Over 2,000 delegates from across the country are meeting in Toronto this week at the bi-annual convention of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
CUPE’s convention is the largest single participatory democratic event that takes place in one place in Canada. Hundreds of delegates are speaking every day on the convention floor and in caucus and committee meetings and about the issues that really matter to them and debating our union’s strategic directions for the next two years. The speeches from the floor are about the issues we care about as workers and community members – public services over privatization, equality, and how to ensure a clean and healthy environment in our workplaces and our communities.
In Ottawa, Stephen Harper has released his vision for the kind of Canada he wants to create. The Speech from the Throne is about a Canada in which the rich can get richer and the poor will get poorer. Where precious resources will go to tax cuts for the rich, instead of social programs that will build the country and address poverty in a real way.
There is a wide gulf between what CUPE members are saying from the floor and what the Harper government has done and is promising in its latest Speech from the Throne.
Strengthening Public Services and Fighting Privatization
CUPE members are calling strongly for the federal government to increase funding for child care services and to build an affordable and accessible national child care and early learning program. Lack of affordable child care is a major barrier for women’s participation in many aspects of work and life: it also deepens poverty, increases inequality and deprives children of a decent start in life.
- Harper’s Throne Speech claims families now have real choice in child care thanks to his $100 per month baby bonus. Nothing could be further from the truth: the Conservatives cancelled the national child care program and promised to create 125,000 new child care spaces. Not one new space has been created.
- The Throne Speech signals the Tories’ intention to strip Government of the legislative and financial levers to expand social programs. The federal spending power is the only tool the Government of Canada has to launch a pan-Canadian child care program.
CUPE members are speaking passionately, standing up and fighting for practical solutions to end poverty. They are fighting for stronger public services, higher minimum wages, better working conditions and higher wages for low-paid workers, affordable housing, support for workers and families around the world in the fight against poverty.
- Harper’s government and Throne Speech completely ignores the problem of poverty and increasing inequality. It promises tax cuts to benefit the rich, provides nothing to reduce poverty and improve living standards, and promises to restrict the federal government’s ability to introduce new social programs.
CUPE members are fighting hard against Harper’s not so secret sweeping agenda to privatize public services across Canada at all different levels of government. They understand that privatizing public services doesn’t just hurt public service workers, but attacks the ability of all Canadians to achieve a decent standard of living. CUPE members are committed to fight back against corporate privatization at all levels: by promoting the benefits of public services, through direct political action, lobbying, through community alliances, in their workplaces and by fighting against bad “free trade” deals.
CUPE members are campaigning for a better public health care: defending public health care and fighting for national public pharmacare, home care and long-term care programs.
CUPE members are calling on the federal government to increase funding for education, post-secondary education, training and literacy and to reduce tuition fees.
- Harper’s Throne Speech says nothing about improving public services or about privatization, but cutting public services and promoting privatization is at the core of its policies in all different areas: attacking public services, forcing privatization, P3s and commercialization on provinces, municipalities and universities, pushing regressive trade deals, and introducing regressive tax cuts.
Harper has already cut taxes by more than $30 billion over two years in just 2 years of budgets and is now promising at least another $5 billion more in tax cuts per year. How much wealthier and better off are hard-working Canadians from these tax cuts?
With the tax cuts already introduced and promised by Harper in just two years, Canada could have:
- Phased in a national non-profit public child care and early learning program: guaranteeing a space for every 3-5 year old in Canada
- Restored enough funding to cities and municipalities to end their budget crises and rebuild their infrastructure and community services
- Created a national pharmacare program to provide affordable medicine to all Canadians
- Provide enough for First Nations and Aboriginal communities to fund the Kelowna Accord and more to meet health, educational, housing, land claims, environmental, fiscal and child welfare needs
These measures would have done much more to benefit working families, reduce poverty, and improve our productivity than Harper’s misguided economic plans and tax cuts.
The poorest members of our society are often also members of equality seeking groups. They are people who face discrimination because they are women, or disabled or aboriginal or people of colour or because of their sexual orientation.
At this convention, the speeches from the floor are about strategies to improve the situation of the most disadvantaged in our society. CUPE members believe in a role for government in looking after citizens in a collective way. We know that taxes are what fund the social programs that we all cherish and we support governments that are brave enough to make the case for taxes.
So how does Stephen Harper propose to address the growing inequality in our country? This is what Stephen Harper’s vision looks like:
- Tax cuts that will make it impossible for the government to maintain its role in social programs and impossible to create new social programs, like the child care program Canadians want
- New tax credits like the Working Income Tax Credit and the Registered Disability Savings Plan that represent an individualization of support instead of a collective response
- Changes to the Employment Insurance program, a key income replacement program for the unemployed that has already been gutted by previous governments
- Legislation on national security that will undoubtedly continue to limit our civil liberties
- A crime and punishment agenda that doesn’t recognize that crime is rooted in poverty
- Privately operated water for aboriginal communities, a model that has proved disastrous around the world
CUPE members are unanimous in calling for the federal government to protect the environment, enact a real and effective plan to deal with climate change and commit to the Kyoto protocol. CUPE members and locals are also working hard to improve the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their workplaces, households and communities.
- Harper first tried to deny the problem of climate change: now, like the previous Liberal government, it has promised another strategy to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. In reality their plan has at least a dozen different loopholes that would allow corporations to avoid meeting their targets. Harper’s climate change “strategy” is yet another completely ineffective plan in the long traditional of similar strategies from the Mulroney, Chretien and Martin governments.