So What Happened to “Free Collective Bargaining” in Manitoba?

by Errol Black

On Saturday, November 19, 2011, a Brandon Sun headline read:

Well apparently they were wrong.

Labour and Immigration Minister Jennifer Howard’s decision to force striking faculty members to vote on the university’s “last offer” came as a surprise to everyone this morning.   Only a few days ago her colleague Erin Selby, the Minister of Advanced Education, was quoted by the Brandon Sun as saying “this is a difficult time for students and their families…We understand their frustration. They want to be back in the classroom. We want to see students back in the classroom as well. The best way for this to come to a resolution would be for both sides to continue negotiation. That’s the best resolution that we can see…”

Drew Caldwell, MLA Brandon East, took the same position, stating his support for his government’s stance in favour of collective bargaining… “The principle of free collective bargaining is very important in a civil society and we as a government have been providing conciliation, mediation and urging the parties to come to an agreement…”

On Tuesday November 22, 2011, Brandon woke up to a very different headline:

In a letter to Brandon University President Deborah Poff and BUFA president Joe Dolecki, Minister Howard wrote “I have reviewed the circumstances of the dispute and the negative effect of the work stoppage on the students of Brandon University and the city of Brandon… I am of the opinion that a vote of the employees in (BUFA) to accept or reject the last offer of the employer, respecting all matters remaining in dispute between the parties, is in the public interest.”

So what happened between November 19 to November 21 to cause the government to so drastically change their position?

With the benefit of hindsight it appears that the decision was not as drastic as it would appear.  The government seems to have been working on a strategy to force an end to the strike for the past few weeks.

In previous blogs we reported that Brandon University’s Board and Administration and their lawyer, Grant Mitchell, have been seeking to undermine BUFA by stalling the collective bargaining process and forcing the outstanding issues to binding arbitration.

On October 12, the University asked for the appointment of a conciliator. A conciliator was appointed, but because of the University’s reluctance to negotiate, the effort was abandoned on October 21 (an outcome confirmed by the Minister of Labour in response to a question raised during Question Period on November 1).

BUFA then requested the appointment of a mediator. The Minister appointed Michael Werier, who on November 9th reported to the Minister that attempts at mediation had failed. In his report, Werier indicated that he had accepted the University’s argument and recommended that outstanding issues go to binding arbitration. The Minister recommended to the parties that they accept Werier’s recommendation. The University accepted, not surprising since this was the outcome they wanted from the onset. BUFA declined, stating that they would seek to secure an agreement through collective bargaining.

Members of Cabinet also liked the idea of having the matter go to arbitration. On November 9, Premier Selinger told a Winnipeg radio talk show host that the government would like the association [BUFA] to consider binding arbitration to help resolve the situation. And in the November,19 story in which Erin Selby said the province would stay out of the dispute, she let slip that she thought “[t]he best thing would be for both parties to agree to go to arbitration.”

The employer’s final offer will now go to a Manitoba Labour Board supervised vote of the BUFA membership – which could be as early as Thursday.

If it turns out that the BUFA membership rejects the employer’s offer, the Minister has signaled that she will clear the way for quick approval of a request for binding arbitration that will be made by Grant Mitchell on December 12.

This is a sad and unnecessary ending to a sad situation. It could have been avoided if the government had respected the institution of free collective bargaining and forced the employer to accept the fact that there would be no intervention to force a settlement through binding arbitration. Progress was being made. The difference on wages was reduced to $220,000 over a four-year agreement. Although the University backed down on an earlier agreement to follow the back to work protocol used in the 2008 strike, progress was being made on this outstanding issue as well.

As stated by BUFA president Joe Dolecki ““It is a sad day for free collective bargaining in this province”.

Errol Black is a CCPA Board member.

Bill C-10: “Housing” that will lead to a need for more social housing

by Christina Maes

After years of complaining that Canada is the only G-8 country without a National Housing Strategy, housing advocates are finally getting their way. The federal government is passing Bill C-10, the Omnibus Crime Bill, that will effectively house people, and especially people with a mental illness who engage in crimes of survival.

