Why we must organize to claim our political and economic rights.
by: Paul Chislett
This was, in part, a script on today’s airing of The Shake-Up (Dec, 08)
With the coronation of Micheal Ignatieff, the elites have decided to crowd out the working class. The kerfuffle in Ottawa was yet another conflict between elites, with the rest of the country looking on as spectators.
Dion seemed to have the right personality, lacking a huge ego, to work with the NDP and the Bloc. With his passing from the scene the left wing of the liberal party is now dead. And that, is probably the good news.
There will now form an entente between the Liberals and conservatives – likely Harper’s strategy all along. We can surmise his talk with the Governor General with no bluster or red faced separatist rantings: that was fodder for the spectator masses designed to split us up and cause us to argue amongst ourselves while the elites got their house in order. No, Harper likely calmly laid out his calculations showing that proroguing the House would allow liberal elites, opposed to any deal with the NDP, to oust Dion, and Harper would be able to restore calm to the country with a liberal leader more to the liking of the corporate elites in this country.
The time has arrived, and will quickly dissipate, for Canadians to recognize that we are in the middle of a class war, and, we just lost the first round. We must mobilize around a coalition of unions, NGOs (eg: Council of Canadians), social justice groups and students, to form a People’s Parliament, which will mobilize a national strike, and demand, as the first order of business, that the EI fund – now decimated by a court ruling – be immediately made available for income support and infrastructure spending as determined by the PP.
The second parallel efforts will be a massive education program using all available people and technology to help citizens understand why we are in this predicament and what is yet to come.
The model will be the strike in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2006. There, a similar coalition took over government offices AND ran the services, as well as commandeering radio and television stations. The people there, rose up in the face of state aggression because they were pushed to the wall with no where else to go but fight back. The difference between our situation and theirs is that we still have some space between us and the wall.
What follows are some news reports that we hope will outline how far the political elites have already progressed in their efforts to stonewall popular resistance to the coming hardships next year, and why time is running out for us to act in our best interests:
Government had right to spend EI surplus to balance books: top court
Last Updated: Thursday, December 11, 2008 | 10:28 AM ET Comments22Recommend20
Canada’s top court ruled on Thursday that the federal government acted constitutionally when it spent an employment insurance surplus on balancing the books.
The ruling found that it does fall within the federal government’s purview to use the EI funds as it wishes, whether to pay down the debt or use on social programs relating to jobless workers.
But the Quebec-based union organizations that brought the case to the Supreme Court of Canada did score a minor victory. In Thursday’s ruling, the top court found the government acted unlawfully in the way it collected EI premiums over three years.
In 2002, 2003 and 2005, a new rate-setting criteria was used for setting EI premiums that the court found to be unlawful, CBC’s Rosemary Barton reported from Ottawa.
During those years, Parliament authorized the Governor General in Council to be responsible for setting the premium rate.
The Supreme Court did not make any recommendations on how to address the problem, and gave the federal government a year to respond to the decision.
The Confédération des syndicats nationaux brought the case to the highest court in hopes of having the money returned to the EI program for future use or to employees and employers who contributed to the fund.
The fund began ballooning after the Liberals brought in new rules in 1996 tightening eligibility rules for benefits.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser repeatedly criticized the government for the way it has handled EI since 1999, with a surplus triple the amount that’s necessary and a move away from the intent of the program.
In the 2008 budget, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government vowed to set up an independent Crown corporation to manage the employment insurance surplus and ensure it was spent on unemployed workers.
PM swoops in to set meeting following Ignatieff’s warning
From Thursday’s Globe and Mail
December 10, 2008 at 10:30 PM EST
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper moved swiftly Wednesday night to nail down a meeting with newly minted Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff in an effort to prevent his government from being defeated over its coming budget. Sources said Mr. Harper phoned Mr. Ignatieff within hours of the Liberal Leader’s warning that the Conservatives will be defeated if the Prime Minister doesn’t shelve partisan attacks or if he fails to compromise on the budget. Mr. Harper phoned to congratulate Mr. Ignatieff on his acclamation to the party’s leadership and invited him to a get-together. A spokesperson for Mr. Ignatieff said the leader neither accepted nor declined the offer.
