Instead of following Trudeau's agenda, the B.C. NDP can take the lead

4 July 2017 - 10:09am
July 4, 2017John Horgan's NDP can bring leadership to OttawaJohn Horgan wants to improve the quality of life in B.C. -- and many of the obstacles the incoming B.C. government faces originate in Ottawa.

John Horgan's NDP can bring leadership to Ottawa

4 July 2017 - 10:03am
ElectionsPolitics in Canada

Justin Trudeau invited John Horgan to come to Ottawa, shortly after the NDP leader was asked by the B.C. Lieutenant Governor to form a government.

The premier-designate agreed to talks with Trudeau that will take place once the New Democrat and his future cabinet are sworn in.

Though the B.C. legislature is not expected to resume sitting until September, Horgan plans to address three issues immediately: education, the epidemic of painkiller deaths, and U.S. protectionist actions against B.C. softwood lumber exports.

Team Trudeau will be running a whispering campaign to turn Horgan away from his pledge to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline, proposed by Texas-based Kinder Morgan.

Horgan is on solid ground in opposing the project. Three B.C. Liberal MPs are shy about supporting the expansion of an existing pipeline. The B.C. lower mainland population worries about what a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic bodes for B.C. coastal waters. 

Ottawa has other issues they want Horgan to support, including their Brian Mulroney-inspired campaign to make nice with Donald Trump by soft-pedalling the trade differences between the two countries.

Instead of responding to the Trudeau agenda, the B.C. NDP should be raising its profile in Ottawa.

John Horgan wants to improve the quality of life in B.C. -- and many of the obstacles the incoming B.C. government faces originate in Ottawa.

Tax expenditures benefiting the top 10 per cent of income earners and corporations are estimated to total $80 billion, enough to fund every promise any NDP leader has ever made in any province.

Ottawa collects taxes for the provinces (only Quebec has its own revenue agency) and the Trudeau government is doing a terrible job of limiting offshore tax loopholes.

Even the easy tax dodges were left in place by Finance Minister Morneau when he drew up his last budget.

Allowing professionals to incorporate and avoid personal income tax rates costs Canadians $500 million a year.

Horgan needs to take the initiative with Trudeau on tax reform. The NDP is going to be short of provincial allies on most issues; it can lead on the tax avoidance file.

Over the last 10 years of their 16-year reign, the B.C. Liberals refused to raise welfare rates. Single recipients now have $610 for lodgings, food, transport and other necessities.

An army of homeless people live on the streets of Vancouver. 

It was 32 years ago that the Chrétien Liberals abolished the Canada Assistance Plan, and with it, the national safety net.

In B.C. people are now routinely denied welfare payments; disabled and injured people make up 63 per cent of welfare recipients.

John Horgan needs to push Ottawa to restore the social safety net. Life in Canada can only get worse without a coast-to-coast-to-coast income security policy.

The Chrétien Liberals killed funding for co-operative housing. B.C. faces an affordable urban housing crisis of epic proportion.

At one time, the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation provided federal government leadership on housing.

The NDP premier needs Ottawa to restore funding for affordable urban living.

Canada's students are getting a raw deal. Student debt payments grow, as steady job prospects diminish.

A properly federally funded post-secondary education system would allow for nominal or no tuition. Student grants need to replace the loan sharking now backstopped by Ottawa.

The NDP premier needs to challenge Trudeau: why should young Canadians by punished with debt for pursuing education that benefits all Canadians?

The recent modifications to the Canada Pension Plan are less than generous to seniors. The Canadian Labour Congress made proposals to double the CPP; these enjoyed wide support. Instead, payouts were increased from 25 per cent of average annual earnings to 33 per cent. These will take effect over nine years -- denying benefits to an important segment of the population.

Finance Minister Morneau, who inherited the family business of creating employee pensions that work for employers first, introduced Bill C-27, which would worsen pensions for federal, Crown corporation and private sector workers.

The federal government needs to hear that pensions represent deferred wages, and that guaranteed benefit pensions are cheaper to run and richer for the pensioners than the privatized defined contribution system the Trudeau Liberals want to sneak past its employees.

B.C. is a major destination for retirees with pensions. The finance minister has plans to impoverish retired public servants.

Through the failure of its American-sourced IBM payroll system, Phoenix, Ottawa has demonstrated it cannot pay its public servants. Now it plans to ruin their pension benefits.

Before meeting Trudeau, John Horgan should be canvassing youth, social and labour activists to determine what needs to be done to create retirement with dignity for working Canadians, provide a living wage to all, income security for those in need, and immediate debt relief for students.

Bringing a substantial agenda to Ottawa would be a welcome change from current photo-op, talking-point politics.

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: BC NDP/flickr

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Big Tobacco will be pleased as Derek Fildebrandt's 'liberty' video assails restrictions on flavoured cigarettes

4 July 2017 - 12:08am
David J. Climenhaga

Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt is continuing his party's tradition of supporting Big Tobacco's right to get children hooked on smoking by targeting them with mentholated and candy-flavoured cigarettes.

Naturally, that's not the way Fildebrandt, who has let it be known he is pondering a run for the leadership of the United Conservative Party, phrases it in a social media video for his "United Liberty" PAC -- sorry, but that phrase used the way the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks does just screams out for scare quotes. Just the same, it's what his attack on regulations banning flavoured tobacco really means.

In what is billed as opposition to the "nanny state," the self-described libertarian's fund-raising entity accuses Alberta's NDP government of "even deciding what flavours of tobacco are appropriate for adults."

In reality, Alberta's regulations concerning flavoured tobacco have precious little to do with adults and plenty to do with protecting children and youth from the use of flavoured cigarettes as a gateway to tobacco addiction.

As Fildebrandt presumably knows, about four per cent of adult tobacco users smoke, for example, mentholated cigarettes, while about a third of youth smokers do. "Menthol cigarettes are starter products that make it easier for youth to get hooked on tobacco," said Angeline Webb of the Alberta/N.W.T. Division of the Canadian Cancer Society when the government announced the flavoured-tobacco ban in May 2015.

What's more, some say Premier Rachel Notley's government has been too timid in its approach to tobacco regulation, banning candy-flavoured smokes in June 2015 but failing to add menthol cigarettes to the general prohibition until the following September.

Last week, the Campaign for a Smoke Free Alberta, a coalition of prominent health organizations, assailed the government for not yet banning all forms of flavoured tobacco and for failing, moreover, to actively enforce its ban on tobacco sales to minors.

During the 2014-15 school year, according to the Canadian Youth Tobacco and Drug Survey commissioned by Health Canada and cited by the coalition, more than 25,000 Alberta young people in Grades 6 to 12 had used tobacco products in the previous 30 days.

But defending tobacco industry wishes is nothing new for Fildebrandt or the Wildrose Party.

As reported in this space in November 2015, Fildebrandt appeared then to be drawing on Big Tobacco's playbook for arguments against higher tobacco taxes. In debate that year on the NDP government's amendments to the Tobacco Tax Act, Fildebrandt trotted out one of the tobacco industry's favourite arguments against higher taxes, the claim they encourage sales of contraband cigarettes.

