Harper’s capital-centred federal budget

– Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) –

THE Harper Conservative government delivered the federal budget for the country on February 11. The most important thing for the people to do when assessing the budget is to carve away the dogma and hype. The dogma of “balance” coupled with the hype that the budget provides an opportunity for Harper to regain some momentum for re-election conceal a deeply disturbing trend towards war and nation-wrecking.

The association of the word balance with a federal budget is meant to hide the anti-social offensive and nation-wrecking. The mass media and most of the intelligentsia bring shame on themselves for participating in the dogma of balance. The trite and some say silly talk of balance is a diversion from exposing Harper’s messianic crusade to destroy Canada’s social fabric while annexing the country into the United States of North American Monopolies and U.S. war machine.

Falling federal program spending

Falling federal program spending beginning with the Liberal governments of Chretien and Martin and now Harper has sunk to 13 per cent of the gross domestic product, the lowest percentage in over 70 years. Billions of dollars in program cuts from last year’s budget are set to begin. Along with the current budget’s program spending freeze, this will reduce overall program spending on health, education, aboriginal and veterans’ affairs etc to levels not seen since the pre-WWII period.

Everyone is now familiar with the reductions in Employment Insurance and the denuding of regulations and collapse of a public authority that is supposed to protect the people’s food supply, transportation system and other features of a modern society. The essence of the measures to destroy social programs and public services is to wreck any public authority that serves to protect the well-being and security of Canadians and restrict monopoly right.

Instead of program spending on the people’s well-being and nation-building, the Harper budget diverts increasing amounts of public funds to private interests. This is done openly by funneling public money to the monopolies for example to the auto monopolies through his innovation fund and in a more hidden fashion by providing private interests public funds using public-private partnerships to build infrastructure and prepare for war.

The challenge people face is to unite to stop and turn around this anti-social direction of the Harper government that puts the demands and narrow private interests of the global monopolies ahead of Canadians and the public interest.

Fight for people’s empowerment

Canadians should not become apolitical or depressed with the deep cynicism of the political parties that use the federal budget as just one more propaganda tool to vie for power. Deepening the struggle for empowerment, uniting with others to discuss the serious problems facing the country, and mobilizing the people around a new direction for the economy in favour of public right and not monopoly right is the antidote to the waves of neo-liberal dogma and hype. The people have to steel themselves against the ravings of the mass media speculating on whether or not Harper is manoeuvring to have a “balanced” election budget next year rather than this year because maybe he wants to stuff his next budget with “goodies” micro-targeted at this and that section of the people to guarantee his re-election. The people empowered with their own agenda and human-centred viewpoint must dismiss with contempt all attempts to divert them from fighting for a new direction.

Attacks on public service workers

Harper’s 2014 budget directly attacks public service workers with a declaration that the retirement benefits within the legal collective agreement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) will be unilaterally reduced by about $7 billion. This amount taken from public service workers will reportedly send the federal budget soaring beyond the magical balance into a $6.4 billion surplus by fiscal year 2015-16.

To announce within the federal budget this theft from a collective agreement indicates that if PSAC members do not voluntarily accept the reduction during negotiations for a new collective agreement, the government will force the concessions on them through legislation.

This assault on the right of federal public service workers to negotiate their wages, benefits and pensions without blackmail, coercion and legislated violence is a signal to all workers to stand with public sector workers in the defence of their rights. A Harper assault on public sector workers should be viewed as an attack on the rights of all and should be fiercely resisted. Harper’s unilateral dictate on workers’ wages, benefits and pensions cannot become the new normal in a broken Canada with its social fabric and public authority in shambles. Already anarchy and violence have become the norm and this cannot continue. This must be resisted for the sake of all and the future of the country. The attack on public service workers, no matter how this is spun in the mass media, is an attack on workers’ rights and on the social programs, public services and public authority necessary in a modern society.

A People’s Canada and a Harper’s Canada in conflict

The budget does not reflect the Canada of the people; it is Harper’s Canada, a fantastic imagined country with a sound economy without any pressing social, economic or political problems. No mention in the budget of the crisis in manufacturing, the closures one after the other of U.S. Steel, Heinz, Kellogg; the disastrous years in the forestry sector; the threats emerging from Rio Tinto in Quebec; the huge controversy of the oil sands, fracking for gas, pipelines and the use of temporary foreign workers to drive down wages and working conditions; the collapse of public authority to the point where the entire downtown of Lac-Mégantic was destroyed with a massive loss of precious lives through a company’s gross negligence in connivance with an impotent public authority; no mention of the necessity to rectify the uneven development of an economy increasingly reliant on exports of raw material; no talk or solutions to poverty and unemployment especially amongst the youth, the insecurity pressing on Canadians while working and in retirement; nor any reference to First Nations’ rights and the modern demand of nation to nation relations.

