and they were an important part of the enormous economic growth that occurred after World War II.
Governments also put taxes, known as tariffs on goods coming into the country, so that locally made products would be competitive with foreign made ones. This encouraged companies to locate factories and businesses inside the country’s borders in order to ‘jump the tariff wall’. Local people benefited from this from the good-paying manufacturing jobs tariffs created.
They sometimes used import quotas which are limits on the number of particular goods that can be imported, or they might negotiate an agreement for such as the Auto Pact (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada%E2%80%93United_States_Automotive_Products_Agreement) between Canada and the US, under which American car manufacturers agreed to maintain a particular ratio of car manufacturing to car sales in Canada. What this meant was that American car companies guaranteed jobs in Canada in proportion to the number of cars they sold in Canada, and in return they were able to import cars and parts into Canada or export them without any tariffs or taxes.
None of these things are allowed under Free Trade. Free Trade agreements force governments to treat foreign companies the same as they treat their own companies. For example, this means the Canadian government cannot put taxes on goods coming into Canada from China that would raise their price to be comparable to Canadian made products.
This also means that our government cannot do anything to stop a company from moving its operations to a lower wage country to cut costs and then simply importing the goods back into Canada. In fact, Free Trade encourages companies to do this, either Canadian-owned companies or branch plants of foreign-owned companies operating in Canada, since these companies are now in competition with cheaper goods made in low-wage countries. How can a Canadian t-shirt manufacturer compete with a Chinese sweatshop? They can’t. The cost of living in Canada is higher so even if workers were willing to accept lower wages they would starve to death before they could match Chinese wages. Canadians cannot work for sweatshop wages and cannot compete with workers in the Third World.
It is often assumed that job losses from Free Trade are only in manufacturing. Up until recently, that was mostly true. But two trends have seen offshoring spread to the service sector. The first was the growth in communications technology such as the internet and satellites that allowed services and knowledge to travel the globe almost instantly. The second was a tremendous explosion in Third World education levels, particularly in the more rapidly developing areas of the Third World such as China and India. This meant that companies now had access to a global pool of highly skilled, educated labour that could provide services to customers anywhere in the world. Other sectors where the job absolutely had to be performed locally, such as legal services, still found that they could outsource parts of their operation, such as record keeping or research. Formerly well-paid career paths are being divided up into a few well-paid local services that must be provided locally, with everything else shipped off to lower-wage countries to be done at a fraction of the cost. This trend especially hurts young people as it is typically entry-level jobs that are being offshored.
Sometimes when you talk about the loss of manufacturing jobs to Free Trade some helpful but ignorant person will chime in with talk of “the New Economy”, or “the Innovation Economy”, or “the Creative Economy” or some such bullshit. Personally I don’t believe there is any ‘New Economy’, these jobs always existed, even if technology has changed, but they have always been, and always will be, a small part of the economy. We can’t all be app designers, and most of the economy is still based on the real world, not the digital multiverse or whatever these people are thinking of.
And guess what? Even if we could all somehow become digital creative specialists, even if the entire population of Canada, all our young people and laid off factory workers and everyone got jobs in the IT sector, WE ARE STILL IN COMPETITION FROM LOWER-WAGE COUNTRIES AND WILL LOSE THESE JOBS. Again, a highly educated, technologically skilled and English language fluent low-wage population in India makes it a very attractive destination for IT, software and other firms. There is no way for a country like Canada to win in a global Free Trade economy. We are always competing with people who will work for a fraction of our wages.
Taken to its logical extreme, Free Trade would leave Canada with only a few types of jobs left:
A small number of high-paid service of managerial jobs such as doctors, lawyers, bank managers, etc. Obviously these occupations are not numerous enough for everyone to work in and as other good jobs disappear competition for them or for spots in top professional schools that lead to them will get more and more intense.
Low-paid service jobs that must be done locally, such as serving coffee at Tim Hortons, selling jeans at the mall, etc.
Primary resource extraction, such as drilling and pumping oil in Alberta or mining minerals in Northern Ontario. Processing these raw materials into useful products will mostly be done in other countries, again, where labour costs are cheaper. While (up until recently) working in the Northern Alberta oil patch offered relatively good wages, most resource extraction is generally lower-paid than manufacturing and services, and has the added disadvantage of usually being done in the most godforsaken parts of our country. This means all the people in Southwestern Ontario laid off from offshored manufacturing and service jobs will have to leave their families and become migrant workers.
Basically, that is all the jobs you can count on staying in Canada. Any and every job that can be uprooted will be sent to places where labour and other production costs are cheaper.
But wait, there’s more good news. Even those few, low-paid jobs the average Canadian has left aren’t safe, because of a lovely little trio of words we’ve learned in the past little while:
With Temporary Foreign Workers we can bring the Third World home. Tim Hortons uses them and so does the oilpatch, so unless you’ve got the money and connections to land one of the few remaining jobs in category 1 above, you’re basically screwed.
