Photo: British High Commission, Ottawa/flickr

With their mere presence flickering in the face of Liberal ubiquity, Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives have decided to go (in the Canadian way) not-quite-full Trump.

So we got their amendment to the Liberal student aid package, a followup to the wage and CERB packages, which Justin Trudeau shamefully accepted. The result is that students, who’ve already lived through the 2008 recession and now COVID-19, will have to grovel by showing they’re earnestly looking for jobs before receiving the benefit, something not applied to others, so far.

They’re expected to track job notifications from the federal Job Bank that, I’m told, can flood your inbox with non-stop “opportunities” often in the “food” sector, like Alberta’s Cargill meat processing plant. It’s had more COVID-infected workers than any workplace in North America.

Worse than the inconvenience is the implicit humiliation. (A sense of dignity is invaluable for surviving stuff like recessions, wars or plagues.) Scheer says the plan “tranquilizes” students against work and they need “incentivizing.” But this is a cohort who often work excessively as they study full time, to pay extortionary tuition fees while also engaging in climate and social justice campaigns.

Many have self-isolated, not because they fear the virus — they’d likely be fine — but, as one said, “because I don’t want to give it to some homeless guy as I pass.” They don’t need civics lessons from Scheer.

In fact, Scheer could use some incentivizing — he’s pretty tranquil. He became an MP at 25, got the cushy perks of House Speaker for nine years and has never known another career. He let the party subsidize his kids’ private school costs. Maybe he should start checking job notices.

Yet the Liberals bought his amendment, which he’ll use as a lever for shifting the same imputations onto the unemployed, gig workers etc. It’s a way to turn the discussion from surviving COVID-19 to preventing lazy, greedy types like students or the unemployed, from ripping off worthy Tory voters and donors.

Why did Liberals agree? Maybe to show they can be tough too, not just “caring.” They’re far easier on employers, who don’t even have to top up the 75 per cent wage subsidies they’re getting from the feds, though they’re gently “encouraged” to.

Or maybe it’s a sign of that Liberal virus, Paul Martinism, i.e., letting the toffs at finance take over the show, giving them a chance to put in play their dusty undergrad economics notes on “moral hazard.” It means — oh, look it up yourself. But roughly: giving greedy, lazy people an excuse to keep being that way.

This is how Conservatives hope to rebuild their right-wing base. It probably won’t work. Why? It’s an imported U.S. right-wing tactic: you turn one desperate group, like former manufacturing workers, against another even more desperate, like inner city minorities. You stoke their fear that the underclasses will rip them off in order to get, say, public health care. They’d rather die themselves than be conned into paying out for their “inferiors.”

But we already have medicare and nobody feels diminished. Plus we lack the unique depth of U.S. racist hysterias along with their imperial delusions.

It’s a reversion to type by right-wing conservatives who now are the party. They got caught up by the pandemic, especially their reliable provincial premiers, who seemed to turn into crazy leftist spenders. For years they promised to unleash the private sector, as if it had been a whipped cur since Reagan/Thatcher, then they wind up unleashing the public sector. They’re trying to get their mojo back.

It’s hard to believe even Scheer believes this rubbish: in the midst of a raging lethal virus, we should worry about youth getting away with not working. He mouthes it because he thinks it’s a way to return to power.

Digression: speaking of Tory premiers, I’ve become fond of Doug Ford and his clichés. “I’m laser focused … I’m on this like a dog on a bone …” Even he seems aware of it but can’t stop. Asked about his health, he said, “I’m healthy as,” then paused aware of what was coming but couldn’t think of an alternative. “A horse,” he surrendered. It’s quite lovable, I’m afraid.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: Andrew Scheer/Facebook


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.