OP/ED: An uplifting weekend
I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference in Nanaimo sponsored by the Council of Canadians. Maude Barlow and others in this social justice organization have been in the forefront when it comes to dealing with issues that threaten the very fabric of our nation.
It was very encouraging to see the strong involvement of our First Nations in this conference. We were fortunate to hear from Chief Douglas White of the Snuneymuxw First Nation as well as Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. I sensed a real feeling of solidarity between representation of the First Nations community and like-minded people from all walks of life when it comes to stopping the Embridge pipeline or speaking out against our so-called “free trade” agreements or what I would call, “corporate rights agreements”.
In listening to the various speakers and in talking to those present, I got the feeling that a movement is growing in Canada to take back our country. In fact, the theme of the conference was, “Making Waves – Sinking the Harper Agenda”. One of the most interesting sessions I attended was one entitled, “Uniting Against Austerity: Strengthening Solidarity in the Movement for Economic Justice”. The synopsis of this session was as follows:
At the G8/G20 summits held in Canada in 2010, leaders pledged to eliminate government debt by implementing austerity measures. In Canada and round the world we have seen what this means – severe cuts in pensions and social programs, attacks on trade unions, immigrants and marginalized communities, deregulation and privatization, and cuts to public sector jobs. At a time when people are demanding the end of austerity in favour of stimulus spending, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s agenda is to press ahead with harsh austerity measures and corporate tax cuts. This panel will survey the global scene, examine what the Harper agenda means in Canada and look at how resistance is growing.
One of the dynamic speakers of this Plenary Panel was Irene Lanzinger, former President of the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) and current Secretary Treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour. As a former teacher, I must say that it was an honour for me to finally meet Irene. In her presentation she talked about how the current BC “neo-conservative” Liberal government manufactured a crises in our province when it first come to power in 2001 and how it subsequently used this to trample on the rights of workers and attack unions.
Irene reminded us that the day after winning the 2001 election, Premiere Campbell cut income taxes by 25% and brought the corporate tax rate from 16.5% to 10%. As a result, billions of dollars of potential revenue were lost. This then brought about budgets being slashed in health care, education and other sectors such as forestry.
Others speakers on this panel gave a global overview of austerity and what it has meant for people around the world. John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want from the UK talked about the greatest social restructuring in Europe where 50% of the youth in Spain are unemployed and 500 000 public sector jobs are set to be cut in Britain.
Robert Chernomas, Professor of Economics at the University of Manitoba calls the current austerity measures “class warfare”. He also pointed out that the Nordic countries have been able to avoid much of these hardships due to their strong social programs and robust economics as a result of correct political decisions.
As I have stated numerous times in previous speeches and columns, clearly we have done something wrong in this country. There is absolutely no reason that in a country as rich in natural and human resources as we are, that the income gap is growing, manufacturing and public sector jobs are being lost and poverty and food banks use is on the rise. The answer to all this by the current Harper administration is lower corporate taxes, more so called “free trade” agreements and an increase in the eligibility age for pensions.
Surely there are other more effective ways to improve the quality of life for all Canadians without selling off all our raw resources and signing trade agreements that tie the hands of local governments to make decisions in the best interests of their citizens.
Canadians deserve better. We will have a chance in 3 years to elect a progressive federal NDP government. Let’s all work together to make this happen.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.