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No one paying attention should be surprised by Harper government's fake pension 'crisis'

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The Stephen Harper we thought we knew

Does it really surprise anyone that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is preparing an attack on ordinary Canadians' retirement security when even the advice of the government's own experts affirms there's no evidence such change is required?

Does it really surprise anyone that's he's doing it now, just when he'd persuaded us he was a really fine, avuncular, sweater-wearing fellow, possibly holding a pussy cat, who said absolutely nothing about this topic during his recent election campaign?

Seriously, people, this is the neo-Con modus operandi -- when the opportunity presents itself, manufacture a "crisis" and move swiftly to "resolve" it while the opposition is still silently bug-eyed with astonishment and trying to remember where the facts were filed.

If you're feeling any surprise, then you really weren't paying attention. Indeed, if the implications for generations of Canadians weren't so serious, it would be tempting to tell anyone over 50 who voted for the Harper Conservatives that they sort of deserve that "Kick Me" sign someone scotch-taped to their backs.

The bankster-fuelled financial crisis in Europe provides plausible cover in this regard -- never mind that, as even the usually reliably Conservative Globe and Mail pointed out on Monday, Canadian pensions aren't in trouble the way European pensions are because Canada already "spends far less than the OECD average on public pensions."

As rabble.ca's Duncan Cameron noted, we're 23rd on the list of 30 industrialized OECD nations on overall social spending, and we rank even worse on public spending for pensions.

So this is proof that Harper, always contemptuous of the Canadian hoi polloi, had it wrong in 1997 when he dismissed us to a friendly audience of U.S. hyper-conservatives as "a northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term." Apparently not, it turns out!

Indeed, according to the Globe's coverage, there is no need to make Canada's national pension plans "sustainable" or "affordable" because they already are sustainable and affordable.

But never mind that. That kind of talk is for Canada's reality-based community, which, like a sane person dealing for the first time with a pathological liar, is struggling to add up the columns of numbers to prove that big reductions to our national pension system really aren't needed.

As one of the experts consulted by the Globe put it: "The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes." Moreover, he went on, "there is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future."

But that's not going to work with this bunch because this isn't about what's needed. It's about what Harper wants -- to satisfy his ideological fundamentalism and to satisfy his friends and financiers in the "wealth management" industry, which presumably refers to their wealth and your management.

And it sure as heck isn't about facts, at least in the normal meaning of the term -- truths known by actual experience or observation.

On the contrary, as you should have known, this isn't a government that really likes facts very much. That is why they tossed out the long-form census questionnaire, turned climate change science into an ideological issue, muzzled government scientists whose data didn't match the party's ideology, took steps to short-circuit the environmental approval process for their beloved pipelines, and ignored Canada's falling crime rates while plotting to build a multi-billion-dollar prison gulag.

They don't like facts because facts have a bad habit of contradicting their market fundamentalist dogma, not to mention their wedge political strategies. Faced with actual facts, they'd really rather be in a position where they can just make up new ones.

That's what Government House Leader Peter Van Loan was up to when he blandly implied that we'll have to take a little less when retire so that we'll have anything at all, when in fact, as yet another of the Globe's pension authorities put it yesterday, "Canada's pension system is looking good on the measures of adequacy."

As for the timing, it should have been obvious that Harper was going to draw his inspiration from the Mike Harris government in Ontario and the Ralph Klein government in Alberta, both driven by a radical ideology whose strategy was to attack public services and social benefits as hard as they could early in their time in power.

The timing of Harper's attack on pensions has nothing to do with the crisis in Europe and everything to do with the electoral cycle in Canada. As was explained in another Globe and Mail story Monday, "simply put, the Prime Minister, who has never had the luxury of a majority government before, has a year and a half left to be bold before the ticking of the election clock drowns out everything else."

But because Harper is more radical than either Harris or Klein -- again, something that should have been obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to what he's been saying over and over and over through the years, from his contempt for Canada as a "second-rate" country to the Alberta separatist Firewall Manifesto -- it seems likely he will try to go farther, faster, now that he has a majority.

Well, he does have a majority, so don't expect our Opposition parties to be very effective inside Parliament, which is, as Conservatives used to constantly complain in their years away from power, not much more than an elected dictatorship.

Only one thing can even slow them down -- as we proved, oddly enough, right here in perpetually Conservative Alberta during Klein's "Third Way" effort to privatize public health care -- and that is sustained, noisy public pressure.

A big noise with no letup stopped Klein's plan to jam us with his Third World Way to health care, and it can work to save our national social programs too. If we lead, our opposition politicians will follow.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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