Sunday, December 5, 2010

Common Sense and Hookers. How Mike Harris Stole my Vote

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

I came across something the other day, that I hadn't realized I had kept. (I really having to start throwing stuff away)

It was a videotape with a white cardboard cover, and the dire warning to 'View Before June 8' [1995]; the [former Ontario premier] Mike Harris's campaign video when he was flogging his so-called Common Sense Revolution.

So I popped it in the VCR last night, in an attempt to understand what drove me to vote for this party through their local candidate Bill Vancoughnet. And I realized that it was as much about the language used to sell it, as the product.

The art of ambiguity helped to mask their true intent.

Mind you at the time, few Canadians understood the concept of neoconservatism, so we trusted the basic good of the Canadian identity, not realizing that much of this campaign was imported from the United States.

The two key elements that were hammered out by Vancoughnet and Harris on the tape, were taxes and the reduction of government waste. They promised four billion dollars in "tax rebates", a much better choice of words than "tax reduction", since they imply a cheque in the mail.

They also promised to "eliminate the barriers to job creation" - the removal of environmental restrictions.

"Cut the size of government by involving the private sector" - costly and service reducing privatization

"Arms length involvement by eliminating red tape" - the removal of health and safety concerns.

Welfare Reform

In 1975, Andrew Armitage wrote one of the first comprehensive books on Canada's social welfare system, and he stated that the way that Canadians view welfare or social assistance, is not with an eye to eliminating it, only to making it fairer.

He said that it had to be about not simply a transfer of funds, but an "exchange". That is why we liked Harris's notion of Workfare. The able bodied expected to pull their weight.

But the way this was presented to Ontarians was fundamentally flawed, and yet Harris was able to sell it not only to the working class, but to those receiving assistance.

He flogged it to the first group as getting "those lazy bums off the couch", and to the latter, as finding them jobs. But what we got instead was one of the most vile attacks on struggling citizens in modern history.

They cut the welfare rolls in half and drastically reduced benefits. The McGuinty government has attempted to raise the rates since then, but they are still far below pre-1995 levels. Thousands of people were thrown into the streets as a result, many freezing to death in their cars or in allies. The use of food banks rose and for many it was a return to depression era conditions.

And the promised jobs never materialized. Those on assistance were told they had to work, but also had to find their own employment in an already overstretched job market.

But a handful of people got filthy rich. A neoconservative success story.

Transfers and Exchange

The Harrisites were able to find willing accomplices to their inhumane policies because of stories. We all knew some.

Like the cab drivers who told of welfare recipients using their taxi chits to have them deliver cigarettes. Or the single moms with eight kids receiving thousands of dollars a month. Or welfare cheques going for booze or drugs.

The stories were true but not as common as we were led to believe.

I recently spoke with a woman who has worked in the system for three decades. She remembers the Harris era well and said that she can't remember a day during that time, when she didn't feel sad. Many of her clients were axed and she worried about what became of them, fearing the worst.

And as to the lazy "welfare bums", she told me that most of her clients wanted to work and hated having to accept what they thought of as "charity".

But we allowed a few "cheats" to define the entire system, and few raised a hand to stop "Chainsaw Mike" (those who did felt the wrath of the "Riot Police", a common view in Harrisland).

So maybe it's time to tap into the notion of "transfer and exchange". What are we getting from our government in exchange for the enormous amounts of our money we entrust them with?

In Ontario back in the day, we entrusted John Baird with millions to fix the welfare problem. In exchange we got a boondoggle computer system that never worked, and a contract with Anderson Consulting of Enron fame, who charged us 4 to 1, what the job would have cost using a civil servant.

In exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects, transferred to the Harris government, we got signs, glossy pamphlets and self-promotion advertising. In other words, taxpayers funded his re-election campaign.

And yet we transferred the same hundreds of millions of dollars to the Harper government, for the same signs, pamphlets and self-promotion advertising.

We have also transferred billions to the war in Afghanistan and have no idea what we got in exchange. Or maybe we do. A request for more billions.

Ontarians were lured into complicity, because the Harris government focused on the cheats. Yet any system involving money is always open to exploitation.

And that includes John Baird billing us $61,000 for his vacation to Bali (since he did nothing to address climate change), or Tony Clement $11,000 to deliver a cheque that he could have mailed. Or Christian Paradis presenting a claim of $5,000 for an $800 coat.

Cheats are Cheats

We will now be transferring more funds to Stephen Harper for an extension of stimulus money, and what will we get in exchange? Nobody knows because nobody asks. Tom Walkom believes it is to help pay for Harper's re-election campaign, and has nothing to do with the jobs he's promising.

In fact, job figures are looking better, because many out of work Canadians are simply giving up. In exchange for this transfer of funds we should demand that the money go to areas hardest hit by unemployment, but we know it won't. It's going to the 905 in an attempt to buy 10 seats.

In the United States the Republicans have blocked plans to cancel further tax cuts for the richest Americans, while the U.S. unemployment rate remains high and thousands are set to lose their benefits. What will the American people get in exchange for this enormous transfer of funds from the working class to the ultra-rich?

What will Canadians get for the enormous transfer of our tax dollars to the ultra-rich (60 billion in total come January)? An abstract promise of job creation.

But a handful of people will get filthy rich. Another neoconservative success story.