The people’s Canada is nowhere to be found in the budget either as a description of the problems facing society or their solutions. All is well in Harper’s world of privileged elite; his budget reflects his world of monopoly right and class privilege not a people’s world striving for empowerment, a pro-social agenda and anti-war government.

Human-centred budget

The alternative to a capital-centred budget is a human-centred one that addresses the problems Canadians face and mobilizes them and public opinion around pro-social solutions. A human-centred budget arises from the people themselves who fight for their empowerment, who organize themselves into committees for people’s empowerment, discuss their problems, arrive at solutions and their own agenda, disseminate their views amongst their peers and engage in actions with analysis to usher in a new direction for the economy and political affairs.

It is up to the people themselves to bring in a new direction for the economy. It is up to the people to empower themselves by mobilizing their numbers and pro-social thinking, agenda and energy to build a modern Canada whose aim is to guarantee the well-being of all and to humanize the social and natural environment.

Fight for a human-centred budget and the people’s empowerment!
Stop paying the rich!
Increase investments in social programs!

* * *

For Your Information
Excerpts from comments on the federal budget by various Canadian organizations and lndividuals

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)

The Conservative government has failed once again to promote a positive vision for Canada by investing in the future. After several years of eviscerating the public services that Canadians count on, they continue to promote short-sighted policies designed to foster its re-election.

The operating budget freeze amounts to at least $1.6 billion in cuts to departments that are already reeling from several years of cutting vital services to Canadians. Program expenses as a proportion of GDP will decline below 13% – this means the government is investing less to meet the needs of a growing economy.

“Canada’s economic situation allows the government to do more to restore the services and programs, such as investing in child care, retirement security and transportation safety,” said Robyn Benson, PSAC National President. “Unfortunately, the government has squandered this opportunity.”

After cutting a number of essential services, the government is now putting forward half measures that do nothing to restore what were once highly successful programs:

After cutting Parks Canada services, reducing access to National Parks, and gutting environmental protections, the government is now proposing to invest a small amount in improving the roads and bridges that bring people to parks.

After closing down search and rescue stations in Vancouver and St. John’s, the government is providing a tax credit for search and rescue volunteers. This does nothing to fill the hole created by the closures and save lives.

Veterans Affairs services have been reduced and eliminated by this government, including the recent closure of nine regional VAC offices serving Veterans in need across the country. We now have the lowest ratio of Veterans’ Affairs workers to Veterans ever. The measures in the budget do not repair the gap in services the government has created with the closures.

The government has presided over a worrying decrease in food inspection capacity for several years. The small increase proposed in the budget for more food inspectors does little to fill the gap they themselves have created to the integrity of our food safety system.

Instead of improving access to EI benefits to unemployed, the government has focused on small boutique improvements that will have little measurable impact on the livelihoods of Canadians with precarious employment.

In addition to these small, cosmetic changes to public services, the government is going to make the lives of retired public service workers harder by doubling the premiums they will have to pay to access supplemental health benefits.

“PSAC will be entering into the next round of bargaining with the intention of strengthening the public service,” said Chris Aylward, National Executive Vice President of PSAC. “While the government continues to fail Canadians, we will be focused on defending quality public services and the workers who provide them.”

Robyn Benson, National President, PSAC

We Are Committed to Protecting Our Members and Public Services

Once again, this Conservative government is attacking federal public services and our members who provide those services. The continuing freeze on departmental budgets not only destroys vital services, it puts increased pressure on our members to maintain quality public services in the face of increasing workloads and job cuts.

This isn’t news. They’ve already damaged food inspection, parks and historic sites and many other services. Now they think they can trick Canadians by sprinkling small change over the damage they created.

The Conservatives have also been abandoning Canadian values in the workplace. Now they are abandoning retirees who work for their health benefits throughout their careers. They are abandoning their commitment to workers who are too sick to work. They are once again using the federal budget to set out its intentions for the upcoming round of bargaining.

