Stiffed with the bill: A private banquet at civil society's expense

| September 22, 2010

"With a stroke of the pen, a government can destroy the social safety net built carefully by generations."

- John Hilary, executive director of the War on Want

An untendered contract for $16 billion for unneeded fighter jets. And $1.3 billion spent on security for the G8 and G20 Summits. One hundred and sixteen votes passed quickly --cabinet-rushed-secret-g20-change-documents-show by Premier Dalton McGuinty -- time for consideration approximately 8.2 minutes each -- to pass unheard-of laws to criminalize dissent, days before the G20 Summit. A federal Conservative party which filibustered the vote for a full public inquiry into police conduct during the summits, calling all 25,000 protesters "pro-violent."

The provincial Liberal government's MacDonald Block offices raided on July 15th by the OPP -- Ministries of Transportation, Economic Development and Trade and Community and Social Services -- launching an investigation into "irregular financial transactions" between the provincial government and outside vendors. And the only good news -- on July 30th, there was the sudden withdrawal of SNC-Lavalin from the $1 right-of-way contract for the Air Rail Link. The full responsibility for the ARL has been transferred to Metrolinx, whose Chief Operating Officer Rob Prichard is being replaced by Bruce McCuaig, with the possibility now of the ARL becoming electric. Preemptive?

Canada's national deficit stands at $54 billion, yet there were $6 billion in corporate tax cuts this year. A 13 per cent HST has been imposed which means that the average wage earner will have even less discretionary income to spend, so that companies can have even greater tax cuts, ostensibly to invest in new jobs. New austerity measures, recommended by a rightwing think-tank, the Conference Board of Canada, to cut many thousands of public sector jobs in health care, education and social services in the next three years, while testing an unproven job creation scheme subsidized by the HST.

Have you ever felt that someone else has held a private banquet at your expense, and stiffed you with the bill, and tip? A bill which now has the Harmonized, also known as the Hated, Sales Tax added? Is any of this HST going toward maintaining public services? No. It is an additional tax to enable banks, corporations and the military to fortify themselves at civil society's expense, and the public sector's demise. As someone pointed out, a wartime levy.

Canada is becoming militarized, and as we witnessed during the G20, this military state can work against its citizens as well as its aggressors. Provincially, the HST is streaming more funds into the pockets of corporations, with a tax deduction to them as they ransack Canada for its resources, and externalize the cost of destruction of our environment, and no one is fighting to defend the imperative civil right for the full environmental assessment process. On June 8th, Bill C-9, the Budget Implementation Act was passed, which contained several provisions enabling the National Energy Board to conduct their own environmental assessments for oil and gas developments -- which is like asking my students to mark themselves. This bill was passed during the BP oil spill, with minimal outcry by the Liberal party.

And what does it mean when 11,000 jobs from the public sector will be cut by 2013?

A close friend of mine told me that when his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, his family thought it prudent that she was placed into a private, rather than public, nursing home, assuming that the care was better. A few months later, they found that she was terribly neglected, and moved her into a public home. Surprisingly, they found that public sector care was much better than private, because the public nursing home was regulated by the government.

These are the public sector jobs -- in nursing homes, schools, hospitals, transit, municipal services -- which will be slashed to feed the bailout by the government for financial mismanagement incurred by the banks, which, incidentally, are making quite a healthy profit this quarter. The banks rebounded quickly, but our public sector, subjected to this drummed up, specious logic of emergency bill austerity measures, will not. Rather than requesting that the banks repay the debt they owe taxpayers by instituting a novel, and effective, infinitesimally small Robin Hood tax on bank transactions to tackle poverty and climate change, we will pay for these cuts with our society's health. PM Harper opposed the imposition of the Robin Hood tax before the G20 to ensure his illusory future job as CEO of an American corporation, with Canada as a subsidiary, specializing in natural resources.

Of course, there is no interest in a long census form by the Conservative Party. They have stopped representing Canadians, particularly lower income Canadians, long ago. Their goal is to have corporate taxes cut down to 15 per cent by 2012. What does this mean? As the social safety net is eroded, the federal government is anticipating growing dissent from those they are contesting the need to collect data about -- those who are lower income, disabled and on a fixed income -- to justify building a larger military-industrial complex to suppress those who are disenfranchised. Part of this Orwellian speech model is to publicly conflate protesters with vandals in the public mind so that they ramp up their expenditure on weapons of war, as opposed to building public transit infrastructure for the rabble. Sustainable, electric rail transit throughout Ontario could have been handily built with this promised contractual money for fighter jets, but was not deemed worthy. No explanation needed.

We can look forward to much more violence in our cities as basic needs are no longer met, as they have robbed Peter to pay Paul, and the Pauls are a tiny fraction of the population, secure behind a costly fence which cost $9.4 million, almost double the quoted $5.5 million by SNC-Lavalin. During the G20, the Toronto police were handed a blank cheque by the federal government, enabling the purchase of a substantial arsenal for a police state, so that the military has been fortified to quell growing dissent. It is not a coincidence that this police arsenal will be kept in Toronto, one of the hot spots of the thinking left, but it is a pity that Mayor Miller, who has felt the brunt of this G20 fiasco on police credibility, did not defend the protesters who were speaking in his best interests for the environment, transit and social justice.

