by Victor Morgan
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are not weak people, but we are tired. We have lived through countless economic downturns, depressions, hard times, and encountered many other hurdles. Through all this, we have been on the receiving end of shredded government safety nets and horrible, crippling cuts. Our healthcare has suffered greatly, leaving us with some of the worst emergency room wait times in the country, ranging from 4 to 8 hours before we get to see a doctor. Hospitals here remain cruelly understaffed, leaving many people in a situation of “why bother” when it comes to their health. Many elderly people here must be forced by family to go see the doctor, as the wait times and hurdles, such as travel and cost, are prohibitive. These are critical barriers to early treatment of what for many will eventually be life-threatening or even life-ending illness. Considering our aging population, our medical services are grossly underfunded and understaffed compared to what would be truly required for them to function properly.
Through the pandemic, these problems have been greatly enlarged: many of our waiting rooms remained empty, and as my family doctor told me, “we have nothing to do.” The fear of COVID-19 and the restrictions laid down by the provincial government created almost impassible blockades between elderly Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and their healthcare, leading to the stark decline in their health. In some cases, as my family knows too well, this meant the loss of loved ones who should have received care but were instead ignored or sidelined because they were misdiagnosed or mistreated.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are also accustomed to harsh winters with extremely unpredictable weather patterns. Unfortunately, the public snow clearing here is decreasing year by year. What was once 24-hour and complete snow clearing for all communities now runs only from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in some areas. Small communities have it even worse: plows show up late in the evening, if at all. My home community of Phillips’s Head went days without seeing a plow to clear the roads. Large snowbanks made travel difficult and, in some areas, the entire road was impassible. Many accidents and deaths have resulted from undrivable road conditions caused by these cutbacks a few years ago. This has also created massive problems for emergency vehicles and first responders during attempted rescues or ambulance runs.
These are glaring shortcomings within our province; however, they are nowhere near the sum of our provincial government’s failure to take care of its people. Underfunded education, crumbling infrastructure and roads that are only a few steps away from willful negligence in some areas are examples. Furthermore, many out-ports and small towns have undrinkable water. Boil water advisories that have lasted years are not uncommon in Newfoundland and Labrador. Many have yellow or even brown water to bathe in, to launder clothes, and to drink. This is the regular state of our province, not the result of the pandemic; it was only exacerbated by it. This was not a case where molehills were made into mountains; these were mountains already.
So, what is the answer to a provincial deficit of $47 billion? According to Liberal Premier Andrew “Austerity” Furey it is CUTS! Massive ones. He’s taking a “nothing is off the table” approach to deficit reduction in the short term, even though the effect of his actions will last long into the future. He is being aided in this endeavor by the mistress of privatization, Moya Greene.
Greene’s resume is long and bloody. While holding the position of Chief Executive Officer of Canada Post, she focused on cost-cutting by cutting absenteeism, implementation of more automation and more labour regulations on the workforce itself. While this did increase profits, it also increased workplace injuries by over 15 per cent – a massive jump in the workplace world. Along with the increase in injuries, the number of grievances went up a staggering 60 per cent! That number is a stark and grim “tell” of how she views the everyday worker. To her, and other capitalists like her, you are nothing more than a pawn to be used and abused while they ride the wave of an ever-rising bottom line. This is not an isolated effort. In 2010, she began the work of privatizing Britain’s mail service, a service that had previously been owned and operated by the state for almost half a millennium! For 499 years, through countless wars, natural disasters, kings and queens, the Royal Mail was owned and operated by the government, and it flourished. Yet it could not withstand Neo-liberalism. Like a cancer, late capitalism eats away at public assets and steals from the people the means of production and vital services. Moya Greene knows this; she is an agent of this cancer and spreads it wherever she can.
Whoever thought it was a good idea to appoint a member of the board of directors of Tim Hortons to a position of power over a public service or a public budget willingly sold us out. Tim Hortons is notorious in Newfoundland and Labrador for hiring foreign workers on a full 40 hours a week contract, then abusing them in every way imaginable. Working 50 to 70 hours and getting paid for 39.9 is the norm for foreign workers under brands like Tim Hortons. These workers are refused overtime pay, refused workers’ compensation for injuries – some are refused sick leave when they take ill. I have taken part in this system, have lived in it and can attest first-hand to how horribly they are treated. Someone in charge of a company so riddled with claims of abuse of both local and foreign workers is a bad choice for public office.
Does this person sound like someone you would want running a provincial recovery plan? What will be cut? What will be discarded? What will be privatized next? Andrew Furey has already made inflammatory comments on the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation (“NLC”) and Memorial University of Newfoundland, even threatening to sell the NLC – despite it making an average of $200 million for the province each year. What sense does it make to sell it off for a lump sum now only to deprive all future provincial governments of its cash flow? The announced increase in student fees at MUN from an average of $2,500 to $6,000 annually is a brutal attack on working class youths. Andrew Furey is clearly laser-focused on one thing and one thing alone: making a name for himself in politics, no matter how many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians he has to step on to do it. He was given a position of near-absolute power on a silver platter. Rather than lead, he chooses to rule. Like the monarchs of days long gone, he does not care in the least what the will of the peasantry might be. Our voices are but a light breeze that will never sway him one way or the other.
Along with these cuts come threats, directed towards our unions. According to Greene, “we will force them into submission with legislation if they do not negotiate.” This is a rather pungent whiff of fascism that the VOLUNTEER chair of the recovery team is excreting. Furey acts as king, and Greene as queen of a province that does not want or need them. What we need is a leader who has the people in mind, a leader who cares about the working class, the poor, the elderly, and the young, rather than the rich who he declines to tax. We do not have that with Andrew Furey. We have a clout chaser, an ineffective leader, and a selfish man. In Moya Greene, we have a vampire who feeds on the less fortunate to balloon the wealth of the capitalist class. They do not lose sleep over the pain and deaths their cuts and their privatization will cause; it does not bother them how many elderly people will not get the medical care they need, or how many children will go without proper education, or how many folks will die on our dangerous roads during the winter.
It is clear what their plan is given Moya Greene’s report: sell-off and privatize what you can, then cut what you can’t, regardless of the human cost. They are attempting to fix our broken economy by sacrificing human lives. So, how much human life are we as a people comfortable expending? Grandma and grandpa gone? Children who need emergency care and can’t get it? The chronically ill facing a two-hour drive to the nearest hospital? Should the price for living in the community you grew up in really be your life? How much of the rope do we burn before there isn’t any left and social programs collapse? COVID-19 has already taken its toll on Newfoundland and Labrador. The number of families that have lost their livelihoods because the government forgot them is uncountable. We are tired, we are abused, we are stolen from, but we are not broken. And it’s going to take a lot more than Greene’s capitalist greed and Furey’s arrogance to break us. We must stand up and fight now! It’s time to protest, demonstrate and strike against this austerity! We will not let the capitalists destroy the modest working class gains of the past, now barely afloat. We are islanders, we are fisherman, we are builders and explorers, and we are not going down without a struggle.
(Victor Morgan is Organizer of the Socialist Action Atlantic Branch)