2014: A year in the life of Austerity

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The curtain falls on 2014 and it’s time to look back on all of the great accomplishments, all of the great eye-watering moments, the laughs, the hilarious mix-ups, the lyrical fumbles, and feel-good moments with a happy ending attached to it. At least that’s what you usually see at end-of-year reviews that usually appear at this time of the year.

This post is not for the feeble hearted, if you’re trying to escape from the yucky austere murkiness of this past year, you will find no refuge here!

Because this past year was anything but joyous for hundreds of thousands, even, dare I say, millions of Canadians, of all walks of life, who saw the sharp knife of austerity cut into their savings, into their public services, into their communities, into their livelihoods.

2014 was yet another year that fed the relentless ascent of inequality within Canadian society. From the shores of British Columbia to the shores of Nova Scotia, governments were replaced and/or re-elected, but all were invested with the sordid straight-jacket of “fiscal responsibility.” Every single one, left, centre, and right took the oath of austerity under the threat of the Damocles’ sword of the financial markets. Here’s a little trans-Canadian journey along the straits of austerity in 2014.

By Cem Ertekin

In British Columbia the reinvigorated Liberal government of Christie Clark, victors of an electoral ‘fluke,’ promoted austerity in the province, within the first year of their new mandate.  Main stream media alluded to the “boringness” of the budget. In all honesty, it did have a pretty boring title: Balanced Budget 2014. But apart from that the Balanced Budget 2014 was in fact an exhilarating piece of legislation for all the austerity groupies, except for the Fraser Institute for obvious reasons. Although the BC budget went the extra mile, cutting funds from education to law enforcement, and gave way, on the other hand, hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits to oil and gas tycoons, the Fraser Institute underlined that it wasn’t enough, austerity along their lines is only complete when all barriers to corporate and personal greed are destroyed. “Ambition,” as defined per the Fraser Institute dictionary, is a full out assault on collective ownership. The only thing that can be seen as ambitious is the transfer of public wealth into the hands of a few private entities, a process more commonly known as austerity.

In the Prairies, only Manitoba has resisted the wrath of austerity. That being said, Manitoba is far from being a success story. With the rise of the Provincial Sales Tax (PST), which has had a negative impact on the poorest of Manitobans. The economic situation of Indigenous communities in Manitoba, especially the plight of Indigenous children and women, is disastrous, as it is across Canada.

In Saskatchewan austerity is synonymous with prosperity, believe it or not, in the name of preserving the Saskatchewan Advantage. The Saskatchewan Advantage, as per the Wall administration, is nothing more, or nothing less, than handouts for the fracking lobby and austerity for the rest. In the lyrical fairytale of the Saskatchewan Advantage, austerity is the tempo, to which its raconteurs sing praises.

By Cem Ertekin

In Big Sky Country, the new Premier is all about the cuts. In 2013, Redford had already put the axe to the few relics of what seemed once to have been some sort of welfare net. The price of oil plummeting will be the perfect excuse for Jim Prentice to extend those cuts even further in the year to come. Is this the end of the Calgary School’s laboratory? Only time will tell.

In Ontario and Quebec, both Liberal governments were re-elected back to office in 2014 and not so surprisingly they both re-started their austerity measures and severe amputations. Quebec’s austerity budget was ushered through the national assembly with “rigour” and “responsibility.” When you thought things couldn’t get worse, we jumped from the frying pan into the freaking oven. There have been cuts across the board to healthcare and educational services, deep cuts to employment initiatives and to unemployment programs – a trend which was already initiated by the PQ, but especially aggravated by the Liberal administration. On the other hand, very “gracefully” and in a very “generous” manner, the Couillard administration offered more funds for First Nations education in return for unchecked access to the natural resources of Northern Quebec within the framework of Le Plan Nord. Neo-colonialism anyone?

In Ontario it seems as if austerity has frozen over, Ontario might have dodged the bullet of Tim Hudak’s slashing fetish, but didn’t get Wynne’s ‘Disneylandic utopia some had raved about. No increase in healthcare or educational services. A literal 0% rate of increase for the next two years at least in both those sectors, no plan to tackle the omen of having the highest tuition fees in Canada, a pitiful increase to the provincial minimum wage would has been frozen for years, a 1% increase across the board for social services and social programs… It’s the frigid kiss of austerity with a smile!

UNITE AGAINST

In the Maritimes, in the meanwhile, the emphasis was put on “deficit reduction” the politically correct synonym for austerity. In Nova Scotia the cuts put forward by the outgoing Dexter administration were not rolled back, they were solidified. The Liberal government continued their focus on balancing the budget on the backs of those most obviously in need.

After slashing the only librarian in Corner Brook, Newfoundland’s second biggest city, the Conservative government of Paul Davies continued their quest to slash taxes, while providing Newfoundland & Labrador with the best Health Care, Education and Social Services in the country, and, as the cherry on top, promised a return to a budget surplus in 2015-16, obviously these kinds of fairy tales have as for backdrop the Tory utopia of “No-government-is-good-government Land!”

In New Brunswick, Gallant and his Liberal administration have beaten the Conservative incumbents, and have sworn to impose a moratorium on fracking. That’s a very positive update, but we’ll have to wait and see. Will Galant have the courage to dispossess the Irving clan of their private domain, i.e. New Brunswick, or will he be deposed for trying?

In the Canadian North and for native communities throughout Canada, 2014 was just another year of excruciating violence. The federal government continued to deny Indigenous communities rightful justice when it comes to the more than 1200 missing or murdered Indigenous women and imposed colonialist type austerity on First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities throughout Canada. It has withheld funds for education from First Nations communities, because of their refusal to have the Federal Government impose a “White Man’s” education on them. Coming from the same government that offered the “historical” excuses for the residential schools system, I would call it hypocritical, but I think hypocritical doesn’t cut it! As if that wasn’t enough  the Conservative government  imposed some kind of Neo-Colonial management on First Nation communities through their Orwellian First Nations Transparency Act (FNTA), threatening to withhold funds once again if First Nation communities don’t accept to hand over their sovereignty to Ottawa.

It’s hypocritical, to say the least. Because while the Conservative government is bickering about “First Nations Transparency,” the record of Canadian dollars in Tax Heavens was shattered this year, at around 170$ billion. Canadian banks made yet another year of trailblazing profits. Unfortunately for them, it seems like its going to “cool down” a bit. *tears* Multinational Oil and Gas corporations this year cashed in an estimated $34 billion in direct and indirect subsidies from all levels of government. In even better news, the budget surplus which was crafted through the panoply of austerity measures, which has been the plight of so many working Canadian families has been handed to the richest 1% of Canadian families, through the Conservatives income splitting scheme. And while Canadian workers make less and less per hour in salary compared with the price of living, Canadian multinationals are sitting on 630 billion dollars. This is what the real face of austerity is. Austerity is highway robbery, the privatization of our common public wealth.  If it’s a question of “tightening one’s belt,” then we will ask who’s belt is to be tightened?

There’s one image that sums-up all of the 2014 cycle for me perfectly: the image of minister Aglukkaq reading a newspaper in the HOC while a debate was raging about the bitter Food Crisis, which pushed some of her constituents to dumpster dive to find some scraps of food. That image embodied perfectly the misery of Canadian politics in 2014.

A luta continua!

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