Back in 2012, when he was Alberta spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Fildebrandt used the same argument in a handout on the supposed problem of contraband tobacco that was produced and distributed by the organization.

Most tobacco experts, however, dismiss such claims. A 2015 study by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, funded by that province's health ministry, debunked the argument tobacco taxes contribute to contraband smuggling, describing the claim as a "myth."

Moreover, according to estimates from other sources, contraband tobacco today accounts for less than 2 per cent of legal tobacco sales in Alberta, which has effective laws in this area, making a rise in smuggling here unlikely.

Also in 2012, then Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith was vowing never to raise taxes on tobacco -- or, in her defence, on anything else. In 2003, Smith was making the same arguments in her Calgary Herald column. "Tobacco companies are not to blame for the trade in contraband cigarettes," she wrote. "Unless governments realize high taxes are the real cause, the smuggling business will thrive."

In 2007, as Director of Provincial Affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, she wrote to then health minister Dave Hancock to argue against the restrictions on retail displays of tobacco products then proposed by the Progressive Conservative government.

When Fildebrandt announced the creation of "United Liberty" on June 22, his press release called for the UPC to embrace "a new, liberty-conservatism that limits the role of government in both the economic and the social spheres, that respects the right of the individual to live their life however they choose."

With that in mind -- not to mention his stated wish to target Millennial voters -- Fildebrandt's "liberty" video complains that "people are being charged for consuming marijuana in the privacy of their homes" and "for daring to drink a glass of wine over a picnic at the park." Restrictions on the public consumption of alcohol, it says as a sinister soundtrack plays in the background, are happening "despite being legal in countries like France."

While it's interesting to see Fildebrandt supporting Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's marijuana-legalization policy (which similarly conservative former prime minister Stephen Harper called "something we do not want to encourage") and the French approach to regulation (which the similarly conservative Washington Post condemned as 'a vast straitjacket holding back economic activity"), one suspects this isn't really what he has in mind at all when he says "liberty."

More likely, one imagines, the founder of the Reagan-Goldwater Society at Carleton University is thinking of the liberty of U.S. lung cancer victims to choose whatever level of health care they can afford to pay for under Trumpcare.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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Could Canadians finally get relief from high wireless prices?

3 July 2017 - 9:18pm

For decades, Canadians have paid some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for what is often sub-standard wireless service. But an encouraging new shift in policy direction by Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains could be about to change that.

There is no doubt that our current policies around wireless pricing and competition have failed Canadians. A Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) report last year revealed that average household spending on telecommunications increased for the third year running, to a whopping $215/month, with the largest increase falling on mobile services.

We know that sky-high prices hold back our economy and exacerbate our digital divide. Canadian businesses face monthly bills that are often twice as much as those faced by their overseas competitors. And far too many low-income Canadians are forced offline because they simply cannot afford the high cost of service. Another recent CRTC study revealed that one in three of Canada's lowest-income residents do not own a cellphone, compared with just one in 20 of high-income earners.

There's no mystery about the underlying cause of these steep prices -- Canada's wireless sector is woefully uncompetitive, with the Big Three providers controlling over 90 per cent of the market. With so little competition, there is no incentive to reduce rates, and every incentive to price-gouge Canadians. For years, we've been calling on the CRTC and government to lower prices by opening up the market to greater competition and choice.

That's why it was so encouraging to see Innovation Minister Bains order the CRTC to look again at whether smaller, affordable wireless providers -- technically known as wifi-based Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) -- should be allowed to enter Canada's wireless market.

Minister Bains was responding to a disappointing CRTC decision in March that permitted Rogers to block customers of Sugar Mobile, an innovative wifi-based provider, from accessing its network. That ruling sparked an outcry from consumer advocates, who argued that allowing Big Telecom to block smaller competitors is a licence to price-gouge Canadians. After all, where's the incentive to lower prices when you're allowed to simply shut out your competition?

As a result of Minister Bains' direction, the CRTC will now not only need to revisit its decision on Sugar Mobile, but also the wider question of whether Canada should join the many other nations around the world which have successfully lowered prices by enabling consumers to purchase wireless services from MVNO providers.

MVNOs are a powerful tool for increasing competition. Instead of having to build out their own networks and infrastructure -- which can be prohibitively costly for a small startup -- MVNOs purchase network access on behalf of their customers from large incumbents, thereby enabling those customers to roam on existing networks. This allows startup providers to compete effectively on a level playing field, with the increased competition resulting in significantly lower prices for consumers.

The U.K. is a great example of this model working successfully -- a country where unlimited wireless plans can be purchased for the equivalent of just $35 a month. Right now, those are prices Canadians can only dream of. But if Minister Bains and the CRTC do the right thing, Canada will finally be moving in the right direction.

David Christopher is Interim Communications and Campaigns Director for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

Image: Pixabay

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Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth project brings awareness to Canada 150

30 June 2017 - 5:18pm
June 30, 2017Members of Okanagan-Syilx Nation are unsettling Canada 150. It's time for Canadians to listen.An Okanagan-Syilx-led collaborative awareness project called Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth bringing awareness to the work that Canada 150 does to erase and occlude current and historical injustices.

Members of Okanagan-Syilx Nation are unsettling Canada 150. It's time for Canadians to listen.

30 June 2017 - 5:13pm
Neil Nunn

The point is to make you uncomfortable.

If you drive east through the sage-spotted Similkameen Valley, between Keremeos and Osoyoos, you'll be confronted with a billboard that reminds travellers of the difficult realities of colonization. A large illustration depicts industry, residential schooling, resource extraction, ecological distress, and at the bottom, an Okanagan family agitated by flames; their bodies representing the land, their hair, the water. In the top-right corner of the billboard, set below a stylized medicine wheel, it reads: "Rethink 150."

This billboard is the first of two in the Okanagan Valley and is part of a larger Okanagan-Syilx-led collaborative awareness project called Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth.

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to chat with Dixon Terbasket, a friend and founding member of the Rethink 150 collective. In our conversation, he posed the important rhetorical question: "Settlers have no idea of our history, so how are they going to learn about it?" For members of Rethink 150, the performance of hyper-nationalism surrounding Canada's 150th anniversary highlights more than a need for education. Unsettling people this year is about bringing awareness to the work that Canada 150 does to actively erase and occlude current and historical injustices. For the Rethink 150 collective, their interventions are meant to be productive, by turning discomfort into resolve, rather than resentment. These challenging conversations provide a stepping-off point to build more respectful relationships across Turtle Island and create a stronger foundation to move forward together.

As we approach the sesquicentennial, it is nearly impossible to avoid being affronted by the promises of happiness that Canada 150 presents. Pop cans, T-shirts, online ads are common sites used to promote and publicize a specific point of view about this nation, and ultimately solidify a narrow agenda of what Canada should become. The truth is that our current political order relies upon these carefully crafted visions of Canada to promote support for a nation that is based on tenuous claims to sovereignty and national jurisdiction. This restless performance by the national government is even confirmed in Section 35(1) of the Canadian Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the treaty rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

These ideals put forward by Canada 150 make it easier to swallow some difficult realities: a nation that struggles with flagrant intolerance, eagerly privileges profits over people, and habitually disavows its most vulnerable.