Sorry, I know this and most of my other posts are real downers. It’s not that these things can’t be fixed, although I just don’t see the political leadership in this country as being interested in doing anything about offshoring or Free Trade. They either believe in it (Conservatives and probably the Liberals) or are too cowardly to stand up against it (NDP). But it’s important to remember that none of this is inevitable. It didn’t have to happen this way. In the 80s Free Trade was described as a ‘Leap of Faith’, not as something we had to do. And governments all over the world, especially in Latin America but even the US, are turning away from Free Trade and taking action to protect what jobs they have left and even bring some back. The Canadian government still has all the powers it used in the past to protect our jobs and create more, it just chooses not to use them.
What politicians and parties in this country need is to be shown just how unpopular Free Trade and Foreign Temporary Workers are. Politicians are drawn from category 1 of the jobs I mentioned above. They’re part of the ‘comfortable class’, so they don’t really have any problem with the status quo. What they need is a big kick in the ass to wake them up and remind them that there’s a whole country that is struggling and that wants change.
So I’m lacing up my boots. Anyone want to join me?
I know, I know, most people do their year-end lists BEFORE the New Year, so it might seem like I’m late. But really, how do these people know there won’t be this really amazing story that pops up on New Year’s Eve? So while it might seem like I’m late putting this up, really I was just making sure I could consider EVERYTHING that happened in 2014.
Return of the War on Terror
With the war in Iraq officially over in 2011 and Canadians and other international troops withdrawing this year, it seemed like the ‘War on Terror’ was largely winding down. Then the civil war in Syria spilled over into Iraq with the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, with a radical group of fundamentalist Sunni Muslims declaring a ‘new caliphate’ in parts of Syria and Iraq that they control. The atrocities they committed against westerners and non-Muslim Iraqis brought international condemnation and limited military responses, even though most Western powers are a bit fatigued from the previous ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan. ISIS also called upon supporters in western nations to commit acts of terrorism.
Then, within two days of each other, we had two attacks inspired by ISIS in Canada. I don’t know the exact technicalities of whether they would be considered terrorist acts or not, since I tend to think of terrorism as being a bit more organized and having more of an effect, but I think they were definitely inspired by ISIS. I tend to think of them more as criminal acts because they were planned and executed solely by single people and did not result in mass deaths.
BUT, there can be no doubt that these attacks together with ISIS effectively put terrorism back in the national debate. The Conservatives were quick to link all three together and to propose new surveillance and other war measures, since having a war to fight is a great political resource for them. Honestly, I just hate to think we have to go through these debates all over again about how to fight terrorism, 14 years after 911. Its not that they aren’t important debates, just that they’re so emotionally charged and it takes attention away from the economy, which has a much more direct impact on most people’s lives.
Although the Liberals began to overtake the NDP in the polls during Justin Trudeau’s leadership bid in 2013, it was really 2014 that established that the Trudeau-led Liberals were now the effective government-in-waiting, and not the Official Opposition NDP. Since a high point around Thomas Mulcair’s leadership victory in 2012, where the NDP actually was first in the polls at 38%, they have now fallen to around 20%, while the Liberals have led the polls virtually uninterrupted for almost two years now.
And then there’s a host of other bad news for the party. Its vote share has fallen in almost every single by-election since 2011, including Toronto-Danforth, Jack Layton’s riding, which they won. The only exception to this has been Durham in 2012 and Toronto Centre in 2013, which saw modest increases. 2014 saw them lose Olivia Chow’s seat in Trinity-Spadina to the Liberals with a whopping 20% drop in support, while the Liberals have seen large increases in their support in this year’s by-elections.
Then there’s the defections. Like with the by-elections, these problems started for the NDP before 2014, but they reached crisis proportions this year. They lost two seats in 2012, one to the Liberals, one to the Greens. They lost another in 2013 to the Bloc. But they lost FIVE seats in 2014: Manon Perreault was kicked for breaking the law, Olivia Chow resigned her seat which the party then lost, Sana Hassainia quit to sit as an independent over the party’s stance on the Israel-Gaza war, Jean Francois Larosse quit to join a new Quebec party, and Glen Thibeault quit to join the Ontario Liberals. They managed to pick up a former Bloc MP, and to the NDP’s credit, they are making her wait till the next election to join the party caucus. That’s good. They always said that about other defectors, so it’s nice to see them stick to their values when the tables are turned.
But that’s about the only good thing that happened to the party in 2014. They are clearly not Canadians’ first choice as an alternative to the Conservatives, and all the spin in the world can’t change that. Even if their numbers are higher than before, that is just a Quebec thing, and some polls indicate that even these voters will go Liberal to ensure Harper is defeated. Basically, in 2011, the NDP ate the Bloc Quebecois. The new NDP is the same old third-place party it was before combined with the Bloc’s francophone Quebecois support. Slightly better than before, but still not about to form government.
