by Gary Porter
On August 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Governor General Julie Payette to prorogue the Parliament of Canada until September 23, 2020. This was not to reshape government priorities in light of major weaknesses in our health care system revealed by the Covid-19 pandemic, after 40 years of brutal austerity. Nor was it to rectify the gaping and growing inequalities in Canadian society. It was done to put the WE charity scandal involving Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau on the shelf. It was done to resolve Trudeau’s differences with Morneau, a major Bay Street venture capitalist. Morneau opposed extension of Covid-19-related payouts, even though much of it is to big capitalists. The result was Morneau’s resignation.
Trudeau appointed Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, as the new Finance Minister.
Trudeau, Freeland and the mandarins of the PMO, presented their Throne Speech to the combined houses of Parliament, read by the Governor General on September 23. It was a 6,800-word masterpiece of self-congratulation, liberal platitudes, shop worn promises and clever deceit.
This was enough to obtain the support of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, along with one or two relatively minor concessions to workers. The federal NDP has steadily acted as a left pressure group on the capitalist Liberals. The current Liberal minority is an ideal scenario for these timid social democrats. Only once in its 60-year history has the NDP stood on the verge of forming a federal government — and they lost that opportunity to the Liberals who ran on a more left-sounding platform.
The NDP working class base deserves a clear Workers’ Agenda as an alternative to the capitalist pandemic failures, the massive recession, climate destruction, endless imperialist wars and cuts to the public sector. The NDP should strive to form a Workers’ Government to challenge the rule of the billionaires.
Instead, the NDP giddily crosses class lines and pledges confidence in the arch-capitalist Liberal Party for extending sick pay benefits to some categories of workers not currently covered, and for increasing the reorganized Covid-19 benefits to workers from the Throne Speech amount of $400 weekly to $500 weekly.
These changes are important to the workers who benefit, but cannot compare to the massive handouts to business. All the neo-liberal austerity priorities continue, as do the massive corporate tax breaks, permissive offshoring of profits to tax havens, government support to the climate killing oil business and to the giant predatory Canadian mining corporations that pillage the countries of Africa and Latin America. To vote confidence in such a government is a stunning betrayal of workers and oppressed people in Canada and around the world.
For capitalists expecting a fiscal anchor or a swift path back to balanced budgets, the speech made it clear that “this is not the time for austerity.” Women, racialized and young workers are a disproportionate part of the essential workforce. They are hardest hit by pandemic and recession. Trudeau and the Liberals understand, as Morneau may not, that failing to provide some relief to such workers can result in rapidly growing unrest and social disruption. So, the flow of remittances will continue, for now. But there is no rollback of 40 years of austerity. And the relief hovers at the level of the Low-Income Cut-off definition of poverty.
Here are some key highlights.
The speech promises that Liberals will help provinces and territories ramp up their COVID-19 testing capacity so that Canadians are not stuck waiting in line for hours.
The speech notes Canada has secured access to candidate vaccines and therapeutics while “investing in manufacturing here at home.” The government is pledging to get vaccines to Canadians with investments to beef up its capacity for distribution. But these investments are in profit-making private businesses. Why are the vaccines not destined to be public and free?
“The Government claims it will launch a campaign to create over one million jobs.” It turns out a major feature is ramping up the federal infrastructure bank to invest billions in public-private partnerships designed to reduce risk for private capitalists and increase their rate of profit through leverage, mostly derived from workers’ taxes.
Instead, a massive program of publicly-owned non-GHG-producing power generation and distribution grids, would produce vast numbers of high quality and climate saving jobs.
The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy — which sees Ottawa cover up to 75 per cent of wages for eligible businesses which have lost revenue during the crisis — will be extended until next summer. “The Government will work with businesses and labour to ensure the program meets the needs of the health and economic situation as it evolves. This program to date has given $30 billion to 750,000 businesses with little accountability and little effort to ensure job safety. In some cases, recipients have taken the money and laid off workers anyway.
Liberals are also committing to help the bosses in several other ways:
- Expanding the Canada Emergency Business Account;
- “Improving the Business Credit Availability Program;”
- Bringing in supports for hard-hit industries, including travel and tourism, and the arts.