The Canada 150 project does little to lessen these realities. In fact, it does the opposite.

Creating and sustaining this constructed vision of Canada is an expensive and labourious process. In the case of Canada 150, the price tag exceeds $500 million. And it is funded by the public.

Consider the vision put forth in the CBC series, "Canada: The Story of US," an initiative so Anglocentric in its bent that it compresses 14,000 years of Indigenous history and 150 years of New France into a single episode. And for the more than six million Canadians who are more comfortable engaging in languages other than English? Sorry. The series has been produced in just one.

This is not to say that the vision of Canada 150 has ignored Indigenous people wholesale. There have been some flashes of recognition for Indigenous people throughout, such as Indigenous music performances and storytelling at  celebrations. But as Dene scholar Glen Coulthard demonstrates in his award-winning book Red Skin, White Masks, in Canada too often simple acts of recognition are employed as a measure to justify inaction. Inequality and social constraint still exist through the government's relatively superficial efforts to reconcile. For proof of this, take a second to consider the governing bodies implicated in the mercury contamination at Grassy Narrows First Nation. Or how long it took, and what it took, for the Canadian government to commit to an official inquiry for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

For the late Secwepemc activist, writer, and visionary, Arthur Manuel, the ongoing violence and colonial constraint placed on Indigenous people in Canada is most visible in the fact that Indigenous populations are left with a reserve system that encompasses just 0.2 per cent of traditional Indigenous territories. The Crown controls 99.8 per cent. 

Many believe that Canada 150 is about orienting ourselves to the future: "Sure, we have had an unfortunate past... But we have worked hard to reconcile, and it's time to move on." If you find yourself in this "get over it and move on" camp, it's worth remembering that the last residential school -- Saskatchewan's infamous Gordon Residential School -- only closed its doors in 1996. Or the recent, and now thoroughly documented, shameful racially targeted practice of "starlight tours" carried out by the Saskatoon RCMP.  Legacies of colonialism are not in the past. Not even close.

As plans ramp up for what is anticipated to be possibly Canada's largest publicly funded party, the work of the Syilx-led Rethink 150 collective and a chorus of other grassroots resistance efforts remind us, as Terbasket states, that it's "not a big happy party for the Indigenous people." Neither is it for any of us who reject the tired promises that Canada 150 offers.

It's not that we cannot be thankful this Canada Day. There are many things to be grateful for. Rather, it is incumbent upon us as settlers to understand what Canada 150 does in relation to the history of this country, the voices and struggles it erases, and the ideological return anticipated from the Canadian government's decadent investment.

The work of the Rethink 150 collective urges us to not simply accept the promises that 150 offers. Questioning 150 will lead to a place where we are building a stronger, inclusive and democratic Canada. My sincere thanks to the work of all those who have amplified this meaningful dialogue. This is a discussion that offers the real possibility for stronger sustained relationships across Turtle Island and beyond.

Now that is something worth celebrating.

Neil Nunn is a first generation Canadian committed to being a respectful guest on unceded Indigenous territory. Neil is a PhD Candidate in Geography and Planning and a Lupina Senior Doctoral Fellow at the School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. His research examines the relationship between mine-waste and structures of colonialism in B.C. Twitter: @neil_nunn

Photo credit: Zeus Helios

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Algonquin elders hold Faith Is Peace walk to save sacred site Akikodjiwan

30 June 2017 - 10:10am
Albert Dumont

A special moment in my life took place last Friday June 23, when Algonquin elders took part in the Faith is Peace walk from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill. What made this walk so profoundly joyful and memorable for me is the fact that many of the region's faith leaders walked with us in support of our struggle for sacred Akikodjiwan (Chaudière and Albert Islands). Together we stood as one! Shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, Indigenous roots intertwined with settler roots, the walk became a moving, breathing statement to Canada. All present were in agreement: First Nations spirituality is a faith. And as a faith with its own unique foundation and creation story, the First Peoples' places of worship must be protected. Shielding them from abuse must be done with the same force and vigour Canadians would put into motion to protect a synagogue, a temple, a mosque, a church or any house of worship in a free world, if it came under attack by people who had no respect for it. Are we not duty-bound by Canada's Constitution to do so? We all enjoy a "right" enshrined in the Constitution which guarantees freedom of religious expression. The First Nations are no longer excluded! So back off, NCC (National Capital Commission)!

I see a faith leader as the sparkle of a firefly, offering the depressed and downtrodden of their community hopeful light, on even the darkest of nights. It was with enormous pride in my heart that I heard such faith leaders eloquently express their support for our cause, the saving of our sacred site Akikodjiwan. Words from Archbishop Prendergast, Rabbi Bulka, Imam Samy Metwally, the Very Reverend Shane Parker and many others gave us renewed hope that Akikodjiwan will be saved. The words of the faith leaders were spoken, written and recorded on film and will be posted online in the near future. It truly was a humbling time for me and one I'll always remember.

First Nations spirituality was outlawed until almost 1960. This terrible act of oppression was in my opinion, the worst of the many outrageous actions Canada took in her efforts to destroy the culture and identity of the First Nations at a time now referred to as "a dark chapter" in Canada's history. Today we often see media-produced photos or film footage of politicians partaking in a smudging ceremony. For most of the politicians who do so, it is nothing more than a photo-op. Anyone who really respects these ceremonies would never vote yes, allowing a developer to defile, desecrate and destroy Akikodjiwan, a sacred site of the Anishinabe since time immemorial. Look around! Terrorism and catastrophes are taking place in all areas of the planet. The world does not need more condos! We need more sacred sites, not less of them. It is not too late, we can still save Akikodjiwan from destruction. The Faith is Peace walk was all about that!

As difficult as it might be for the good people of this country to emotionally digest, the truth is that the First Peoples are still fighting every day against oppression. We fight to regain our languages, we fight for a share of the riches being removed from our territories each and every day so that our impoverished communities can grow an economy and build schools. But it is the struggle to revive our ancient spirituality which is of greatest concern for me and many, many more Algonquins and their supporters. Our spirituality was our way of life! Is it too much to ask to have it there once again for those of us who respect and honour it?

There wasn't much media attention for the Faith is Peace walk. Very strange, considering the fact that this rally was the first of its kind -- where interfaith groups rallied to support Indigenous spirituality -- so far as I am aware. It is extremely puzzling to the walk's organizers as to why the media chose to stay away. In a free country, both sides with opposing views are heard. It is only fair and just that it is so. Then why is it that with Akikodjiwan, the only voice being heard is that of politicians and Algonquins who support the destruction of a sacred site? In Canada, money is power and in this case, money dictates that Akikodjiwan will be lost to us. Not so fast! Let the people decide.