Our members have negotiated and fought for their working conditions and benefits over decades. When we go into negotiations, we will be open and transparent about our commitment to protect both our members and the public services they provide.

Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

“With this Budget, the interests of Canadians have been sacrificed in favour of electoral considerations and an irrational obsession with balanced budgets. It keeps Canada on the wrong course and puts Canadians’ health, environment and economic prosperity at risk. It is simply not possible for the government to ‘put its fiscal house in order’ when the foundations — the programs and services that Canadians depend on — are crumbling,” says Debi Daviau, President and Chief Executive Officer of PIPSC, Canada’s largest union of public service professionals.

“This government certainly wins the gold medal when it comes to blatant self-interest,” continues Daviau. “It’s doing everything it can to position itself to win the next election when it should be doing everything possible to reverse the effects of its disastrous decisions from past budgets.”

[The budget has an] absence of any reinvestments in public science at a time when over $2.6 billion is being drained from science-based departments and Canada is plummeting in international scientific rankings, a key indicator of economic competitiveness.

[The budget speaks of] a “commitment to protecting the environment” that is completely out of sync with reality — critical environmental protection programs, regulatory oversight, and hundreds of related jobs have disappeared under Conservative stewardship.

[The budget brags about] “responsible resource development” at a time when federal libraries used by researchers to analyze and monitor the impact of resource development are being shut down across Canada, and their books burned or sent to landfill.

[The budget says,] “We did not cut the programs Canadians rely on.” Actually, such cuts occurred in the fields of consumer safety, transportation of dangerous goods, water safety, health protection, services to veterans, and health benefits for retirees, to name just a few.

“This Budget continues a long-term strategy of cutting back on public programs and services for ideological, and now electoral, reasons. This Budget is nothing for the government to be proud of. It will affect generations of Canadians. All that to win at the polls next time,” concludes Daviau.

Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ)

Flaherty’s tenth budget “Leeway sacrificed at the expense of the people’s needs”
– Serge Cadieux, Secretary-General, FTQ

[The budget] once again shows that we have nothing left to expect from this government except the call of an election.

“We have a government which, despite the important leeway that it could give itself, continues to attack its own employees, while not meeting the needs of the people. It is time that the Harper Conservative government steps aside,” declared Secretary-General of the FTQ Serge Cadieux.

While noting the feeble budgetary measures announced and calculated according to the agenda of the Conservatives’ electoral politics, especially as concerns infrastructure and other well-targeted sprinkling [of funds], the FTQ deplores that the Conservatives have not seized the occasion to meet many of the demands of the people: improving the Employment Insurance system, the Canada Pension Plan and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, cancelling the abolition of tax credits for workers’ funds and increasing the federal equalization transfer payments and those for social programs.

“Since it became a majority, the Harper government has not hesitated to muzzle the provinces, particularly those where the electorate did not vote for it. Seasonal workers and the unemployed in Quebec and the Maritimes know something of this. The shrinking of federal transfer payments deprives millions of people of services for which they pay out of their federal taxes. Public sector employees receive the same treatment — there has been no end to the painful budget cuts in recent years and they are again being called on as retirees to assume 50 per cent of the cost of their health insurance. Not to speak of the unprecedented federal attacks on the labour movement. Enough!

“Quebec is entitled to a say concerning infrastructure projects so that they can take place as soon as possible. It is entitled to additional funds by virtue of the labour market agreements and the FTQ is of the opinion that the new Canada Job Grant should be abolished, otherwise Quebec will have to exercise its option to opt out with full compensation.

“Finally, the federal government’s determination to maintain its retrogressive reform to the Employment Insurance system compels us to ask the question: Is it time for Quebec set up its own system? The question should at least be considered.

“At the FTQ,” concluded Serge Cadieux, “we are sure that the people of Quebec will remember this situation at the time of the next election.”

Quebec National Confederation of Trade Unions (CSN)

The CSN Is Very Critical

The National Confederation of Trade Unions (CSN) estimates that the measures announced today by the Harper government in its budget are very far from the immediate needs of the people. “The government’s obsession with achieving a balanced budget in 2015-2016 reflects the partisanship of today’s exercise. The Conservatives’ penchant for an austerity policy that ignores workers and less affluent and middle-class workers is evident, says Treasurer of the CSN Pierre Patry. The spending freeze and the weakening of federal employees’ pensions and social protections eloquently express how little regard the Conservatives have for citizens. While inviting itself to the negotiation table with government employees, the government puts the burden of a balanced budget on the backs of workers. It is becoming more difficult to make ends meet — enough of the politics of austerity ! ” he said.