“Over the coming months, the E.I. system will become the sole delivery mechanism for employment benefits, including for Canadians who did not qualify for E.I. before the pandemic,” it reads. “This pandemic has shown that Canada needs an E.I. system for the 21st century, including for the self-employed and those in the gig economy.”
The government is promising an action plan for women in the economy, led by a task force (talk shop) of diverse “experts”, to ensure the pandemic’s legacy is not “one of rolling back the clock on women’s participation in the workforce.”
The Liberals are promising to do more to create affordable childcare by learning from Quebec’s universal model, introduced in 1996, and to “work with all provinces and territories to ensure that high-quality care is accessible to all.” There’s been nothing but talk for 24 years.
“The Government will… identify additional ways to tax extreme wealth inequality.” In what might be music to the ears of NDP MPs, the Liberals say, not for the first time, that they want the rich to pay more. The speech says the government will “limit the stock option deduction for wealthy individuals at large, established corporations,” and take on “corporate tax avoidance by digital giants.” The stock option deduction should be cancelled outright.
“The Government will work with Parliament on Criminal Code amendments to explicitly penalize those who neglect seniors under their care.”
Older Canadians in privately-owned seniors’ residences died at four times the rate of seniors in public homes. The solution is obvious. Expropriate the private care centers.
Military medical staff blew the whistle over the shameful conditions in some private facilities, which included cockroach infestations, force-feeding and residents left crying in their excrement for hours.
“The Government remains committed to a national, universal pharma care program.” The government says it will “accelerate steps” with the provinces to achieve the system by establishing a national formulary to keep drug prices low. There’s no word of the dollars committed or target dates, much less nationalization of Big Pharma. Don’t hold your breath.
“The Government will immediately bring forward a plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal.” The government has repeatedly made this commitment, and keeps falling farther behind. Government legislates, and profit-driven polluters pollute.
Though the throne speech may not have had the focus on climate change that some deluded souls were hoping for, Liberals have promised to create thousands of jobs retrofitting homes and buildings and to make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable. But there’s no word on tackling the giant oil and gas corporations. Trudeau promised a hodgepodge of incentives to capitalists to make it profitable enough for them not to kill us all. Why are we wasting time on this when publicly-owned, democratically-planned climate control measures can be implemented at far less cost, more efficiently, and without increasing the wealth gap in Canada?
“Many people — especially Indigenous people, and Black and racialized Canadians — have raised their voices and stood up to demand change,” the speech reads. “They are telling us we must do more. The Government agrees.”
Do more? What have the white colonial rulers done so far? Racists complain about the current expenditure levels on indigenous peoples without ever mentioning that the value of land and resources stolen from them vastly exceeds the paltry hand outs they get back.
Among other things, the government says it will accelerate work on the national action plan responding to the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the implementation of the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mere words. The white rulers have always made big promises and delivered little.
Liberals also say they will introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples before the end of 2020.
To tackle systemic racism, the government is promising “better collection of dis-aggregated data,” an action plan to increase representation in the public service, and “action on online hate.” Useful, but a trifle in relation to needed restitution.
Acknowledging the over-representation of Black Canadians and Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system, Liberals say they will present legislation to “address systemic inequalities” in all phases of the criminal justice system, including sentencing, and enhance civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies, including the RCMP.
The Liberals promise to modernize training for police, including “standards around the use of force.” We’ve heard it all before. The whole system is endemically racist. Socialists say: De-fund, disarm and disband the racist cops, de-criminalize drugs and phase-out the prisons.
Indigenous people under UNDRIP have the right to self-determination. Turn the entire process of policing, court and redress of wrongdoing over to the indigenous people. Release Indigenous prisoners into Indigenous hands. Get the racist cops off Indigenous lands.
Trudeau’s throne speech once again does what the Liberals do best. They mention the major issues, sound sympathetic, offer studies, task forces and piffling reforms and do nothing substantial. Instead they spend billions on fighter jets, war ships, subsidies to business, and leave enormous wealth in the grip of the capitalist class. Despite this, they got the support of the Jagmeet Singh leadership of the NDP. Want meaningful change? Join the Socialist Caucus and fight for socialist policies and leadership in the NDP. Join Socialist Action and fight for a Workers’ Government, for workers’ power, Eco-socialism and feminism.