But on November 22, National Housing Day, housing advocates will still be complaining! They are holding a march, in connection with many more  advocacy and front-line service agencies across Canada. These groups would have preferred Bill C-304, an Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, but it died at the committee stage before the last election.

Bill C-10 will accomplish similar objectives as Bill C-304 would have, had it passed, albeit in very different ways. By creating mandatory minimum sentences and requiring longer sentences, Bill C-10 will house more people in jail for longer periods of time.

In a recent study of people experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg, it was shown that 24.4% of the people who were homeless had been in jail in the past year. Many people spoke about living a cycle caught between jail and street. People who were just released from jail ended up homeless because they could not find jobs, and lacked skills and resources to afford housing. Living in destitution with few options, some of these people were easily recruited by gangs to make a little money so they could afford food and shelter. Some people even said they engaged in petty crime just so they could have a warm, safe place to spend the night – a jail cell.

One man who was interviewed for the Winnipeg Street Health Report (released last June) had been kicked off welfare because he was getting his high school equivalency instead of working. He felt forced to deal drugs to make money and stayed at emergency shelters regularly. With this one ill planned and expensive government intervention, this young man will not have to worry about where his next meal will come from and where he will stay each night. Instead of a welfare rate of $555 per month to support the man in obtaining an education and becoming self-sufficient, the province can pay $4,854 per month, the cost of housing someone in provincial prison.

Housing in Canada has become a serious social, political and personal issue. About 3.3 million Canadians are living in substandard housing. It is estimated that at least 2,000 Winnipeggers are experiencing homelessness at any given time. In 2010, 510 children spent at least one night at Salvation  Army’s family shelter or at Ndinawemaaganag Endaawaad Inc. youth safe house.

Emergency shelters and jails have very similar populations. Both have become homes for large numbers of people living in poverty. The authors of the Winnipeg Street Health Report found that about 45% of the people needing emergency shelters in Winnipeg were diagnosed with some form of mental illness. The population in correctional facilities in Canada have rates of mental illness three times higher than the general population. Providing overcrowded jail cells, rather than supportive housing, is not a good solution for people facing poverty and mental illness.

Housing is a basic human right. It is critical in determining how all aspects of our lives are fulfilled. The lack of affordable housing in Canada is costly for all Canadians – both socially and economically. When a society fails to meet the social needs of all of its citizens, there is more pressure put on our healthcare and criminal justice systems. It is simple math: provincial prison costs four times more than supportive housing. When people are denied access to decent jobs and incomes, they are excluded from the economic life of our community.

There was a time, not so long ago, that Canada was admired internationally for its strong affordable housing policies. We need to reclaim our status and create a National Housing Strategy that will begin the process of coordinating efforts, maintaining political will and building the national economy. There is so much that a housing strategy could do for Canadians, and all for a much smaller price tag than Bill C-10.

But until then, expect to hear more from housing advocates here in Winnipeg, and across Canada.

Christina Maes is a Policy Analyst for the Social Planning Council and a member of the Right to Housing Coalition.

For a PDF of this Fast Facts, click here.

For more information about the march on November 22, please visit the Right to Housing’s Facebook page.

IT’S BRANDON UNIVERSITY!

By Errol Black

On November 16, The Brandon Sun responded to my comments of November 14 in which I argued that that their coverage and commentary relating to the strike at Brandon University was delaying a resolution of the conflict (“You can’t avoid the BU reality”).

The Sun’s concluding paragraph to the editorial implies that the editors didn’t understand my arguments. This paragraph reads as follows:

Up until now, the BUFA executive has ignored the advice of its own hand-picked mediator and refused to agree to binding arbitration. The executive seems to believe it can reach a deal with the university through the collective bargaining process, which has not been successful. As of today, there is only one holdout in this strike, and as we have no voice at the negotiating table, it’s rather obvious that we are not the ones prolonging the strike.