If the walk was a success then it was made so by the many dedicated people who pitched in to make it so. A special Migwech to Algonquin elder Jane Ann Chartrand for her generous contribution to this cause and for her steadfast dedication to Akikodjiwan.

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It's time to work towards meaningful reconciliation with the true founding nations of this land

30 June 2017 - 9:39am
June 30, 2017Systemic oppression of Indigenous peoples is no reason for celebrationAs a white settler enjoying life on stolen land and broken promises, I'm unable to join in this celebration. We must work towards meaningful reconciliation with the true founding nations of this land.

At a milestone in Canada's history, the vital role of trade unions remains overlooked

29 June 2017 - 4:22pm
Ed Finn

As we approach Canada's 150th anniversary, our country's political, economic, and social institutions -- and their leaders during the past century-and-a-half -- will be thanked and honoured.

There is one institution, however, that is being overlooked: the labour movement. Acknowledgement of the substantial contribution trade unions have made to Canada's development and progress is nowhere to be seen.

This lack of recognition is understandable. Considering the mainstream media's invariably negative depiction of unions, the notion that they have been social and economic builders rather than strike-happy wreckers draws disdain and derision.

Given a word-association test, the response of most Canadians  to the word "union" would be "strikes."

How else could they be expected to react? The only time they hear about unions in the media is when their members are walking the picket lines. The automatic assumption is that all unions ever do is go on strike.

In fact, the average union member is on the job 96.4 per cent of their working life. Since unions negotiate 97 out of every 100 collective agreements at the bargaining table, a strike is an exceptional event.

If unions received even one-tenth as much publicity for helping enhance our society as they get for the occasional strike to which recalcitrant employers force them to resort, their public profile might reflect something closer to reality.

As someone who has worked for and with labour organizations for more than 40 years -- and written a column on labour relations for the Toronto Star for 14 years -- I never think of strikes.

I think of the grievance procedure that helps union members unjustly treated by their employers to regain their jobs, get their back pay, or have their vacation or sick leave credits restored.

I think of the union programs that help rehabilitate workers with depression, alcohol and drug addictions, and other personal problems.

I think of the unions' campaigns against racism and discrimination.

I think of the union locals that compete with one another to raise the most money for the United Way and other charitable agencies.

I think of the unions' ongoing efforts to improve workplace health and safety and reduce the carnage of workplace deaths, injuries and disease.

I think of the high priority so many unions have given to the elimination of pay and hiring discrimination against women and Indigenous peoples.

What unions are all about

These are just a few examples of what unions are really all about. Of course bargaining with employers on wages and benefits is a core responsibility, but it's far from an exclusive one. Most of the activities of unions, unheralded and unsung, have nothing to do with strikes. They have to do with helping workers -- and not just their own members -- cope with life's hardships and uncertainties, both on the job and off.

If you were to follow most union representatives around for a few months, you would probably never see one of them involved with a strike. You'd see them assisting a union local's officers in processing grievances. You'd see them helping workers file their claims for unemployment insurance or workers' compensation. You'd see them spending many nights at pre-negotiation planning meetings in union halls or hotel rooms, instead of being where they'd prefer -- at home with their families.

Certainly, strikes do happen. But few deserve the bad press they get. Most strikes are forced on unions when management refuses to bargain in good faith. Most people tend to forget that the right to strike as a last resort is an integral part of the free collective bargaining system. In most plants and offices, it's the only leverage unions have to counter a powerful and aggressive employer. It's a weapon that unions are careful not to abuse, and used only when they are left with no other choice.

Labour's historic benefits

All Canadians, whether they know it or not (and most don't), live better lives because of the achievements of the labour movement -- usually just because unions have the right to strike, not necessarily because they exercise it.  

If you look back at Canada's 150-year history, you'll find that many of the basic rights and benefits we all enjoy were initially fought for and won by unions. Organized labour was in the forefront of the struggles for public health care, for public education and pensions, for improvements in employment conditions and the minimum wage.

Most employees today work 40 hours or less a week instead of 50 or more, because the railroad unions went on strike for a shorter work week with the same pay in the 1950s. They won that historic battle despite the railway companies' mendacious claim they'd never be able to afford it. It was a labour victory that led in a few years to the adoption of the 40-hour work week as a standard schedule across the country.

Later, the provision of year-long legislated paid parental leave was sparked by a breakthrough at the bargaining table by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which made it a priority in negotiations. This gain, too, like the 40-hour work week, soon became a universal benefit.

Some of the other major improvements in our social programs were similarly pioneered by the Steelworkers, Canadian Auto Workers, and other industrial unions.

Without the unions, striving arduously over the years in so many ways, in so many provinces, cities and towns from coast to coast, the socioeconomic strands that hold our country together today would not be nearly so strong. 

Unlike most Canadians, who lack the insights I have had into what unions actually do, I never think about them in terms of the infrequent strikes that get all the media coverage. I think mainly of the unions' ongoing commitment to the protection and advancement of the interests of working people -- including those who are not union members. It's a shame that, at this milestone in Canada's history, the labour movement will still be denied the recognition it deserves for making this country a better place to live.

Ed Finn was Senior Editor at the CCPA and editor of the CCPA Monitor from 1994-2014. Formerly, as a journalist, he worked at The Montreal Gazette and for 14 years wrote a column on labour relations for The Toronto Star. He also served for three decades as a communications officer for several labour organizations, including the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

 Image: Library and Archives Canada/flickr

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The importance of social movements at national, provincial and local levels

29 June 2017 - 10:39am
June 29, 2017Organizing social movements -- from micro to macroThe world is changed when we all work together. But how do we do that? A look at ways to organize people at the national, provincial and local levels.

What the Rental Fairness Act means for renters in Ontario

29 June 2017 - 10:24am
June 29, 2017The Rental Fairness Act: What does it mean for renters in Ontario?The Rental Fairness Act makes some key amendments to the rental law in Ontario. Here's what they mean for affordable housing in the province.

The Rental Fairness Act: What does it mean for renters in Ontario?

29 June 2017 - 10:17am
EconomyPolitics in Canada

The Rental Fairness Act, (the "RFA") is part of Ontario's Fair Housing Plan, a strategy released in April 2017 to promote affordable housing in Toronto. The RFA, which received Royal Assent on May 30, 2017, eliminates the exemption to rent increase rules and requires landlords to compensate tenants if they wish to terminate a tenancy for personal use. Below are some of the key amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act, (the "Act") and what they mean for affordable housing in Ontario. 

1. Rent increases

With the proclamation of the RFA, units that were previously exempt from the rent control rules prescribed by the Act will no longer be exempt. The following units will now be subject to the guideline amount outlined by the RFA:

a. Units that were not occupied before June 17, 1998;

b. Units that were not rented since July 29, 1975; and

c. Units that were not occupied for residential purposes before November 1, 1991.

For these previously exempted units, landlords may no longer increase rent unless at least 12 months have lapsed from the date on which the tenancy began or the rent was last increased, will not be permitted to implement a rent increase of more than the guideline amount, and will be required to give at least 90 days' notice in order to implement the increase. If landlords wish to increase the rent by more than the guideline amount ‑- which will rise from 1.5 per cent to 1.8 per cent for 2018 ‑- they will be required to apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board (the LTB), the tribunal that administers the Act.

