Budget targets federal workers

by Barry Weisleder
New Democratic Party MP and Finance Critic Peggy Nash called the February 11 Conservative federal budget a “do nothing budget”.
We should be so lucky!
In reality, it is a broadside assault on workers. Federal public service retirees, including from the military and the RCMP, will be asked to pay 50 per cent of premiums for their health care plan. The average annual retiree contribution will jump from $261 to $550, saving Ottawa $7.4 Billion. This goes towards a whopping $12.3 Billion in targetted cuts. The government will also require of its employees six years of service before qualifying for the health plan at retirement.
Combined with the Tory-backed Canada Post Corporation decision to end door-to-door mail delivery, which will eliminate about 8,000 letter carrier jobs over the next four years, the Conservative financial statement deepens the one-sided class war known as ‘austerity’.
What about job creation? After all, officially there are 1.3 million unemployed — more if you count the hundreds of thousands of ‘discouraged’ workers.
OTTK105164029_highOn that score Finance Minister Jim Flaherty claims that a centre piece of his budget is the $500 million a year earmarked for “skills training”. But training for what jobs? At the same time he scrapped a $200 million annual hiring credit for small business.
Compared to $279 Billion in overall federal spending, the sums that are allocated to training and related initiatives, like the $12 million-a-year loan programme to help apprentices pay for training, the $10 million a year to help boost new companies, and $500 million over two years in repayable loans for new vehicle technology, are truly miniscule.
The 419 page fiscal document offers nothing to improve pension security, nothing to provide affordable medical drugs, or fund care givers to the growing senior segment of the population.
Yet there’s plenty of money for prisons, spying and the armed forces.
If Prime Minister Stephen Harper has his way, between 2010 and 2017 federal spending will have been slashed by $90 Billion.
The only visible spark in the financial parleys arose from the dispute among Tory politicians over ‘income splitting’, a measure designed to reduce the taxes of couples with children and a stay-at-home spouse. Flaherty sidelined this Tory promise of the 2011 election campaign because, according to him, it would mostly favour the rich. But Harper wants to keep it. The $5 Billion it would cost, ironically, could fund a national childcare programme.
So, what is this exercise really about?
“It’s all about next year’s budget”, said NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.Mulcair Actually, counting the government’s contingency fund, a slim surplus already exists, after a decade of deficit slaying. In 2015 the surplus is expected to hit $6.4 Billion. That’s enough to generate more tax cuts for the affluent, and a few pre-election gimmicks aimed at winning another Harper majority.
The budget, as political pundits are wont to say, is a political document. The next Omnibus bill is where the government will tightly pack its goodies for the rich, together with an array of anti-social and undemocratic measures. That’s where the rubber hits the road.
So, what should the labour-based NDP do about it? The Official Opposition NDP should show where the deficit and debt originated: in the government bail-out of the big banks and giant auto firms, in tax cuts for the corporate elite, and in military spending ($3.1 Billion of which has been simply deferred, for the sake of appearances).
The NDP should demand an end to ‘socialism for the rich’, including the $1 Billion in subsidies to oil companies whose tar sands oil produces deadly spills and fuels climate disasters.
The Council of Canadians responded to the federal budget arguing that it is being used to distract public attention from the government’s actions on trade, water, climate and energy, mining, health care, and democracy.
The Harper government “remains on track to cut $90 billion in federal spending by 2017. This hurts our public health care system, it denies help for seniors and veterans, it withholds needed funding for the Great Lakes, and it fails to invest in clean water for First Nations and a renewable energy future for all of us. This is not a ‘do-nothing budget’, it’s an intentional assault on the public interest”, said Brent Patterson, CoC Political Director.
These are points the NDP should make, instead of focussing on high bank fees and simply repeating the mantra about “making life more affordable.”
Mulcair should follow the lead of the labour-backed Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in demanding national childcare and pharmacare, affordable housing, improved employment insurance, lower university tuition, restoring 65 as the age of eligibility for Old Age Insurance, getting decent housing and water for First Nations, and reinstatement of the funding for the Interim Federal Health Programme.
It’s clear that the fight for such measures, as part of a Workers’ Agenda that includes public ownership under workers’ control of big industry, will have to be advanced outside of Parliament by working people, from the grass roots up.Ar0qK08CIAAt1YU