Instead of trying to understand the underlying causes for the failure to “reach a deal with the university through the collective bargaining process,” the editorial argues in effect that what’s gone before is irrelevant: “BUFA has rejected binding arbitration. Therefore, BUFA is responsible for a continuation of the strike. That’s all there is too it.”

I would suggest that if the Sun editorial writers and columnists had looked carefully at the factors leading to strike action and subsequent developments, they would have reached a different conclusion.

In brief, the chronology of key events in this sad state of affairs is as follows:

  • May 17, start of collective bargaining.
  • October 12, start of strike.
  • October 12, in response to request by Brandon University, government names conciliator to help the parties negotiate a collective agreement.
  • October 21, given the University’s refusal to get serious about reaching a collective agreement, the conciliator decides there’s no future in prolonging the process. BUFA agrees and requests the Minister of Labour appoint Michael Werier as a mediator.
  • October 21, Michael Werier appointed mediator.
  • November 7, Michael Werier submitted report to Minister proposing “binding arbitration to resolve the dispute on wage increases, and either arbitrate or negotiate the remaining issues.”

Given that Mr. Werier revealed in his report that he was predisposed to accept the position of the University on wages, BUFA rejected binding arbitration. The University, which had indicated previously a desire to arbitrate rather than negotiate, enthusiastically approved Werier’s recommendation.

Other people, including the editors of the Sun, should have been able to puzzle out that the problem was that the University refused to bargain in good faith and it should have insisted that the University get back to the table and negotiate a collective agreement.

Instead, without much thought, they simply jumped on the arbitration band wagon and called on BUFA to give up on its efforts to bargain a solution. I would submit that the latter response, namely, the endorsement of the university’s wish for arbitration, has prolonged the strike.

Errol Black is a retired member of BUFA and a CCPA Mb. board member.

Brandon Sun Bias Prolongs Brandon University Strike

Editor’s Note: For more information, please also see What You Need To Know About The Brandon University Strike

 

By Errol Black

 

The Brandon University strike of 240 faculty members is now into its 34th day.

The actions and role of the media in small-town labour disputes play an important role in shaping community perspectives on the nature, dynamics and implications of the conflict for both the direct participants and the community at large. The media’s role is, therefore, profoundly important in all labour disputes; it is especially important in situations where deliberate bias in the coverage provided by the media results in a serious misrepresentation of a dispute that potentially involves segments of the community. The Brandon University strike is one such dispute.

 

The Brandon Sun

Of all the media in Brandon, the Sun is the one media enterprise with the most capacity to provide the news and analytical coverage from the balanced perspective that people need to understand the Brandon University strike. Before the Sun was taken over by The Winnipeg Free Press in 2001 it was a fairly robust enterprise and newspaper that provided information and insight on world, national and local issues. Now, it simply characterizes itself as the voice of conservatism in the region – a paper, in other words, with a narrow right-wing slant. This perspective is evident in the Sun’s coverage of the Brandon University Strike.

Brandon Sun Bias

From the outset, the Sun has aligned itself with Brandon University President, Administration and hired guns, notably, employer lawyer Grant Mitchell, and against the members of the Brandon University Faculty Association (BUFA). This is reflected in all aspects of the paper’s analysis and coverage including: the stories that are emphasized and the ones that are ignored or downplayed, the letters that get printed as opposed to the ones that don’t; the editorial perspectives, to name a few.

This bias reached its peak this past week, culminating in back-to-back editorials published on November 9 and 10, 2011.

The first of the editorials, titled “BU students deserve more from Caldwell,” What do they deserve from Caldwell? According to the editors, “,,,it’s rather dispiriting to say the least, when the only elected NDP representative around these parts seems unwilling to step into the fray on behalf of increasingly frustrated university students.” And why exactly, do the editors think Caldwell should step in, and what exactly do they think he should do? The editors say he should intervene, because, while “it is one thing to believe that the provincial government should not interfere with the collective bargaining process [and Caldwell has the right to his opinion], when it become obvious that both sides are incapable of reaching a fair and equitable settlement on their own…a higher power needs to step in – the provincial government.. And you, Mr. Caldwell …need to take a stand that benefits this city, before affected constituents decide to give up the ghost.”