2. Transition period for rent increase

Though the RFA received Royal Assent on May 30, it sets April 20 as the date on which rent increases can take effect. Specifically, if the landlord of a previously exempt rental unit has given notice of an above‑guideline rent increase, and the notice is given before April 20, 2017, the previously exempt rental unit continues to be exempt and the amount of the new rent will be the amount set out in the notice. If the notice is given on or after April 20, 2017 and new rent takes effect before the exemption repeal date (May 30, 2017), the amount of new rent is to be decreased by an amount equal to the sum of the amount of rent charged before the rent increase took effect and a rent increase equal to the guideline increase. In the case of notice given on or after April 20, 2017, the landlord must, within 60 days of the repeal date, pay the tenant the amount of new rent paid before the exemption repeal date that is in excess of the amount that would have been paid had the rent increase been equal to the guideline increase for the calendar year.

3. Terminating tenancies

Under the RFA, landlords can still terminate the tenancy for "personal use" if they, their spouse, child, or caregiver intend to move into the unit. However, the RFA requires the landlord to compensate the tenant for one month's rent, or offer another unit that is acceptable to the tenant, in order to do so, and no eviction order will be issued until the required compensation is paid. If a landlord fails to pay the required amount, tenants are entitled to apply to the LTB. Unlike the amendments regarding rent increase, which are effective as of April 20, this amendment has not yet come into effect, a delay which has been criticized by the NDP. 

If at any time between delivering the notice of termination and one year after the tenant vacates the unit, the landlord advertises the rental unit, enters into a separate tenancy agreement, demolishes the rental unit, or takes any step to convert the rental unit, the RFA creates an inference of bad faith, and the tenant may apply to the LTB within a year for:

a) All or a portion of any increased rent incurred for a one-year period after vacating the rental unit;

b) Reasonable out-of-pocket moving, storage, and other expenses;

c) Abatement of rent;

d) An administrative fine for an amount up to $25,0000.00.

By introducing the compensation requirement and requiring landlords to rebut the presumption of bad faith (rather than requiring tenants to prove that landlords have acted in bad faith), the RFA will, hopefully, dissuade landlords from illegally evicting tenants from rental units in order to increase rental prices.

4. Above‑guideline rent increases

A landlord could previously apply to the LTB for an above-guideline rent increase due to an "extraordinary increase" in municipal taxes, utilities, or both. With the proclamation of the RFA, landlords may no longer impose above‑guideline rent increases on account of the cost of utilities. Moreover, as part of any application of an above-guideline rent increase, landlords must now submit any item in an outstanding work order relating to one or more elevators in the building, unaddressed orders made by the Technical Standards and Safety Act, 2000 relating to elevators, and any specified repairs or replacements ordered by the LTB with respect to elevators in the residential complex. The effect of this amendment is to prevent landlords from increasing rent in an amount above the guideline where they have failed to keep their elevators in a state of good repair. This addition says nothing about the landlord's failure to maintain other aspects of the building. Moreover, like the rule requiring landlords to pay compensation to the tenant if they intend to move into the unit, this amendment has not yet come into effect.


Ontario remains ahead of a number of Canadian provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, which have little to no rent control, and British Columbia, where the laws allow for considerable increases to rent (the rate of inflation plus 2 per cent). The RFA -‑ once enforced in full -‑ represents another step in the right direction. Still, tenants in Ontario remain vulnerable to staggering rent hikes in between tenancies. Economists have long been skeptical of imposing rent caps to promote affordable housing, and if Berlin is any example, their skepticism is justified: in that context, it is upper-income households who have benefited from the imposition of rent caps. In addition to passing legislation to protect tenants in the private rental market, the province would do well to renew its commitment to the non‑profit housing sector, which is an important source of housing for low- and middle-income households.

Iler Campbell LLP is a law firm serving co-ops, not-for-profits, charities and socially-minded small business and individuals in Ontario.

Pro Bono provides legal information designed to educate and entertain readers. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. While efforts are made to ensure the legal information provided through these columns is useful, we strongly recommend you consult a lawyer for assistance with your particular situation to obtain accurate advice.

Submit requests for future Pro Bono topics to probono@rabble.ca. Read past Pro Bono columns here.

Photo: Kurt Bauschardt/flickr

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fair housing planaffordable housinghousing rightstenant rightsLandlord and Tenant Boardcanadian lawpro bonoSafia J. LakhaniPro BonoJune 29, 2017Parkdale tenants take action on affordable housing with rent strikeAt the beginning of May, a group of tenants in Toronto went on a rent strike, taking a creative and courageous stand to fix the issue of affordable housing.Taking the fight for housing rights to courtLast week, the Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision on a landmark Charter application on housing rights. Safia Lakhani considers what it means for the housing rights struggle in Canada.Does the right to housing belong in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms?This week, the Ontario Court of Appeal is hearing an appeal of a 2013 court decision on the right to housing, which raises the question of whether housing rights are embodied in the Charter.

Ghostkeeper focuses the light on Indigenous rights

28 June 2017 - 8:08pm
Doreen Nicoll

Shane Ghostkeeper and Sarah Houle are partners in life, art and music. Their band, Ghostkeeper, has been invited to play at Nathan Philips Square in Toronto as part of the Canada Day Sesquicentennial Celebrations on July 1. This Metis couple have quite the story to tell about their journey together.

Shane came to music late in life after high school and welcomed the new challenge. He enjoyed writing funny songs to make his peers laugh and really enjoyed doing old country covers. Then, at age 20, he met Sarah and fell in love, "With a very practicing, established artist."

Shane's encounter with Sarah was the first time he had met a legitimate artist and that was a big deal for a bush kid living eight hours north of Edmonton on the Metis settlement of Paddle Prairie, Alberta.

Sarah, born with a nomad's spirit, moved around a lot during her early life and later for her schooling. She is a city girl, but with roots firmly planted in her home base of Paddle Prairie. High school was in Victoria, British Columbia. Then, there was time spent at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, as well as additional studying at the Alberta College of Art and Design. 

Sarah, an established visual artist, dramatically changed life as Shane knew it. Sarah focused on mixed media, photography, visual arts as well as music, which made her ideal for creating art for the band's record covers, T-shirts, and Aboriginal masks.

It was after meeting Sarah that Shane became serious about his music. Her influence made their music more meaningful. With four original songs and the goal of becoming musical artists the pair moved to Calgary to perform at open mics. With the unexpected help of some very good people they were able to realize their dream.

Because he was older when he began composing and playing music, Shane hadn't learned traditional Metis and Indigenous styles. Instead, the couple eagerly dove into their own sound, creating original music which incorporates mystical sounds.

Their naive approach to music meant the band was making records before they really knew how to play. It was a fantastic learning experience that allowed them to focus a light on the modern Metis experience. Ghostkeeper really romanticizes and glorifies the Metis experience.