Another man appearing on the tape was Mark Mullins, referred to simply as an economist. He said that he had reviewed the Harris plan and confirmed that it would create 725,000 jobs.

Mullins went on to become an advisor for the Alliance Party and CEO of the Fraser Institute.

Bill Vancoughnet would be forced out of politics for soliciting an undercover cop in Toronto. The charges were dropped on the promise of his attending 'John' school.

Mike Harris's lap dog, Tim Hudak, husband of the infamous Debbie Hutton (Harris's gate keeper), is now heading the PC Party in Ontario, hoping to be our next premier.

Another neoconservative success story.


  1. Chainsaw Mike - threw out the baby with the bath water!

  2. And some of those people (Baird, Flaherty...) are now in Ottawa. Scary.

  3. Single mother welfare vrs. corporate welfare...

    or in other words: 12,000 per year versus billions per year

    Who's the real parasite here?

    I had an epiphany of my own last Friday after speaking to a detective who was telling me tales of his job when he was a police officer. He told me about a lady from Jamaica who had five kids and her baby daddy lived in Jamaica and she lived off welfare in Canada. He was quietly very dismissive and disgusted with what he saw as a massive welfare cheater.

    I mentioned okay but that's nothing to the billions Harper is handing out for corporate welfare. He seemed to pause as if the concept of "corporate welfare" has never entered his realm of possibility before. It would be nice if I had given him something to think about.

    I drove away thinking to myself, exactly what kind of a luxurious, glamorous life does he imagine this mother of five to have? Who the heck is panting to change places with her?

    And exactly what would he prefer she do? Stick her kids in stranger care and go work at a low paying job that doesn’t pay enough to support them anyway? The kids will be running around loose and available to crime gangs and sexual abuse… for starters. If she working a couple of jobs, is she going to be available to help with homework? NO WAY. So screw their education now.

    HOW DOES THAT HELP THE CHILDREN AT ALL? OR SOCIETY for that matter? How does that help ANYONE?

    And isn't she creating fodder for Harper's debt. slaves, or war machine (soldiers) or Harper’s freshly built prisons? Isn’t she giving warm bodies back to society to be used and abused by the government and bankers? Are we not at least GETTING SOMETHING BACK FROM HER FOR THAT WELFARE CHEQUE?

    What do we get back from corporations after corporate welfare. A BIG FAT NOTHING, that’s what.

    Anyway, here’s my epiphany part. What if some abuses of the welfare system are encouraged so those welfare-abuse stories make the rounds, totally pissing off the middle-class tax payers to the point where they are rabid dogs with a bone to pick. Keep the tax payer focused on that tiny amount instead of the billions and trillions corporations and governments steal from us everyday.

    Instead of wrapping their heads around billions and billions stolen from them from corporations, people just find it so much easier to wrap their heads around a black mother “stealing” their tax dollars while she raises her children in complete and abject poverty.

    Who is the real criminal here? Who is the real victim?

  4. 8 Welfare Myths (USA)

    The most famous myth about welfare may be the one begun by Ronald Reagan on the 1976 campaign trail: the story of a woman from Chicago's South Side who was arrested for welfare fraud. "She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names." Many investigative reporters tried to track down this "Welfare Queen". She didn't exist. David Zucchino, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, spent a year with two welfare mothers in Philadelphia and wrote a book comparing the image to the reality in The Myth of the Welfare Queen. (reprinted in 1999)

    MYTH: Welfare recipients commit a lot of fraud, at the expense of American working people.

    FACT: Besides the fact that a lot of welfare recipients are American working people, a study in Massachusetts showed that vendors committed 93% of welfare fraud. This aspect of the welfare system drastically needs reform: it is harming recipients as well as taxpayers. But all of the political attention is on limiting the amount of money going to recipients.

    And although the fraud by welfare vendors is terrible, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the burdens on the American taxpayer of military fraud, government waste, and corporate welfare. The Savings and Loan bailout alone cost $132 billion.

  5. MYTH: People are poor because they are addicts or alcoholics.

    FACT: Alcoholism and addiction are not limited to poor people: they are found at all levels of society, up to the Presidency. While epidemiologists debate whether alcoholism and addiction are most likely to be found in certain social classes or ethnic groups than others, they generally agree that they are more likely to be the result of the stresses of poverty than the primary cause. Something to remember, though, is that addiction often depends on availability. The addictions of poor people are limited by income. Compare this to physicians, for instance, who have the greatest exposure and easiest access to opiates: their addiction rates are higher than those of most if not all other professional groups, but they are not living in poverty.

    MYTH: People are poor because they are lazy.

    FACT: Single parents on welfare are certainly not lazy: ask any parent how "restful" it is to be at home with a small child! All parents, not only welfare mothers, should have the choice of staying home to care for their own children, and most middle class mothers do not work full time when their children are young.


    ********BUT the Republicans who most strongly push for welfare reform that forces young mothers in poverty to work outside the home...

    *****are the ones who most strongly insist all mothers in socieity should stay home with their young children and not work!


    Moreover, many people who work full-time qualify for food stamps, subsidized housing and other forms of "welfare": there is no city in the United States where a person earning minimum wage can afford a market rate apartment.

    The majority of people on welfare have been in and out of the work force, returning to the welfare rolls when they lost their job or disaster (illness, car accident, house fire) struck.