This attack on Caldwell clearly demonstrates the editor’s ignorance of both the broader role the labour movement plays in democratic society and the importance of the collective bargaining process in providing a voice for workers.

In the November 10 editorial (“BUFA, province share the blame”) the editors claim that as of November 9, “the executive of BUFA is now the only entity standing in the way of some 3,100 students being allowed to return to class.” The editors don’t explain how BUFA is responsible for this situation. Are we left to infer that it’s because BUFA rejects binding arbitration and insists that the two parties negotiate a collective agreement? If that’s what the editors believe, then isn’t more plausible to suggest that it is the University and their high-paid legal brains that are responsible for the continuation of the strike? Surely, we might expect that when people are being paid $400 to $600 an hour, they can think of something more creative to say than “we want it to go to binding arbitration.”

In the concluding sections of the editorial the editors state: “At the outset, of this strike, the Sun’s management and editorial board made a decision to stay neutral in the Our View [ by which they mean editorial] column..”

They then say, “. . . but we never expected the strike to extend for so long and for all the wrong reasons.” There is a simple explanation for their failure to get things right; namely, that they never tried to understand the causes of the strike and the reasons for the impasse in collective bargaining. Nor did they bother to try and figure out what the issues were and why Brandon University steadfastly refused to try and negotiate an agreement with BUFA.

The editors wind up their editorial asserting that “we now see clearly who the villains are in this performance – the faculty’s union and the provincial government [and] calling on the government to legislate the strikers back to work.”

I would suggest that there are indeed villains in this situation but not the ones cited by the Sun. On the contrary, the villains are Brandon University and the Brandon Sun, which has failed through its own ineptitude and ideological blinders to provide citizens with the background they need to understand the causes and consequences of the strike.

Errol Black is a CCPA MB. board member and a retired member of the BUFA.


What You Need to Know About the Brandon University Strike

by Errol Black, Julie Guard, and Chris Rigaux

Professors, instructors, librarians and administrative staff on strike at Brandon University have been accused in the press of being selfish and irresponsible. Although it’s not uncommon in a strike for one side to represent the other’s position as unreasonable, in this case, the faculty have been vilified on the basis of some pretty serious distortions. Examination of the facts reveals a very different picture.

BU staff have been accused of making unreasonable demands – as much as a 37 per cent pay hike over three years. In reality, Brandon University Faculty Association (BUFA) never proposed wage increases anywhere near that figure. Both sides have proposed wage increases of under 5 percent over three years. In fact, they’re within 0.2 percentage points of each other. The real obstacle to an agreement on wages is that the University insists that the profs wait two years for their pay to increase, offering only .5 percent in year one and 1 percent in year two, both of which are less than the increase in the cost of living, which is currently 3.2 percent. And although the faculty have made significant concessions over the six months of bargaining, the University has held firmly to its initial position.

The University’s chief negotiator – a $400-plus-an-hour external labour-relations lawyer who also happens to be an advisor to the Canadian Labour Watch Association, a Vancouver-based anti-union organization – insists that Brandon University can’t afford to pay its teachers what similar instructors earn elsewhere in Canada, and that it’s already facing budget cuts. Brandon University President Deborah Poff claims that their hands are tied by a wage ceiling imposed by the Manitoba government. Neither assertion is consistent with the evidence, which shows that the University has the resources to provide a negotiated settlement. Premier Greg Selinger recently denied that the Province imposed wage restrictions, pointing out, “we’ve just given the universities 5, 5 and 5% [annual] increases in operating grants, so why would we direct them to hold salary increases?”

The modest pay increase proposed by the union doesn’t mean BU profs are well-paid. On the contrary, BU faculty, who teach more courses than those in many other universities, earn $16,345 less than the Canadian average for university teachers.