On their first album, Sheer Buffalo 7, the couple created the characters Sheer Blouse (Sarah) and Buffalo Knocks (Shane). Buffalos Knocks is the literal benevolent warrior. He is a non-violent singer, songwriter, protester, set on peacefully sabotaging the development of the oil sands. In essence, Buffalo Knocks is a revolutionary. Sheer Blouse is his partner in every sense of the word. They are the consummate couple.

Their second album, Sheer Blouse and Buffalo Knocks, continues the journey of both the literal and figurative couple. The love story comes through Shane and Sarah as much as through Buffalo Knocks and Sheer Blouse.

Shane grew up knowing he was Aboriginal which led to an honest and real perspective of life in Canada and the current 150 celebration. The band's celebration is not patriotic, nor born of hatred, instead it's an impactful non-celebration of Canada's 150th that is executed in a catchy, fun, entertaining, sincere, non-angry way.

According to Shane, Ghostkeeper's artistic agenda is, "To become better musicians, achieve label support, increase their audience, and dig deeper into a reflection on both the historical and modern Metis people's participation in artistic culture."

Always looking to the future, Shane and Sarah have a five-year-old son, Vittal, named for Shane's paternalistic great grandpa, Vital. Vittal is already an artist in his own right having created wonderful pieces of art, movies, videos and music. Vittal is also expressing an avid interest in science.

Ghostkeeper has a realistic pragmatic view for our collective future. As Shane describes it, "The Truth and Reconciliation recommendations have influenced our music and art. Our art is global in its reach with the aim to get to know each other in the name of survival. Unity is the desired goal."

In his view Shane believes that settlers of Canada can, "Reflect on the truths of the past and educate themselves. The gravity of the residential school system is unimaginable for non-Indigenous people. Racism dehumanizes Metis, First Nation and Inuit people."

"When you see an Indigenous person living on the street try to imagine yourself in their situation. When children are removed from a community to attend residential schools the outcome can only be disastrous. Whether they are a man or a woman, they are down and out. Street Aboriginals have a different perspective. But, also try to connect with the progress Aboriginal communities are making. There is a lot of strength and family values in Metis, First Nation and Inuit people."

Shane believes that, "Too often the media focuses on the darkness. It’s time to focus on the light."

Sheer Blouse Buffalo Knocks picks up the narrative laid out in last year's Sheer Buffalo 7 and continues the dystopian story of the characters Sheer Blouse and Buffalo Knocks, spiritual explorer of realms and benevolent warrior chronicling their battle against environmental destruction and the burden it places on their homeland in northern Alberta.

Ghostkeeper will perform:

July 1 - Toronto at Nathan Phillips Square (Discovery Stage)

July 2 - Peterborough at The Garnet

July 5 - Toronto at The Baby G

July 6 - Hamilton The Casbah

This is a loving Metis family to be reckoned with. Hear their message and spread the Ghostkeeper word.

This article originally appeared in the June edition of The Anvil, a quarterly newspaper from Hamilton, Ontario.

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Writers of colour get their own imprint courtesy of Vivek Shraya and Arsenal

28 June 2017 - 10:27am
June 28, 2017Vivek Shraya and Arsenal Pulp Press launch imprint for young writers of colourArtist and writer Vivek Shraya is partnering with Arsenal Pulp Press to offer a deep mentorship and publication to a writer of Indigenous background or a person of colour who is living in Canada.

Vivek Shraya and Arsenal Pulp Press launch imprint for young writers of colour

28 June 2017 - 9:55am
Anti-RacismArts & CultureLGBTIQ

"I wrote my first song when I was 13," recalls writer and musician Vivek Shraya in an interview with rabble.ca. "Yet, I don't think it ever crossed my mind that arts was a career I could pursue."

The 36-year-old remembers growing up in Edmonton to parents who migrated from India -- the arts were not a "feasible livelihood" according to his Hindu mom and dad.

"As much as it pains me, my parents were right!" laughs Shraya, who now has two books, an anthology of poetry and a children's book under her belt. She's also part of the electronic band Too Attached with her brother. They opened for Tegan and Sara on their Canadian tour last year.

The struggles of being a young person of colour who had to claw her way into publishing sticks with Shraya, whose first book God Loves Hair was self-published in 2009. She went on to a second printing (with help from her parents) and then Arsenal Pulp Press in Vancouver picked it up for a third edition. Since then, she's produced more books with the publisher.

"Those early years of my career were tough," she said. "I didn't know about the obstacles I faced. I didn't have the language of being racialized and about white resilience [that white people don't give up as easily due to their privileged status]."

That's why she's launched an imprint -- VS. Books with Arsenal -- to offer a deep mentorship and publication to a writer of Indigenous background or a person of colour who is living in Canada and between the ages of 18 and 24. Shraya will provide monthly feedback as well as advice on writing grants, promotion, touring and the publishing business. The deadline is September 15, with one writer chosen at the end of October. Publication is slated for spring 2019.

"Last year, I mentored nine writers -- one a month," she said. "It was an amazing experience. But the one thing that comes out of it was always this question: how do I get published?"

'Being rejected means being dismantled'

Shraya, who is transgender and works at Toronto's George Brown College as a human rights adviser, points out that when you are an Indigenous or POC artist, rejection of your work (i.e. grants and the like) can trigger heavier emotional consequences.

"It took me a long time to see why my white peers were able to bounce back much quicker and keep going. I wasn't. It's because you deal with so much racism, as well as homophobia, and challenges growing up, being rejected means being dismantled."

Self-publishing her first book -- about growing up in Edmonton and navigating her gender and sexuality -- gave her agency.

"I would tell young writers not to be shy about finding alternative means of producing work," she said. "Self-publishing is a legitimate form of expression. A couple of years ago I made a zine, The Magnificent Malls of Edmonton … all 120 copies sold out in two days. I made it. And I didn't have to experience the institutional rejection [of trying to get funding]."

Also, Shraya would advise POC and Indigenous writers to nurture their own resilience -- to realize that rejection in the funding arena is two-fold: "Yes the racism is real but also, the rejection is not personal."

Having sat on juries, Shraya realized that sometimes there are administrative concerns at play when considering projects.

In fact, self-publishing that first project was a kind of gift.

Advice: keep going

"No one wants to publish a first-time writer," she explained. "In funding my own projects, I didn't have to answer to any institution."

Now, with more confidence, feeling bad about that kind of rejection lasts a few hours.

"I would tell young artists to just keep going and keep applying," she said. "Now I apply for anything and everything."

Shraya has had some measure of success as an artist but there is always the gnawing desire to please her parents. To make them proud.

They went to the Tegan and Sara concert in Edmonton last year. It was a little nerve-wracking for Shraya.

"There I was in a blue sequin outfit talking about trans issues and we always close the show with this coming out song 'Girl, It's Your Time.'" (By the way, Shraya is putting out her first solo album, which launches July 7 at the Art Gallery of Ontario).

Her parents didn't say much after that concert, but the next day, as they were all having dinner and chatting about the concert and one of the songs, her father piped in.

