I don’t know how to swim.

Growing up, there was a 15-dirham weekly fee for swimming lessons at my local school, about $4, and my parents could not afford that much for me and my sisters.

It’s a little thing not being able to swim. It’s not not like Lake Ontario has the best press or anything. But every now and then I wish I could.

So when Rob Ford increases user fees (Miller had user fees too), in some cases charging $68 for what were once free classes for low-income families, I think about all those kids that won’t learn swimming.

And when Harper promises to save $11 billion in the next three years, cutting ‘fat‘ from government spending, I get a little worried. Harper says there will be no cuts to major programs, Flaherty says some services will be cut. Right.

Rob Ford insisted that there would be no service cuts, and now there are user fees, and transit cuts across Toronto’s poor neighbourhoods. Public housing is under attack. Public city services, including garbage removal, are looking to be privatized.

The people worse off, poor people, undocumented people, migrant workers, those on disability, many of them racialized, are being forced to pay to balance the books.

And the same will happen under Harper’s plan of corporate tax cuts, slashing services, and expanding police, jails and the war machine — the economically and politically marginalized will suffer.

So, can the Liberals save us?

Let’s look at the provincial plan. The recent Ontario budget promised to cut 1,500 jobs (on top of the 3,500 cut the year before), and therefore the services that those people provide. A Commission on the Reform of Public Services has been established to try and privatize as many government services as possible — which means lower fees, lesser services and more corporate profit.

The federal plan is no different. Ignattieff keeps harping about supporting Medicare, but is blatantly vague about the details. The Liberal focus is on more funding for home care, and decreasing the cost of prescription drugs. What he’s not saying publicly is that it would probably mean increasing labour efficiency, i.e. forcing healthcare workers to work harder, thus reducing the quality of care. Also, if $2 billion a year is put in to health care, other services will be cut — what will those be? And of course, no conversation about the over a million undocumented and uninsured residents that can’t access ‘universal’ healthcare.

Make no mistake: Canada, its cities, its provinces and its federal government is on one path. That of slashing and privatizing public services (while handing out corporate tax cuts and increasing militarization). No matter who wins any elections, that will happen. This is the age of austerity that the G20 gave us in June 2010.

The question is what are we going to about it?


On elections: Canada is a settler state on Indigenous land and has no moral authority to impose a government. Elections are the means by which this colonial project claims legitimacy for its aggressive policies of cultural and material appropriation and murder. Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people on this land refuse to vote as an assertion of sovereignty. 1 in 25 residents of Canada, undocumented migrants, temporary workers, permanent residents and others without full immigration status cannot vote. Electoral democracy is a sham where certain people make decisions without building consensus or gaining a mandate from their so-called constituents. The transformative change that most people desire will not come from the ballot box. Neither voting nor avoiding the vote are sufficient to create the kinds of worlds we wish to live in.

Syed Hussan

Syed Hussan is an organizer and writer in Toronto working with undocumented and migrant people, in defense of Indigenous sovereignty, and against counter intuitive programs like war and capitalism....