In Atlantic Canada, Casualties of Capitalism

by Victor Morgan

Covid-19 has been difficult on our entire country, with local and family business all but a thing of the past.  Bankruptcy is a real threat to all due to the uncertainty of the relief plan, and many families are greeting funeral home directors instead of mom and dad.

This dismal economic outlook however is something Atlantic Canada and my own home province of Newfoundland and Labrador has been living with as a reality for decades. Our economy, education and healthcare have been letting us down for longer than I have been alive. I was born into a province being sucked dry of its wealth and resources by special interest groups that are being cheered on by our provincial and federal governments. From the cod moratorium of almost 30 years to our empty mines and forgotten forestry industries, empty paper mills and fish plants, we are a province feeling defeated. With that feeling of defeat comes an increase in alcoholism, an increase in unemployment, an increase in drug abuse, an increase in suicide rates and an increase in crime, both petty and major. Unfortunately, with those, an increase in mental health spending has not come.  The small adjustments here and there that have been made are like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.  With the second longest emergency room wait-times in the country, and a severe shortage of family doctors, our mental health is deteriorating. Many people, both young and old, who require mental help or even just some level of mental health support, are feeling forgotten and left out in the cold. I myself have been waiting for a call back from the mental health department of our hospital for over 2 years now.  My management job did not provide me with insurance that includes mental health coverage. 

Beyond the failings of our governments is another set of capitalist dictates that are kicking us while we’re down.  I and many people I’ve worked with have suffered directly from this late-stage capitalist experiment — unable to be with family members while they pass away, unable to attend funerals, or go to important, long-awaited doctor’s appointments because the loss of work hours would make us unable to afford rent or other costs of living.  These are just a few examples of the sacrifices many of us have made just to stay housed and out of the cold, that’s assuming we can afford to keep our homes warm in the first place. With hydro and oil rates bordering on extortion, that too has become a juggling act.  Energy charges have steadily increased these past few years, leaps and bounds beyond inflation.  Not only is minimum wage not keeping up; it has left us in the dust with skyrocketing bills, rent, medical care and other out-of-pocket expenses. For example, in Newfoundland and Labrador the minimum wage is $12.15 hourly, about $1,650 a month, with a 15 per cent tax (just federal). A one-bedroom apartment can cost, on average, $750 a month.  If you own a vehicle, with car insurance prices some of the highest in the country, full coverage on average is $250 a month.  If you are making payments on the car add another $250 a month. Cell phone? That’s going to be $80. Internet? Chalk up another $70.  Utilities? How about another $100.  Gas?  Another $200, if you don’t have far to go to work, that is. With just those necessities, estimated at low to sub average rates, we are already over $1,700 a month.  Not included are personal hygiene products, clothes, maintenance on your vehicle, or FOOD. 

I have personally seen the suffering these costs impose.  Many companies in Atlantic Canada refuse to pay bereavement days, holiday pay, overtime pay and they fight workers’ compensation claims tooth and nail.  It’s clear they view labor laws as mere suggestions rather than as actual rules.  Any kind of relief is difficult to come by.  Life here has become a balancing act, keeping a job that is destroying your health in order to pay for a living situation that is not fulfilling your health needs. 

We need swift, strong action to pick up our province from the ditch in which capitalism has left us.  Unfortunately, it seems the powers that be have no interest in any substantial change.  They are too busy filling their pockets. So maybe it’s time the powers that be are changed. We have tried capitalism for generations, and for generations it has been failing us.  It’s time we try something new, a real socialist movement to put the power where it belongs, to serve working class people instead of corrupt elites.