Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stephen Harper Addresses Medicare and Pensions With Stone Cold Silence

It isn't what Stephen Harper says about the protection of pensions or Medicare, but what he doesn't say that we should be concerned with.

As the person responsible for drafting Reform Party policy, he had a lot to say back in the day:
In August 1988, 250 delegates met in Calgary to go over a draft platform of policies drawn up by Stephen Harper ... Economically, the party called for a greater reliance on the market, free trade, an end to all government agricultural subsidies ... privatization of government agencies ... right-to-work (that is, anti-union) legislation.

... Finally, on social policy, the party called for an end to the social welfare state; a rejection of proposals for state-run day care; an end to government financial involvement in the unemployment insurance system; an end to federal encroachments on provincial jurisdictions in the areas of medicine (through the Canada Health Act which underpins the medicare system), education, and the like; an end to official bilingualism, immigration policies based on primarily economic reasons, "justice system which places the punishment of crime and the protection of law-abiding citizens and their property ahead of all other objectives." (1)
But that's not exactly the way he would present that platform to the public. Instead the policies were veiled in calculated ambiguity. As Murray Dobbin reported after attending an information session:
[in Medicare] Not only was the policy one of eliminating the nation-wide health care system, but it was phrased in such a way that the impact of the policy was obscured. The resolution called for the "provincialization" of medicare, an odd way of saying that the National Health Act would be rescinded. But rescinding the Health Act is what "provincialization," with "unconditional" funding from Ottawa would mean. Its implications were enormous: it could and probably would mean the balkanization of medicare and, eventually, one system for the rich and another for the poor. There was no popular outcry for changing the medicare system, so why was this populist party calling for this radical change? (2)
Dobbin also speaks of how, many seniors, left the party, after translating their "pension reforms", as an attempt to put an end to Old Age Security along with a dramatic scaling back of Canada Pension.

And knowing that pensions and Medicare were going to be election issues used by the other parties against them, an internal memo shows how Stephen Harper wanted his candidates to handle it. With silence.
"To avoid problems, stick to the themes and the Party priorities. Do not talk about Medicare -that is a Provincial issue. Because Medicare is not a Federal issue, the Reform Party does not have a position on it.

"Pensions: this is a issue where common sense and fiscal responsibility have to be brought to bear. It would be examined in a context of suggesting ideas to control spending and making sure people who need help get it.

"The biggest problem candidates will have is when they get off our themes. Don't fight the issues that other parties bring up. Make incumbents defend their party's record rather than debate Reform proposals."
He uses the same techniques today. Party members must stick to a few scripted responses, even when they make no sense to the questions asked, while allowing few to attend local debates or speak to the media.

And it has many wondering about the future of the Canadian healthcare system. After blowing off an important Canadian Medical Association conference, Andre Picard asked:
Does Canada still have a federal health minister? And, more important, does it have a government with the slightest interest in maintaining the national health-insurance program called medicare? For all practical purposes, the answer to both of those questions is a resounding “No.”
And on the pension front, Linda McQuaig reminds us that the issue is guaranteed to be a pot boiler.
An excellent example is the looming battle over public pensions, an issue that will be the focus of a meeting of Canada's finance ministers in December. While reducing poverty among the elderly has been one of the success stories of Canada's social welfare system, the situation threatens to deteriorate significantly, largely because of the recent failure of employers to expand private-sector pensions.

The Canadian Labour Congress is pushing to expand the CPP, to double the average benefit, currently only about $500 a month. This expansion, which would involve mandatory increases in premiums paid by workers and employers, would be phased in over time and benefit younger workers most. Support for an expanded CPP has come from former CPP chief actuary Bernard Dussault, but business and the financial sector would prefer Canadians rely more heavily on private investments in mutual funds and RRSPs. This is a costly alternative, however, since the financial sector siphons off a significant amount through management fees.
Eerily similar to the policy on "helping" the aged, hammered out by Stephen Harper back in the day. Grandma and Grandpa should look after themselves, forgetting that they paid into those pension plans for years though premiums and taxes.

Expect to be bombarded with reports from groups like the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, attacking those selfish Baby Boomers (aka seniors).

Has Their Back-Up Plan Backfired?

However, there is something else going on here showing that people like Rob Ford may be a day late and a dollar short.

The Neocons have always relied on turning citizens against each other. The new Toronto mayor is attempting the same strategy. According to McQuaig:
Mayor-elect Rob Ford famously painted the city's garbage collectors as a pampered elite enjoying a "gravy train." Appealing as it must be to pick up Toronto's garbage, that's one gravy train I don't mind missing out on.

Similarly misleading attempts to portray public-sector workers as overindulged have come from business spokesperson Catherine Swift, who implies that relatively generous public-sector pensions -- for workers cleaning schools and emptying hospital bedpans -- are imposing a huge burden on Canadian taxpayers. (Swift omits to mention that public-sector workers pay into their pensions, both as workers and taxpayers.)
But they are running out of armies to do their dirty work. Because of corporate welfare we have turned into a nation of bed pan emptiers and cleaners.

As Thomas Walkom reported recently:
... the gap between those at the very top and the rest of us — also known as the middle class — are growing faster than at any time in recorded Canadian history. Canada’s middle classes have been under attack before. [but] Programs like unemployment insurance, welfare and old age pensions — as well as union-friendly labour laws — were designed in large part to prevent social upheaval.

Today, we see the same impoverishment of the middle classes that Canada endured 75 years ago. Employers use high unemployment levels to beat back unions. Governments use recessionary deficits as a rationale for cutting social
As more and more Canadians fall victim to neoconservatism, they are running out of victims to blame things on.

It will then be time to look at these guys.

Talk to us Stevie. You got some 'splainin' to do.


1. Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, By Trevor Harrison, University of Toronto Press, 1995, ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6, Pg. 119-120

2. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, By Murray Dobbin, Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0-88780-161-7 4, Pg. vii


  1. Emily - by the time all this comes to pass the mechanisms of our democracy will have been so de-coupled and the coming police state will be so far advanced that the neocons will have no obligation to "splain" anything to anyone and no need to tolerate any protests. The only societal division they will need to concern themselves with will be the universal one between bullies and the bullied. Ethnicity, race, culture and creed will be concepts the underclass will have little luxury to entertain.

  2. You're absolutely right. I try to find different ways to tell the story and sound the alarm. I thought that maybe if Canadians understood what they had to lose they might raise up in anger.

    But so far, the silence is deafening.

    Fear and propaganda.