"He said, 'Oh, that's the one about backstabbers, right?' And I said to him, 'You listen to the songs?'"

The response of Shraya's dad was profound:  "I listen to EVERY word."

Learn more about the mentorship program here.

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.

Photo by N Maxwell Lander via Vivek Shraya/Arsenal Pulp Press

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canadian writerswriters of colourcanadian literatureCanadian literary artspeople of colourIndigenous writersJune ChuaJune 28, 2017God Loves Hair: When coming of age means coming outRecently re-released, Vivek Shraya's God Loves Hair is a DIY masterpiece in the age of Wal-Mart top 10 book clubs.Film 'Forget Winnetou!' studies German idealization of Indigenous cultureThe film "Forget Winnetou!" uses the novels of Karl May, who published his first book about a character named Winnetou in 1870, to explore the German idealization of Indigenous peoples.The embarrassing, stone-deaf whiteness of Canadian media leadersThe cultural appropriation prize that circulated on Twitter this week is evidence of how far Canadian media still has to go.

rabble.ca welcomes new board of directors

28 June 2017 - 1:51am
rabble staff

rabble.ca is one of the success stories of Canadian independent journalism, publishing news and columns by some of the best writers of the left, and providing exposure and training to new writers. rabble.ca was founded on the real energy and power of the Internet -- passionate, engaged people. Blurring the lines between readers and contributors, it provides a needed space for sharing issues, a place to explore political passions and an opportunity to expand ideas. rabble.ca is a registered non- profit, committed to Canadian-based news, analysis and comment from a progressive perspective. Launched in 2001, rabble built on the efforts of journalists, writers, artists, and activists across the country.

On the 16th anniversary of rabble.ca, we're pleased to announce our new board of directors.

Matthew Adams (President): Matthew is  publicist for Between the Lines Books, and the operations director of the Fourth Pig worker co-op. For over 25 years Matthew has worked in non-profits in a variety of capacities, including in education, communications and business. Matthew was rabble's director of special projects from 2005-2014.

Bob Gallagher (Vice President): Bob has a long history as a communications specialist, queer activist, political strategist and academic. He co-founded the Campaign for Equal Families and Canadians for Equal Marriage. Bob also helped found the Gay Lesbian Bi Youth Line and for years was a director of Buddies In Bad Times theatre. Bob was Chief of Staff to Jack Layton and the federal NDP for three election cycles. Previously, Bob was Executive Assistant to Olivia Chow at Toronto City Council. As political strategist and consultant, Bob has managed numerous election and issue campaigns municipally in Toronto, provincially at Queens Park and at the federal level. He has also worked with the United Steelworkers Union.

Toby Whitfield (Secretary): Toby is an organizer for social justice in Ottawa. He is currently the Executive Director of the Canadian Federation of Students.

Amira Elghawaby: Amira is the Director of Communications and spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). She has degrees in journalism and law and has worked as a full-time and freelance journalist, contributing to publications such as The Globe and Mail, Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Star, rabble.ca, among others. She has also been a contributing editor at rabble.

Alexandra Samur: Alexandra teaches Digital Journalism at Langara College in Vancouver, and is a freelance writer and editor. She currently sits on the board of the Unchartered Journalism Fund and was rabble's managing editor until 2012.

Robert Lamoureux: Robert is the Director of Communications for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). A longtime communications and political strategist and labour activist, Robert has been advisor to several past federal and Ontario NDP leaders, and communications consultant for many local, regional and national campaigns. He has been a member of the rabble.ca member's council.

rabble.ca board member Matthew Adams stated he is "looking forward to working with the publisher and rabble staff on continuing the work of Canada's oldest online publication and its role in shaping independent and progressive media across the country."

Far-right groups fuelling populist racism in Quebec

27 June 2017 - 9:59am
June 27, 2017Who is fuelling populist racism in Quebec?GREDA and the Activist Toolkit provide a list of active far-right groups in Quebec.

The next NDP leader needs to articulate change

27 June 2017 - 9:35am
EconomyNDPPolitics in Canada

Canadians have been poorly governed for too long. The country is ready for some serious change.

The challenge for the five NDP leadership candidates is to spell out what needs to be changed, and inspire confidence that it can be done.

It may be hard to believe, but there have been few major improvements to Canada since the Pearson era. His two minority Liberal governments (1963-65,1965-68) -- supported by the NDP -- adopted programs such as the Canada Pension Plan, medicare, Canada Assistance Plan (CAP), and the funding of post-secondary education.

The Trudeau minority government (1972-74) showed a willingness to act. Under NDP pressure, it created a national oil company -- Petro-Canada -- and began to monitor the foreign takeovers of Canadian companies.

In the late 1970s, along with other G7 countries, the Trudeau Liberals changed course, and committed themselves to fighting inflation -- creating unemployment to do it.

General austerity has been Canadian government policy ever since.

Tight money and sky-high interest rates provoked a world recession in 1982, and a Third World debt crisis.

While the 2000 Liberal budget reduced taxes on corporations and the wealthy, for the past 40 years, making citizens do with less has been the basic government policy for everybody else.

As a result, Canadians face serious problems: a poor employment outlook, a lack of affordable housing, diminished income support for those in need, and the ballooning of student, personal and family debt.

In the name of fighting deficits, public investment was replaced by privatization -- selling the house to pay the mortgage -- and access to unemployment benefits was continuously reduced, with the savings used to pay down government debt.

The U.S. jobs strategy is military spending; Canada promises to increase its own spending. Continued wasteful military spending makes little sense, and the NDP leadership candidates need to explain why.

Asked in an interview with the New York Times about NAFTA, Justin Trudeau announced that Canada did not have a Plan B to replace it. This expression of over-confidence in the ability of the Trump administration to re-negotiate NAFTA fairly for all parties is quite surprising.

The so-called benefits to Canada from NAFTA are continuously overstated. Good-paying jobs were lost through the 1988 bilateral Canada-U.S. and the 1994 trilateral Canada-U.S.-Mexico economic integration deals disguised and sold as free trade.

In recent years, U.S. job creation has been limited to part-time, poorly paid, precarious work. The Canadian job market looks much the same; that is, economic integration at work.

In 1995 the Liberals abolished CAP. That withdrew from the provinces the 50 cents Ottawa spent for each welfare benefit dollar and it ended the provincial obligation under CAP to fund all welfare applicants.

We see the results in the homeless camped out in the streets.

When Bill Clinton promised to undo the U.S. safety net, in a NAFTA world, Jean Chrétien copied the U.S. president.

Given reduced access to employment insurance, poor welfare protection, and no jobs strategy, the basic Canadian economic policy post-North American integration became clear: reduce wages by forcing people to work for next to nothing.

The NDP candidates need to articulate an economic strategy focused on domestic job creation, not count on a low Canadian dollar to promote export-led job creation.

Canadian wages, salaries and incomes stagnated during the first trade deal of the Mulroney years (1984-93), under the three Chrétien governments (1993-2003), and the Harper Conservative regime.

Every NDP leadership candidate needs to have a policy on wages, income and income security.