Holy crap. Noone saw this coming. Probably the most scandal plagued Ontario government in anyone’s memory, facing criminal charges, the premier resigned, almost a billion tax dollars used to get the Liberals re-elected. Add on top of that widespread anger over hydro, a worsening economy and general fatigue with a government that has been in power for over 10 years and you would naturally expect the public would want something new.
NOPE! The Ontario Liberals under new leader Kathleen Wynne actually went from a minority to a majority. Add that up in your head. Billion dollar scandal + election = more votes, logic be damned.
I think most of the credit for this probably goes to the opposition NDP and Progressive Conservatives. It wasn’t so much that the Liberals ran a good campaign as the other two just plain sucked. The NDP campaign was boring and disorganized, and seemed deliberately designed to alienate the party’s base. Their strategy was to bypass disillusioned Liberal supporters, who would seem like the party’s natural growth constituency, to target Conservative voters with ‘pocketbook issues’. I fucking hate pocketbook issues. What they say to the average working schmuck is “Hey, I know your job sucks and you just barely make enough to get by, but I’m not going to help bring good jobs back, I’m just going to put an extra hundred bucks in your pocket so you can take the kids out to pizza and buy a case of beer to forget your troubles.”
But if the NDP campaign was inept, the PC’s was just plain nuts! Why, in the middle of a jobs crisis in this province, would you say you’re going to fire 100,000 people? Even moderate critics of public sector unions will be thinking about the effect on the economy as a whole. And promising to create a million jobs? Hell, why not say a billion, it’s just as believable. Whether or not the math was right, these numbers are just too big for the public to deal with. It just made the PCs look crazy.
Americans Annex a Canadian Institution
Burger King buys Canada’s most treasured icon, Tim Hortons. Canadian nationalists are up in arms, as this treasured Canuck institution is now owned by a second rate American burger chain. I mean, couldn’t it at least have been McDonalds? Maybe Burger King is bigger in the states than around Southwestern Ontario but I can barely find any of them in London and the ones I do find have crappy service and are mostly empty.
For the record, Tim Hortons is a crappy national institution that serves bad coffee, doesn’t even bake its donuts in the store anymore, and hires Temporary Foreign Workers when minimum wage, part-time Canadian employees with no benefits and no job security prove too expensive. Its iconic status is proof of just how accepting low-income Canadians are of their crappy lives of poverty. I get it, Tim Hortons symbolizes ‘the average Canadian’, as opposed to Starbucks that is considered upper class, because its coffee costs a whopping 18 cents more. I don’t actually even drink coffee, but my wife does and she assures me that the 18 cents is worth it for coffee that actually tastes like coffee.
All I know is that its ‘food’ barely counts as such and like any fast food place it pays people exactly as little as it legally can, and gets foreign workers when even that is too much. The fact that it is a symbol of the working class in Canada, that smarmy a-holes like Harper who hate the poor can pretend like they’re for the average Canadian cause they like double-doubles, unlike latte-sipping lefties, is proof of just how messed up our political culture is, of just how much working class people in this country have come to accept their second-rate status. I’m not saying everyone should be going out to five-star French restaurants, but dream a little bigger than a minimum-wage, fast food culture. You deserve better than this people.
This one just squeaked in under the deadline. Although oil prices had been falling for some time, it was only in December that it became news, when the realization kicked in to Canadians, and to Albertans in particular, that this might be more than just a temporary thing. This is a really important story, because Canada’s economy is basically all about oil these days. It has been since the first decade of the 21st century. Hmmm, we elect a Prime Minister from Alberta and all of a sudden Alberta and its oil are the sole focus of Ottawa’s economic policy. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
Since our economy is now so dependent on oil, that means when oil prices go down, government tax revenue goes down, employment goes down, transfer payments go down, etc. From a consumer perspective, I can tell you that its nice to fill up the tank for under $30, but if the wider economy collapses and we’re left with NO oil jobs on top of the already existing NO manufacturing jobs, we’ll be pretty badly screwed.
Some might point to this situation as reason not to base your entire economy on one primary resource. Some like me. This is a good reason not to base your entire economy on one primary resource. You see, prices for raw materials like oil are much more volatile than prices for manufactured goods. They spike up and down with global demand. This is why Third World countries try so hard to develop a secondary economy, one not based on raw materials. There’s also the fact that basing our economy on oil benefits Alberta at Ontario’s expense and employs less people than manufacturing used to.
