Mid-Summer Woes: Climate, War and Houselessness

by Barry Weisleder | Socialist Action Canada

On this day, July 26, 2023 millions celebrated Rebellion Day in Cuba. Seventy years ago, Fidel Castro led the Granma expedition that launched the Cuban Revolution. Socialist Action is a member of the Canadian Network on Cuba. It defends the gains of the first socialist revolution in the Americas – still a beacon of hope for humanity.

The news on the environmental front is not so good. Tamara Lorincz wrote recently, “As we have out-of-control wildfires across the country and catastrophic flooding in Quebec and Nova Scotia, Defence Minister Anand announced that Canada will be locking us further into carbon-intensive militarism. The Trudeau government is investing $3.6 billion in a new fleet of 9 fossil fuel-powered aerial tankers to supply fuel for the new $19 billion fossil fuel-powered F-35 fighter jets. This funding of $3.6 billion for massive aerial refuellers for our belligerent NATO operations is more than any funding announcement that Canada has made this year for climate finance or foreign aid.”

On top of that, the federal government plans to keep exploration and development tax breaks available for fossil fuel companies. Federal Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault, who once upon a time was an environmental activist, unveiled the government’s plan for terminating “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies promised by the end of 2023. But most of the subsidies, ironically in the name of “decarbonizing the emissions of this sector” will remain in place, said Guilbeault.

Out of control fires and air quality warnings are still in effect across many parts of the country. Canada surpassed the record for area burned by wildfires in a single year, back in June. Thousands of people have been driven from their homes. As a result, the extra tonnes of carbon pouring into the atmosphere add enormously to the tragedy of climate change. (The temperature of Atlantic waters off the coast of Florida just surpassed 100 degrees F, causing a massive die-off of coral reefs.) The Liberal government pledged billions to mitigate this unfolding disaster, but close to half of the money is unspent. In other words, Trudeau’s promises are a smoky mirage. Only expropriation of the major polluters can begin to address the current crisis. We demand that labour and the NDP break with the lying Liberals and lead the fight for an Eco-socialist agenda.

Developments in the war in Ukraine are equally alarming. U.S. President Joe Biden is sending cluster bombs to its puppet regime headed by Volodymyr Zelensky. In itself, that is a war crime. Ukrainian forces claimed they damaged the bridge linking Russia and Crimea. The response of Russian President Putin was to bomb central and western Ukraine, not sparing civilian quarters. While Putin put down the rebellion led by the Wagner mercenary chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the fragile state of the Russian regime is evident, which is why Russia, just like Ukraine, jails opponents of the inter-imperialist war.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began 18 months ago, in February 2022. NATO expansion across Eastern Europe, its violation of the Minsk agreements, and Kyiv’s deadly assault on the Donbas peoples since 2014, precipitated this crisis. But the Kremlin’s bombardment of central and western Ukraine, and Putin’s absurd denial that Ukraine is a nation, has stoked reactionary nationalist sentiment on all sides of the conflict. The claim that Russia is strong is belied by the fact that the Kremlin hired multiple mercenary forces to wage war in Ukraine after hundreds of thousands of military draft-age Russians fled the country. Only an international anti-war movement can stop this war and end the risk of a nuclear holocaust. The Kremlin’s reliance on tanks and rockets has increased the membership of NATO; it ballooned the profits of the leading war industries, and poisoned western world public opinion. We witnessed that in Canada when right wing pressure led to the cancelation of venues in Toronto, Hamilton and Winnipeg for anti-war lawyer and journalist Dimitri Lascaris. Fortunately, on July 8, Dimitri was able to report on his visit to Russia at a forum co-organized by SA held at a Toronto Public Library branch. Socialist Action remains committed to building an anti-war movement to call for negotiations to end the inter-imperialist war, to seek nuclear disarmament starting with the USA and its allies, to demand Canada Out of NATO, the dissolution of NATO, self-determination for the peoples of Donbas and Crimea, and the release of all anti-war prisoners.