Guy Caron is calling for a guaranteed minimum income. A good program would allow people to refuse poor-paying jobs and force employers to pay a more decent wage.

In the 2015 federal election, astonishingly, the NDP toed the austerity line, promising to balance the budget in every year.

This despite a precipitous fall in the price of oil -- a so-called external shock -- that pushed GDP into negative figures, signalling the economy was heading to recession.

The next NDP leader has to be committed to ending austerity. The starting point is to be unafraid of the banks and their media allies who for years have been scaring Canadians into believing the country was running out of money.

The reality is that a government with a central bank is not spending-constrained.

When the central bank wants to control private spending, it sells bonds to the private banks, creating savings. When a government wants to spend, the central bank can sell bonds, financing the expenditure.

What Canada has been doing for 40 years is provide benefits to corporations and the wealthy, and restrict spending on basic needs such as child care, dental care, prescription medicine, recreation, and cultural life.

Reversing these spending priorities is what is required.

Explaining how jobs can be created, public services expanded, and how the Canadian quality of life can be improved is what Canadians should expect to hear about in the NDP leadership contest.

Memo to NDP leadership candidates: please articulate what comes after austerity.

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: brashley46/flickr

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2017 ndp leadershipanti-austerityeconomic policyCanadian economygovernment spendingDuncan CameronJune 27, 2017What does the NDP have to offer Canadians?As the curtain goes up for the 2017 NDP leadership contest, the party needs to bring a distinct approach to what matters to Canadians.NDP leadership candidates affirm support for labour in debateNDP leadership candidates reinforced their commitment to workers and the labour movement at a debate hosted by the United Steelworkers in Toronto on Thursday night.The reversal of privatization and an urban coming of agePrivatization has been given ample chance to succeed and has come up short. Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership.

NDP candidates express broad support for labour

26 June 2017 - 1:53pm
June 26, 2017NDP leadership candidates affirm support for labour in debateNDP leadership candidates reinforced their commitment to workers and the labour movement at a debate hosted by the United Steelworkers in Toronto on Thursday night.

NDP leadership candidates affirm support for labour in debate

23 June 2017 - 6:15pm
Meagan Gillmore

NDP leadership candidates reinforced their commitment to workers and the labour movement at a debate hosted by the United Steelworkers in Toronto on Thursday night.

Candidates unanimously supported protecting workers' pensions when companies declare bankruptcy, helping temporary foreign workers gain Canadian citizenship faster, making it easier for workers to democratically join unions, and protecting workers who rely on precarious and contract employment.

But the debate highlighted candidates' different approaches to ensuring economic prosperity and protecting the environment.

Singh's economic policies questioned

Member of provincial parliament for the Ontario riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton Jagmeet Singh faced questions about his proposed changes to Old Age Security (OAS) and the current tax system.

Singh proposes to create a Canadian Seniors Guarantee that would combine OAS, Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), the Age Credit and Pension Income Credit.

All Canadians older than 65 who meet proper residency requirements can receive OAS. Work history does not affect eligibility. Seniors with low incomes may qualify for the GIS.

Guy Caron, member of Parliament for the Quebec riding of Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, asked Singh if his proposed guarantee would be universal, like OAS is. Singh said his guarantee would not be universal. It would be means-tested and target low-income seniors.

"We need to make sure any support we provide is given to people who need it the most," he said, saying his plan would lift seniors out of poverty immediately.

NDP policy supports the universality of OAS.

Caron suggested Singh's plan could further stigmatize low-income seniors, saying Singh was "trying to dress up a Conservative idea in progressive clothes."

Singh is proposing creating two high-level income brackets, one for those who earn more than $350,000 and another for those who make more than $500,000. He also wants to create a tax on estates worth more than $4 million. He would increase the amount of capital gains that are taxable to 75 per cent. Right now, 50 per cent of capital gains are taxable.

Niki Ashton, member of Parliament for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski in Manitoba, challenged Singh to go further with his proposed tax reforms. She questioned him about why he wasn't increasing the tax on capital gains to 100 per cent, the same rate used for working income.

Singh said that while his plan was "strong," he could do more to reform tax legislation.

Ashton has campaigned against a tax system she says is "rigged against the working people." In her closing statement, she told the audience she is the only candidate campaigning for "fundamental" change: "Incremental change won't cut it."

Responses to environmental concerns differ

Peter Julian, member of Parliament for New Westminster-Burnaby in British Columbia, asked Charlie Angus about what he thinks the limit should be on Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. Angus, member of Parliament for the northern Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay, said legislation is the best way to ensure industry meets environmental standards. He would want a scientific committee to make suggestions about what specific targets should be. Later in the debate, he said the federal government needs to support workers in resource industries who are re-training for more environmentally friendly jobs. No worker should be left behind, he said.

"We do not get environmental justice in this country without economic justice," he told the crowd. "They are inseparable."

Julian has said he will create one million green jobs in the next five years. He did not provide more specifics of this plan at the debate.

Targeted approaches for Toronto and Quebec

Candidates were asked how the party can regain seats in Toronto and Quebec. There are no New Democrats representing federal ridings in Toronto and the GTA. The party has 16 seats in Quebec -- a sharp decline after claiming 59 in 2011.

Singh emphasized the importance of creating an urban-centred plan that addresses concerns about the lack of affordable housing and insufficient public transit. This strategy needs to be one that can apply to cities across the country, because the health of cities benefits everyone, he said.

All candidates said that the NDP must partner with Quebec, calling it one of the most progressive provinces. But Caron took it a step further, saying the party needs to develop a Quebec-specific platform. The lack of a Quebec-specific platform hurt the NDP in the 2015 election, he said.

Federal government blasted for infrastructure and race relations

Both Singh and Caron expressed frustration with the federal government's infrastructure bank. Singh called it a "veiled attempt at privatization" the party "must resist." Caron called it "basically theft," saying investors will decide where the money is spent, and the government will only approve projects where it can make the most money, not where the greatest need is.

Candidates also criticized the government's inaction addressing anti-Black racism or dire situations in many Indigenous communities. Ashton said the federal government has failed to show leadership in combatting anti-Black racism, although did not say how she would fight it if elected prime minister. Singh said he would remove carding practices from the RCMP.

Julian said he would establish an emergency fund to respond to crises in Indigenous communities, such as lack of mental-health supports, unsafe drinking water and lack of education supports. He would then meet with municipal and provincial government leaders, school boards, police and members of the justice system to develop more strategies.

Ashton said Canada must adopt the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

NDP needs to return to its roots

Candidates also critiqued their own party. Angus said the party is becoming too centralized, and needs to focus on meeting with people in the grassroots.

"We are excellent at fighting the last election," he said, when asked how he would challenge the idea of strategic voting. "We have to be fighting the next election." The Liberals won because Trudeau gave people a sense of hope, Angus said. The NDP needs to do that by reconnecting with people in the grassroots.

The leadership vote will be held this fall. The next debate is scheduled for July 11 in Saskatoon. Potential candidates can register until July 3.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

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