While University negotiators refuse to increase profs’ wages to keep pace with the cost of living, they have found a way to pay the BU President about $266,000 (before benefits) and, it is rumoured, to increase her pay by 14 percent. But unlike the profs’, university presidents’ salaries and benefit packages aren’t usually reported in the media.

From the start, the University has wanted an arbitrated settlement, and maintains that arbitration is the only way to resolve the impasse. They have adopted an all-or-nothing position and, in the sixth month of negotiations, introduced fifty pages of new, even harsher, proposals. By comparison, the faculty want to negotiate a fair agreement and see no reason this can’t be achieved. They have tried hard to reach such an agreement, making significant concessions and engaging in conciliation and mediation, to no avail. As for arbitration, it will result – at best – in a settlement that puts off the difficult issues for another day – hardly a sustainable way to maintain staff morale and a positive teaching environment.

Rather than assuring students that the University will work with the faculty to develop a plan to make up class work delayed during the strike, Poff has urged them to cross picket lines and hinted that they will lose their term if the faculty don’t agree to settle the strike soon through binding arbitration. But the faculty are not crossing picket lines and virtually no classes are being taught. BU students who pay high tuition fees are concerned about their academic term being lost, but contrary to Poff ’s suggestions about what might happen at BU, no Canadian university has ever lost a term due to a strike, including some much longer than the current one at BU. BU faculty are already working on plans to compress the term to enable students to make up the lost time.

Moreover, the Brandon University Students’ Union, the organization representing students, has taken a democratic decision to support the faculty from day one and continues to do so. BUSU’s membership, for the most part, understands that taking a position of ‘neutrality’ allows the University administration to play the students off the faculty to no one’s benefit. Students will not gain from a working environment poisoned by frustrated faculty and major unresolved issues. BUFU also has the support of professors across the country as demonstrated by two very successful “flying pickets” that included professors from across the country who came to Brandon to walk the picket line.

Poff has also consistently refused to meet with parents and students, although the faculty have done so. In a packed public meeting at Park Community Centre in early November, they gave straight answers to tough questions, such as why they went on strike. One prof told parents and teachers, “I am in this business because I love what I do every day” and another said, “it breaks my heart that we had to go on strike.” But profs also explained that they work more than professors at other universities yet get paid less. The 120 students and their parents who rallied on 7 November to demand an end to strike are correct: they deserve a well-run University that values its faculty and will let them get back to work. The instructors have tried hard to achieve those goals; the University’s refusal to bargain a fair and reasonable agreement is now the only obstacle.

Errol Black is Chair of CCPA-MB, Julie Guard is Coordinator of the Labour Studies Program U of M and a CCPA-MB board member and Chris Rigaux is research and policy analyst for the U of M Student Union.

For a PDF of this article, click here.

Bill C-10 Fact Sheet

The John Howard Society of Manitoba is organizing a rally to stop Bill C-10 (November 8, 12pm, at the Leg). For more information about this bill, see their fact sheet, below.

By the John Howard Society of Manitoba

Bill C-10, an omnibus bill, contains nine separate pieces of previously failed legislation. In addition to creating a number of new mandatory minimum sentences for a wide variety of offences, it increases the use of denunciation and longer sentences for young offenders, makes it easier for the Minister of Public Safety to deny Canadians incarcerated in other countries transfers back to Canada to complete their sentences here, and would delay or deny pardons outright for hundreds of thousands of Canadians with a criminal record.

As well, the Bill calls for a minimum sentence of nine months in jail for anyone found growing six or more pot plants, and would impose the same sentence for someone caught giving away as little as a single joint (which would count as trafficking, even if no money was involved).

The federal government and its supporters have not introduced any evidence to support its claims that Bill C-10 will reduce crime – and are simply ignoring 30 years of evidence from the United States showing that locking up more people, for longer, does not reduce crime.