But don’t expect Ottawa to understand this. I remember running in the Oakville election and the Conservative incumbent kept calling Harper ‘a brilliant economist’. Ummm, no. All you have to do is look at a graph and see one line spiking up and down and the other staying flat and recognize that the flat line is more stable and a better basis for your economy than the roller coaster that is commodity prices. Too early yet to see how this plays out but it’s yet reason we should be looking at ways to bring manufacturing back to Canada.
Robocall Mastermind Sentenced
Michael Sona is convicted as the Dr Evil behind the 2011 Robocalls Scandal and sentenced to a short jail term. Yeah. I’m sure there was noone else involved in a nationally coordinated campaign to mislead voters and suppress the non-Conservative vote. Just this one kid in Guelph. Yup, nothing more to see here, move along. There were robocalls in Oakville when I was running, so I guess Sona was there too, lurking around in the shadows and laughing maniacally, “Muhwahaha”.
On the one hand I feel sorry for Sona, who was obviously thrown under the bus by his former party. But then, this is the same guy who tried to steal ballot boxes from the University of Guelph, knowing that students were least likely to vote for his party. He’s obviously a guy with more partisanship than morals who found out the hard way that higher ups will happily sacrifice little guys like him to protect their careers.
Rob Ford, Undefeated as Toronto Mayor
While the Rob Ford crack scandal really broke in 2013, 2014 was supposed to be the big test of the Ford brand. Rob Ford initially put his name in for mayor, but dropped out after being diagnosed with cancer. Instead, he and his brother Doug pulled the old switcheroo, with Rob running for and retaining his former Etobicoke seat and Doug placing second to John Tory for mayor. At least poor Olivia Chow was spared the shame of placing third behind a drug addict.
Probably Doug did a bit better than Rob would have, and in fact he was pretty close to Tory. On the other hand, he has a lot less charisma than Rob, a lot less of the Ford ‘Brand’, which in this age of ‘politainment’, is just as important as policy smarts and sobriety. But the switch also means we’ll never really know for sure if Rob would have been reelected. Maybe Torontians liked their crackhead mayor. At least he was entertaining, if in a rather sad, pitying way. He retires from mayoral politics with a perfect undefeated record.
PQ Shoots Itself in the Foot
2014 saw Quebec premier Pauline Marois call a snap election in which the Parti Quebecois government is defeated and she herself loses her seat. The PQ had been leading in the polls, though not by much, and Marois probably thought she was going to get a majority. But then she recruited Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau to the PQ, who pumped his fist and declared Quebec would become its own country and that was basically the end of that.
A little disclaimer here. I am no expert in Quebec politics. I’m not even a novice. But everything I read these days points to sovereignty as a dying issue. Perhaps it’s a generational shift, or maybe its because in our current, highly decentralized Confederation, Quebec has quietly been given many of the powers and recognitions it sought in the Meech and Charlottetown constitutional accords. Whatever the reason, the collapse of the Bloc and the PQ seem to signal that the fire has gone out of the sovereigntist movement. It remains to be seen whether these parties will rebrand themselves or be carried onto the political fringes by their remaining radical leaders.
Everybody Loves, No Make that Hates, Jian Gomeshi
When news broke that Jian Gomeshi was being fired as host of the popular CBC radio program Q, it got a lot of people really upset. I’m not really a fan of radio. I get my news from the Internet and my music from Youtube. But a lot of lefties, and oddly enough, a lot of lefty women really dug this guy. When they heard that he was being fired, a lot of them, including Green Party leader Elizabeth May and renowned feminist activist Judy Rebick, went to social media to express their support, only to have to quickly retract once it became apparent just how evil this guy is.
This might not seem so directly significant to politics, but it sparked a wider national dialogue on sexism and violence against women, issues that became all the more politically important when two Liberal MPs were accused of sexual harassment against an NDP MP. It’s also set against the backdrop of the crisis of the CBC, with, again lefties largely supportive of the national broadcaster and righties critical of it as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Probably the last thing the network needed at this time.
The Entire Alberta Opposition Defects to the Government
What the heck happened to the Alberta Wildrose Party? Back in 2012 it was expected to win government. It didn’t and actually didn’t even come close, but hey, it won 17 seats and formed the Official Opposition. By comparison the Alberta Liberals got 5 and the Alberta NDP got 4. Alberta is basically a one-party province. The Progressive Conservatives have been in power since 1971, when they took over from the Social Credit Party, who had been in power since 1935, when they took over from the United Farmers of Alberta, who had been in power since 1921.
Wildrose for a time looked like it was the next governing party, but 2014 saw no less than 12 of its sitting MLAs leave the party, 11 of those to the government. One got kicked out and two crossed the floor to join the PCs in November, and then, a month later, the party’s leader herself and 8 other members also crossed the floor. This has got to be the biggest defection in Canadian political history.
Well, that’s it for my list. Here’s hoping your 2015 is at least as great as your 2014. Happy New Year!