Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Lana Payne offers an introduction to austerity for Newfoundland and Labrador residents who are just learning about it on a provincial level:
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also taken a rather deep liking to austerity.

It is a ready-made excuse to gut government and change the positive role it should play in our lives, in building a better society, in sharing economic wealth and mitigating the inequality gap.

It is another excuse to trash government as a catalyst to build opportunities for all citizens; another excuse to turn Canada into a fend-for-yourself country, where collective action is a thing of the past.
So in this regard, austerity fits nicely with the Harper conservative ideology.

Many economists have blamed austerity at the federal level for reducing economic growth. Three austerity budgets have resulted in fewer opportunities for Canadians, especially younger Canadians. David MacDonald, who leads the Alternative Federal Budget process, advised the Harper government to “turn off the austerity auto-pilot and get the economy going.” Instead of “budgeting with eyes wide shut,” Mr. MacDonald, an economist, urges government to address the issues that most Canadians struggle with every day, instead of making things worse and leaving Canadians to fend for themselves.
The cuts are beginning to form a theme. The Family Violence Intervention Court. Human Rights Commission. Adult Basic Education. Dental program for poor seniors. Arts and Culture. Libraries. They are the sorts of public programs that speak to the kind of society we wish to have; one that protects the vulnerable (abused women and children), that provides opportunities and second chances, that ensures our history and culture is not just for those who can afford it.
- Paul Buchhelt discusses how the corporate wealth-extraction machine is built on the backs of mere citizens. And Leo Gerard points out the bait-and-switch tactics used to focus people on tiny amounts of money distributed through social programs, rather than the trillions of dollars siphoned offshore for the benefit of the very few.

- Erin Weir writes that the problems with the Cons' temporary foreign worker program goes far beyond RBC:
The number of temporary foreign workers in Canada has more than doubled since the Harper government took office. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration reports the presence of 338,000 temporary foreign workers at the end of 2012.

This temporary work force is now almost as large as New Brunswick’s entire employed labour force and far exceeds that of Newfoundland and Labrador (not to mention Prince Edward Island.) With remarkably little evidence or public consultation, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has added the equivalent of a small province to Canada’s labour market.
(T)he program’s expansion has not been targeted to perceived shortages. RBC is not alone in bringing temporary foreign workers to Toronto, a city with an unemployment rate well above the national average.

Since 2008, the number of temporary foreign workers has increased by 24,000 or 60 per cent in Toronto, 18,000 or 70 per cent in Quebec, and 5,000 or 80 per cent in the Atlantic provinces. Together, these regions of high unemployment account for most of the post-recession increase in Canada’s temporary foreign work force. With the exception of Toronto as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, wages in these regions are below the national average.

Expanding labour supply, without an offsetting expansion of demand, increases unemployment and/or decreases wages. Because temporary foreign workers are not permitted to permanently settle in Canada and often remit earnings to their home countries, they are unlikely to contribute as much to Canadian consumer demand as to labour supply.

The government’s policy of allowing employers to pay temporary foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage obviously undercuts prevailing wages. Because temporary foreign workers are beholden to their employers, they have little ability to assert their workplace rights or negotiate wage improvements.

An econometric study based on data through 2007 published last year in Canadian Public Policy concludes, “The expansion [of the Temporary Foreign Worker program] in Canada to all low-skill occupations without limit has had an adverse effect on the Canadian labour market.” There is reason to fear that adding more vulnerable workers to weak labour markets since 2008 has further worsened unemployment and undermined wages.
- Peter Graefe notes that Quebec's example of higher taxes at the top, more income redistribution and greater direct social programming has produced a "Sweden on the Saint-Lawrence" that the rest of Canada would do well to emulate:
(E)very province has its own path to putting together movement pressures with political parties and with sympathetic bureaucrats to advance an equality agenda. The Quebec case does show that it is possible to make a significant difference on the provincial scale, which should perhaps push movements to make progress on the provincial front first, rather than trying to cobble together pressure on the federal government.

Perhaps more importantly, the specific policies and strategies adopted in Quebec are largely absent from the vocabulary of political actors in the rest of the country. Policies have been tried and shown to work. Their effects both on individuals directly affected, but also on big picture indicators like taxation, employment, inequality and poverty, have started to be catalogued. These examples should be up the sleeve of every social policy activist in Canada as solutions within the grasp of a provincial government. Movements for equality do themselves no favour when they leave this knowledge on the shelf on the assumption that Quebec is somehow as foreign as Sweden.
- Finally, Jason ambitiously asks what politics are all about - while offering some suggestions for Cam Broten in his role as the Saskatchewan NDP's leader.


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