Historically, when a society's parliamentary process is suspended and disrupted, trade unions undermined, and people of property, such as the rightwing press, banks and big business, are privileged, these policies are the precursors to a fascist state. I use this term with full cognizance of its weight and implication. Parliament has been prorogued twice by Harper within 13 months, and the formal request by over 50,000 citizens, including lawyers, Amnesty International, and the Civil Liberties Association, for the full, public inquiry into the tactics and cost of the G20 and G8 Summits has been denied by Harper and McGuinty. The Liberals stood up against the census, but did not speak out for a public G20 inquiry, which shows implicit support for the military apparatus being put in place. Spines, please.

In Journey to a Revolution, Michael Korda writes of the Hungarian Revolution:
"the general object of fascism was to stifle dissent, and bolster the existing establishment, while producing much drama in the way of rallies, parades, and propoganda, and the occasional foreign adventure to siphon off the energy of the lower middle class and the working class, who might otherwise have moved towards radical social reform."

The Olympics? The G8 and the G20? The Pan Am Games? Bread not circuses, anyone? In addition to ceaseless pageantry, Harper deliberately prorogued parliament a second time to enact a bill, more powerful than NAFTA to undercut our sovereignty, the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). This far reaching bill will provide sub-national access to municipal services, and undermine the public sector even further, losing thousands of good, Canadian jobs to international outsourcing.

Put it together. Civil society is no longer is prioritized by our government, our country is being sold off to corporations and banks, enabled by a newly armed police state, and expanding prison system, and jobs in our public sector are about to be slashed for international corporations to profit through CETA. This is a Conservative agenda campaign, military in execution, orchestrated by Harper, against local economies and the right to self-determination. Provincially, McGuinty is designing his own policies through corporate gladhanding of governmental contracts.

Meanwhile, all over the Internet, discussion postings on news articles are polarized -- are we allowed to protest, or not? And I think -- for those who are Conservative -- your rights are next. Although your values have been upheld by this minority government, I have noticed your online responses can only discredit the protesters by saying that they do not know what they are talking about, and labeling them as unemployed and shiftless. Name calling. Ad hominem attacks. And when you call someone names, all discussion ends. A primary school tactic used by bullies on the playground, undercutting fundamental rights upheld by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for the right to assembly, and free speech, which you are using to discredit serious concerns about the democratic process, and silence those who are brave, engaged, and well-versed in international policy.

I have never been so concerned about the future of Canada, and I am hearing this from many of those who lived through the events of the past seven weeks in Toronto. Nowhere is the civil society being served or protected -- by our police, by our elected representatives, by our city councilors, our mayor, or by our media. When I read letters on the editorial page ranting about the public sector salaries, I compare these costs to the multi-billion dollar bailouts given to the banks, the golden parachutes given to bank executives, and the inflationary pageantry, and corporate contracts, for the Vancouver Olympic Games and G8 and G20 Summits. Compare these taxpayers' expenses to those supporting our civil society, and quality of life. At least the public sector provides essential services, and is forced to be accountable.

I am an ethical citizen, yet my voice no longer matters. The moral and financial costs arising from all this pomp and circumstance, and the insidious HST, have already deeply hurt me. I have no government representation -- not in Premier McGuinty, or Prime Minister Harper -- and neither do the vast majority of Canadians. I cannot afford, and do not want to pay, for cuts to the public sector under these new, jerry-rigged austerity measures so that a self-selected corporate elite can pad their pockets, banks can prosper again, and a military empire, outfitted with new, massive $10.65 billion prisons, can arise from the ashes, and I am not sure I can. I am too busy counting my pocket change to pay the HST on my electricity, gas, transit and groceries to join the banquet, while predicting that I will be stiffed with the tab as the more important guests flee the table.

I ardently believe, though, if you held a poll of Canadians and asked them if they wanted to live in a country which valued the military, corporations and banks more than our health care system, social services, education, transit system and environment, even the most deeply Conservative Canadian would say "no."

References:
Shout for Global Justice, John Hilary speaks at 30:00

The War on Want

Jeffrey Simpson, 'Just what we need: a $16-billion fighter jet.'

Robert Benzie, 'Cabinet rushed secret G20 change, documents show.'

Steven Chase,'Tory filibuster seeks to block hearings on G20 policing.' 

Keith Leslie,'Questions linger over OPP raids Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne confirms Transport Ministry was a target.'

Tess Kalinowski, 'Province vows rapid rail link to Pearson by 2015 Pan Ams.' 

Michael Korda, 'Journey to a Revolution: A Personal Memoir and History of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956', HarperCollins; 2006. page 54.  More here.  

David J. Climenga, Bill C-9: 'Earmarks' have no place in Canadian legislation.' 

Heather Scoffield, 'Canada says no to 'Robin Hood' tax.  

Stephen Hui, 'Statistics Canada head resigns over long-form census controversy.'

Lauren O'Neill, 'G20 fence costs $9.4M, nearly double original estimate.' 


Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

Co-curator and contributing blogger for The Real G8/G20, http://therealg8g20.com/ Elizabeth Littlejohn blogs at Railroaded by Metrolinx. She noted that the constructive forums which occurred in the week prior to the G20, which included the People's Summit and Shout Out for Global Justice, were completely ignored by the mainstream media, and hopes that The Real G8/G20 will remedy the imbalance of this reportage.

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