Although it was introduced by the Federal Government, if passed, Bill C-10 would force the provincial governments to lock up more inmates, increasing overcrowding in provincial jails and further clogging up the courts. John Howard Society of Manitoba has calculated that three-fourths of the increased costs resulting from this Bill will have to be borne by the provinces, and only one-fourth by the federal government – and of course 100 percent of the cost will ultimately be borne by tax-payers.

The government has not released any credible figures in terms of the costs; however based on previous legislation, the John Howard Society of Manitoba calculates the costs to be about $2 billion a year in total (including both federal and provincial costs), or $1400 per tax-payer.

The Provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Ontario have all spoken out against the Bill, as has the official opposition in British Columbia. Even New Brunswick, which supports the Bill, has said it can’t afford to pay the costs.

In brief, Bill C-10:

  • Will not reduce crime, while diverting billions of dollars from healthcare, education, social services as well as strategies already proven to be effective at reducing crime.
  • Will make it harder or even impossible for someone with a criminal record to get a pardon and move forward with their life in a positive, crime-free way.
  • Will dramatically increase violence in prisons and jails, increasing risks for both inmates and staff. It will also make it harder, if not impossible, to offer programs in jails and prisons to help inmates rehabilitate themselves.

Other Voices

“I went from robbing 7-11 stores, robbing drug dealers, escaping from jail, to becoming a good father, a good member of society, a good taxpayer, a role model to other individuals that are facing the same challenge that I am,” said Chris Courchene, a 29-year-old Aboriginal man from Winnipeg, Canada’s violent crime capital according to Statistics Canada. “I feel that the proposed legislation paints everyone with the same brush. I think that the pardons should be for people who have clearly demonstrated without a doubt that they have reformed.” (At a press conference in Ottawa, ON October)

Wilma Derksen told the committee that finally hearing the truth about what happened to her daughter was a relief but the sentencing did not satisfy her need for justice. “The trial brought out the truth and it was the truth that healed us and set us free, not the sentencing. I still find no satisfaction in thinking that the man will be sitting in prison for the next 25 years. There is nothing life-giving about that. It’s just sad. And it’s going to cost us $2.5 million, probably.” (November 3, 2011, speaking to a House of Commons Standing Committee).

“If there is one common feature of these bills, it’s the ignoring, marginalizing and mischaracterizing of the evidence. The Government holds out the crime bill as a purported means of crime reduction, yet studies show that the resulting prison overcrowding and use of mandatory-minimum sentences will ultimately result in more crime.” (Irwin Cotler, Member of Parliament for Mount Royal and the Liberal critic for justice and human rights – Montreal Gazette, November 4, 2011)

About 13 per cent of the male inmate population is ‘double-bunked’ – housed in cells built for one person – and, under Bill C-10, that will increase to 30 per cent. “Prison overcrowding undermines nearly everything that can be positive or useful about a correctional environment,” Pierre Mallette, the head of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said. “It is linked to increased levels of institutional violence, is a contributing factor to the spread of infectious disease and reduces already limited access to correctional programming and delays the safe and timely reintegration of offenders into the community.” (Montreal Gazette, November 4, 2011)

“If the prime minister’s tough-on-crime rules end up creating more ex-cons, and more hardened ex-cons, increasing the portion of our population with mental illnesses, poorer health, chronic unemployment, homelessness and family break ups, those are costs that are going to hit the provinces harder in their health care budgets and social support program budgets – and for years longer than the actual incarcerations.” (Kevin Libin, National Post, November 4, 2011)

Felix Collins, Newfoundland’s province’s justice minister, said he has never seen a study that favours more prison time as a way to cut rates of re-offence and improve public safety. “Incarcerating more people is not the answer,” Mr. Collins said (Globe and Mail, November 3, 2011).

The John Howard Society works with victims, offenders and communities to respond to the causes and consequences of crime.

New Date for Brunch with Justice Sinclair!

The Fundraising Brunch with Justice Sinclair has been rescheduled. The new date is November 27th. See below for ticket information.
We hope to see you there!

Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has graciously agreed to be a guest speaker at a CCPA-MB fundraising brunch in the Star Grill restaurant in the Assiniboine Park Conservatory. The theme of his presentation will be “Understanding the Legacy”. Seating is limited, so please order your tickets soon.

Sunday November 27, 2011, 
10 a.m.

Star Grill Restaurant
Assiniboine Park Conservatory

Tickets: $75.00 ($50.00 tax receipt)

To order tickets:

  • PHONE the CCPA-MB office at 927-3200
  • EMAIL sinclair-brunch@policyalternatives.ca
  • Pop into the office (309 – 323 Portage Avenue) between 9 and 12, 1 to 4, Monday to Friday

You can pay by:

  • Credit card (if you email please just ask for us to call you for the number)
  • Cash
  • Cheque made out to CCPA-MB

For more information on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 
please visit: www.trc.ca

The Globe and Mail’s Take on the Inequality Agenda

By Errol Black and Jim Silver

On August 12, 2011, we published a Fast Facts titled, The Inequality Agenda and the Specious Ideas that Support It.  In that article we cited a July 20, 2011 Globe and Mail article by Jeffrey Simpson titled, Do we care that Canada is an unequal society? Simpson answered his question with the following observation: “Committees of both the House of Commons and Senate have issued reports on poverty: neither stirred much interest.   Income inequalities are apparently not deemed important subjects in this self-centered age.”

In response we noted that the burden of the evidence shows that most Canadians are concerned about income inequalities.   It is the obsession-driven Harper government in Ottawa — cut corporate taxes, attack trade unions and collective bargaining, dismantle institutions that provide benefits for direct producers (the Canadian Wheat Board), etc. — and the big corporations, including most of the corporate media that don’t care.

The Globe and Mail, while it claims to be Canada’s national newspaper, is a leading cheerleader for the Harper government and the corporate agenda.   It is national in the sense that it is available in all the provinces, but it does not connect with most thoughtful and concerned Canadians; indeed, it has moved in the opposite direction in recent months replacing most of its thoughtful and interesting journalists with individuals who pride themselves on being apologists for the status quo.

Against this backdrop, Jeffrey Simpson tackles the topic of inequalities once again in his October 29, 2011 column with the question: “Why aren’t we talking about income inequality?” His answer is signaled in his opening paragraphs: “Equality is fitfully in the news…Deficits are large, social programs need to be funded, the poor are growing. Ergo, the rich should pay more. So goes the simplistic argument.” From there he goes on to argue that Canadians are preoccupied with gender and regional inequalities. “Income inequality, however, seems to be the kind of inequality that Canadians don’t talk about much.” He then argues that the question of why Canada has become more “unequal in an income sense is a complicated business…And taxing [the rich] more doesn’t raise all that much money; to get real dollops of cash, governments have to tax people who consider themselves ‘middle class.’ That gets politically awkward.”

What should we make of Simpson’s arguments, apart from the fact that they are overly simplistic? Well, to start with his article is once again a defense of the status quo.  However, his basic premise, namely, that we don’t want to talk about income inequality, is wrong.  They aren’t talking about the issue in his paper (or other papers that endorse the redistribution policies of the Harper government), but there is plenty of discussion about inequality across our country.   For example, The Toronto Star regularly features articles and columns on the causes and consequences of growing inequalities in Canada.

Simpson’s claims that the issue of inequality is very complex.  It is not.  The fact of the matter is that successive Tory and Liberal governments have restructured the Canadian tax system and social and economic policies as a means of increasing income inequality and concentrating wealth and power at the top of the income distribution.  He is also wrong to say that imposing a higher tax rate on the rich would not generate much revenue.   In an October 24 column in The Toronto Star (“How to make inequality obsolete,”), Linda McQuaig suggests that modest changes to the progressive personal income tax structure (as proposed by Neil Brooks) would generate $8 billion in additional revenue.