One of the consequences of war and hiked war-spending is high inflation. While Canada’s inflation rate decelerated to 2.8 per cent in the year up to June, according to Statistics Canada, that was due to lower gasoline prices. But many facets of the cost of living are still increasing rapidly. Grocery prices went up by 9.1%. That is over three times the inflation rate. Food prices have been increasing faster than the official inflation rate since late 2021. And so have the profits of the grocery store giants. But putting food on the table is not the only household expense that’s getting harder to cover. The cost of keeping a roof over one’s head continues to rocket higher. The mortgage interest cost index rose 29.9 per cent in the year up to May. That is the fastest pace on record, and it is happening because the Bank of Canada has been aggressively hiking its lending rate to cool demand. The solution of the Bank of Canada for our current woes is a recession. Socialists propose a democratic solution, one that starts with price controls and public ownership.

Meanwhile, income and wealth inequality among Canadian households is increasing at record speed, with younger households bearing the financial burden, according to Statistics Canada on July 7. The wealthiest 20 per cent of households controlled more than two-thirds – nearly 68 per cent – of the total net worth in Canada in the first quarter of 2023, while the least wealthy 40 per cent accounted for 2.7 per cent. Credit reporting agency Trans-Union, which surveyed 956 adults in Canada, found 32 per cent of respondents expected to be unable to pay off their current bills or loans.

In the June 26 Toronto mayor by-election, former NDP MP and city councillor Olivia Chow ran as an independent. She won despite the exceedingly vague slogan “we can build an affordable, safer and caring city.” She captured 37.17 per cent of the votes cast. The Municipal Socialist Alliance, which ran Kiri Vadivelu for mayor, is keeping an eye on Olivia. She highlighted the plight of refugees sleeping on the streets of Toronto and squeezed $97 million from the federal government. Unfortunately, that won’t go very far. The reality is that Canada has a housing crisis, not a refugee crisis. Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland slammed the door on Chow and other mayors who asked for aid to build housing. Ontario Premier Doug Ford also said No. The limitations of the mayor’s cap in hand approach will drag Olivia down. The working class political alternative involves steeply taxing properties valued at over $3 million, and cutting the police budget by at least 50 per cent.

Back on the federal scene, the NDP-Liberal Pact is rapidly withering on the vine. The marginal gains in promised public dental care, and the staggering sacrifices in terms of big war spending and broken environmental promises are sure to be a lightning rod for discontent at the NDP federal convention, October 13-15 in Hamilton, Ontario. The NDP Socialist Caucus, with an expanding base of members, drafted and circulated dozens of radical policy resolutions. It has assembled a large team of good candidates for federal NDP executive positions. The theme of the next edition of Turn Left, the SC magazine, is The Fight for Democracy in the NDP.

In the labour movement, including at the Canadian Labour Congress convention in Montreal in May, the Workers’ Action Movement is seen as the leader of the unofficial opposition. The Executive Board of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union recently donated $2,000 to WAM. The current leaders of the Ontario Federation of Labour, President Patti Coates, and Vice-Present Janice Folk-Dawson, are not seeking re-election at the OFL convention set for November 20-24 in Toronto. That creates an open election in which the Workers’ Action Movement may run candidates for one or more of the top positions in the OFL. It can draw the lessons of the near general strike of Ontario education support workers in late 2022. It can expose why the CLC and the OFL had so little to say about the July 2023 BC dockworkers’ strike. Clarity on these points will help workers fight for a militant, democratic labour movement. The task now is to find the best candidates for a powerful WAM slate.

Monday, September 4 is Labour Day. While socialists celebrate the gains and goals of the global working class on May Day, we are inclined to take every opportunity to address workers where they gather. Please take this moment to think about what is happening in your city or region on Labour Day, and what SA can do to raise its profile and speak to the issues that matter on that occasion.

On Saturday, September 2 SA will host its annual end-of-summer picnic, starting at 2 p.m. in east-side Toronto’s Withrow Park. That is on Logan Avenue, five blocks south of Danforth. There will be music, games, literature, and short speeches. The Cuban Consul in Toronto, along with a number of musicians and singers have accepted our invitation. Please join us and bring food and drinks to share, and get ready for a strong socialist contingent in the Toronto Labour Day Parade.