[ … ]

The CSN’s Treasurer fears that the Conservatives have introduced this budget as a front for to make it easier to “bulldoze” social equilibrium in the future with one of their famous omnibus bills.

“On two occasions, the Conservatives did not hesitate, through budget implementation bills, to slash public finances and weaken the social safety net of the populations of Quebec and Canada, for example with their attacks against the Employment Insurance system.

“This is a denial of democracy, which can not be tolerated. The Conservatives are trying to balance the budget on the backs of the unemployed, civil servants and workers while doing so in the greatest contempt of provincial jurisdiction, before the next elections scheduled for 2015, ” concluded Pierre Patry.

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Federal Budget Contains Largest Spending Cuts to Date

The 2014-15 federal budget contains the largest annual spending cuts to date, says the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

There are $14 billion worth of spending cuts announced in previous budgets that will come into effect this fiscal year. Those cuts will cause real damage to Canada’s fragile economy, by removing 0.7% from the country’s already anemic GDP growth.

“The government is happy to re-announce infrastructure funding from previous budgets but what it isn’t telling you is that there are $14 billion worth of previously announced spending cuts already built into this year’s budget,” says CCPA Senior Economist David Macdonald. “Canadians can expect to see more and deeper cuts to services and a sluggish economy as a result.”

“If previous cuts are any indication, there will be further reductions to front line services, like those in Veteran’s Affairs and the Coast Guard,” says Macdonald. “All this so the government can implement its promise of extending income splitting to families with children — a hugely expensive tax cut that 86% of families won’t benefit from.”

The federal budget will do little to boost Canada’s weak labour market. Since 2009, the reduction in the unemployment rate has been 20% due to the jobless finding work and 80% due to them giving up looking.

“The entire decline in youth unemployment from its worst in 2009 was due to jobless young people giving up their search, not finding a job. The 4,000 youth internships in this budget will have no substantive impact,” says CCPA Senior Economist Armine Yalnizyan. “This is no time for small measures. An entire generation of young workers is on the line and the federal government has a serious role it could be playing.”

Council of Canadians

The Council of Canadians is responding to today’s federal budget, which the organization argues is being used to distract public attention from the government’s negative activities in relation to trade, water, climate and energy, mining, health care, and democracy.

“The Harper government has just delivered another austerity budget that hurts us all. The Finance Department is now projecting a surplus of $6.4 billion next year, but the federal government remains on track to cut $90 billion in federal spending by 2017. This hurts our public health care system, it denies help for seniors and veterans, it withholds needed funding for the Great Lakes, and it fails to invest in clean water for First Nations and a renewable energy future for all of us. This is not a ‘do-nothing budget’, it’s an intentional assault on the public interest.” – Brent Patterson, Political Director

“This budget is an Economic Distraction Plan, to divert public attention from the negative impacts of Harper’s cuts to public services, including water protections. What Canada needs is a bold national water policy — one that prioritizes community water and wastewater, Great Lakes protection and clean drinking water in First Nation communities. But it is sad and yet unsurprising that the Harper government did not deliver on this. There is not a single mention of funding for the Great Lakes and funding for drinking water in First Nation communities has even dropped by $6.6 million over two years when it should be increased by over $300 million per year. It’s alarming to see the federal government continue to push a corporate agenda by funding controversial Public-Private Partnerships while failing to adequately invest in water research andprotection of one of our most precious resources.” – Emma Lui, Water Campaigner

“This budget isn’t being used to create economic growth in Canada, it’s being used to cut public services to give corporations a break in their taxes. Health care has been cut so dramatically in Canada that it actually denies people services. We’re balancing the budget at the expense of health care for refugees, veterans, seniors, and those needing palliative care, mental health care, and prescription drugs. We’re hurting small and poorer provinces across the country by jettisoning federal responsibilities onto them. This budget does not reflect the Canada that Canadians are trying to build. The federal government is turning its back on our most vulnerable and waking away from health care.”– Adrienne Silnicki, Health Care Campaigner

(FTQ and CSN comments translated from original French by TML.)

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