The one useful observation that Simpson makes is that our equalization program and the “equality rights section” of the Constitution are recognized as public goods that provide benefits to all Canadian citizens.  Given that the overall poverty rate, the child poverty rate and inequality in Canada are among the highest in developed OCED countries, we would suggest that a concerted national program to reduce income inequality and poverty in this country would yield similar benefits.

The question is: where will we get the leadership to initiate debate on such an agenda?

Manitoba Legislature Called on to Oppose the Omnibus Crime Bill

The John Howard Society of Manitoba released the following statement to the press today:

A coalition of Manitoba agencies is calling on the Manitoba Legislature to oppose the omnibus crime bill now before parliament in Ottawa.

The Quebec National Assembly unanimously passed a motion last week calling on the federal government to withdraw Bill C-10 from the parliamentary agenda,

“With Bill C-10, Ottawa is about to sign a blank check that provincial governments will have to pay. The government is not giving an estimate of the costs involved, but it could be up to three times more than what the federal government is going to pay. This should be reason enough for our Legislature to ‘just say no’ to the Bill,” said Dennis Lewycky, Executive Director of the Social Planning Council.

On October 8th, Le Devoir quoted Michael Patton, a spokesperson for the Public Safety Minister Vic Toews as saying that the provinces can use Federal Transfer payments to pay for their portion of Bill C-10, neglecting to point out that transfer payments are used to fund health, education and social programs.

“Manitoba shouldn’t be forced by Parliament to build more jails at the expense of education, health and social spending, especially when we already know that putting more people in jail doesn’t reduce crime”, said John Hutton, Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba. “Ironically, education and social spending does.”

“The omnibus crime bill represents a highly expensive and damaging approach to crime, which will only serve to weaken Aboriginal communities as more and more of our people are taken away and placed in jail,” said Cora Morgan, Executive Director of Onashowewin, an Aboriginal restorative justice agency.

“The Manitoba government should join with Quebec in calling for Bill C-10 to be withdrawn, and the money saved could go to strengthening services for First Nations people,” Morgan concluded.

The organizations calling to the Manitoba Legislature to oppose Bill C-10 include:

  • BUILD Winnipeg
  • Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Kenton Eidse, Employment Counsellor
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba
  • John Howard Society of Manitoba
  • Initiatives for Just Communities
  • Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba
  • Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin (OPK)
  • Onashowewin Inc.
  • Social Planning Council of Winnipeg
  • Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO)

For more information about this issue see Omnibus Crime Bill Won’t Reduce Victimization Rates by Paula Mallea.

For more information about the Manitoba call to action contact John Hutton, Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba.

Prairie farmers won’t “get on” Stephen Harper’s train

by Barbara Toews

          Cartoon by Shawna Nelles



 

“It’s time for the wheat board and others who have been standing in the way to realize that this train is barrelling down a prairie track,” the Prime Minister said. “You’re much better to get on it than to lie on the tracks because this is going ahead. It’s time for the wheat board to go out in a dual marketing environment, to cultivate its customers and provide a competitive service because those customers are going to have choice in the future.” (Globe and Mail, Oct. 11, 2011)



The Harper government will be tabling a bill as early as this week which will take away farmers’ right to collectively market their own ‘Canadian Branded’ wheat around the world, and will hand it over to multinational corporations. The Harper government’s relentless, reckless and dictatorial campaign to get rid of the CWB is just one more example of how our democracy is being eroded. As Canadian citizens, we need to join together and stand up for integrity and the democratic principles we believe in.

Prairie farmers and supporters of the Canadian Wheat Board won’t give up that easily. 

On Friday October 28 at 12:00 noon, Manitobans are invited to meet in front of the Canadian Wheat Board at 423 Main St. to protest another assault on democracy by the Harper Government.

Prairie farmers will be gathering just outside of Winnipeg at the Red River Exhibition grounds for their own meeting earlier in the morning, and many of them will make their way to the Wheat Board offices in a cavalcade to join the peaceful citizens demonstration.

Barbara Toews is a partner in a grain & oilseed farm in southern Manitoba and a Provincial Council of Women Manitoba board member.