On my recent book tour to promote Thieves of Bay Street, I have journeyed to Alberta, Montreal and Ottawa. In so doing, I have gotten a taste of the Canada which Stephen Harper and his merry band of Tories are trying to forge.
In Calgary, I arrived in time for the final weekend of the Alberta provincial election. The Wildrose Party was poised, given the polls and political scuttlebutt, to become the new government, toppling the long reign of the PC Party. Wildrose is very much a Harper proxy, run by the same political consultants that guided him to power. And quietly backed by the powerful oil patch. Wildrose also had wrapped itself in bigotry, reflected by a couple of its wannabe MLAs who condemned gays and made tactless remarks about people of colour. The immature party leader, Danielle Smith, refused to condemn or dump them, which made Albertans come to their senses and vote back into power the moderate PCs. Still, the whole exercise reflected the alarming rise of the right-wing corporatist, pro-privatization and bigoted elements stalking the land.
In Montreal, the city felt a little under siege as a 10-week-old students' strike dominated the news. You didn't have to travel far to find demonstrators and the ubiquitous cops on street corners. The strike is our first flame of a fightback against the austerity, downloading and cutback agendas of the neo-liberal governments we are saddled with. The Charest government tried to split the students' movement by refusing to negotiate with its more radical faction. By this past weekend, the students had refused to back down from its demands to freeze student tuition fees and had rejected Charest's offer to settle the matter.
In Ottawa, I visited local media outlets, including the CBC, Sunmedia, The Hill Times and CFRA. And the news was not good. People were still bitter about the demise of Nortel, while the Harper government's draconian cuts were sending tremors through the civil service. I came across a great column in the Times by Susan Riley entitled "Standing up for the rich" that listed how the Harper cabinet "cannot be faulted for turning their backs on the wealthy. On the contrary, upper middle class, and even the very rich, Canadians have been protected at every turn from recent economic upheavals and the envious grumblings of the lower orders. Their taxes are not going up as the income gap grows. Their pension options are multiplying rather than shrinking." In the same issue of the Times, another article documented the fears of PSAC that the layoffs of food inspectors might cause another repeat of the 2008 listeriosis outbreak. Meanwhile, my friends at the CBC told me about the impact of the latest rounds of cuts to the once venerable institution.
On my flight back to Toronto and then onto Miami to attend a conference on offshore banking, West Jet lost my luggage (and then took more than a day to deliver it to me) revealing how the private sector's so-called efficiencies are mythical as they work with undertrained and understaffed and underpaid workforces.
This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.