Mr. Ignatieff later told the CBC that Mr. Harper asked to meet about the budget and parliamentary business, and that he’d be willing to meet with the Prime Minister. “I made it clear I don’t want to get into secret negotiations or backdoor deals,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “I’m there to listen to the Prime Minister because he’s the Prime Minister of Canada. And then we’ll decide what we have to do from there.”
Mr. Ignatieff said earlier that he was open to supporting the government if the budget is acceptable, potentially scuttling the plans of a Liberal-NDP coalition to take the reins of power. But he adopted a substantially more forceful tone than his predecessor, Stéphane Dion, maintaining that the coalition option is still viable while also criticizing the Prime Minister for raising national tensions in a fall economic statement that, among other things, proposed to remove voter subsidies from political parties.
“I am prepared to vote non-confidence in this government. And I am prepared to enter into a coalition government with our partners if that is what the Governor-General asks me to do,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “But I also made it clear to the caucus this morning that no party can have the confidence of the country if it decides to vote now against a budget it hasn’t even read.”
While Mr. Harper was seeking a meeting, other Conservatives criticized Mr. Ignatieff. On Tuesday, Conservative campaign manager Doug Finley sent out “emergency” fundraising letters calling Mr. Ignatieff’s acclamation a “stunning and unprecedented demonstration of Liberal contempt for our democratic rights.”
When asked how the government can ask for co-operation from a leader it deems illegitimate, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said it was an internal matter for the Liberals.
When the Liberals prevented the defeat of the Conservatives last spring by sitting on their hands through repeated confidence votes, the Conservatives mocked them in the House of Commons.
But Mr. MacKay said he didn’t envision a repeat of those tactics.
“We’re in a very different circumstance today as a country,” he said. “The global economic crisis has everyone, I think, re-examining priorities.”
Mr. Ignatieff was acclaimed during a caucus meeting and a consultation among party officials, defeated candidates and other Liberals. He is now considered the interim leader, and will be confirmed at the party’s convention in May.
His ascension was welcomed by Liberal MPs, who suffered through a recent election in which the party posted one of its worst results in history. Mr. Ignatieff acknowledged he has much work to do to rebuild the institution, particularly in rural Canada and the West.
“I want us to reach out and hope that Western Canadians forgive and forget, to be very blunt, some of the errors that the party has made in the past.”
Mr. Ignatieff took a standoffish approach to meeting Mr. Harper, first suggesting he has no plans to negotiate with the Prime Minister, but ultimately leaving the door open.
“I think that after having lost the confidence of the House, after having triggered a national crisis, after having raised tensions between groups in Canada, it’s not up to me to reach out a hand. It’s more up to the Prime Minister,” he said.
“But I want to add something: I’m a responsible elected official, and I want to do the best for my country. I will do all that I can to get my country out of this crisis.”
He also called the Prime Minister’s earlier actions “divisive, spiteful and unproductive.”
Mr. Ignatieff warned Mr. Harper not to run a negative ad campaign, as the Tories did when Mr. Dion was elected party leader two years ago.
“It would seem to me … a very, very serious mistake to engage in partisan attacks against a party leader at this moment. I hope I make myself clear,” he said.
“We’re in the middle of a parliamentary crisis. It’s not conducive to engage in partisan political attacks against me or any other member of the House of Commons. Look where it’s got him.”
Liberal MPs emerged from their morning caucus meeting to say the coalition with the New Democrats is not dead. But they held out the possibility that they could allow the budget to be delivered by the Conservatives on Jan. 27 to pass if it provides the kind of economic stimulus they have been demanding.
“The only Liberal Party I’ve seen is the one prepared to do the right thing for the right time, and right now that means standing up to the Harper government,” said Toronto Liberal Gerard Kennedy.
“They’ve missed the signals completely from the Canadian public.”
Mr. Ignatieff said he believes the recent crisis, and the Prime Minister’s strong attack on the Bloc Québécois may have opened the door for the Liberals in Quebec.
“I am convinced that after last week, we have become the credible federalist option in Quebec. Mr. Harper has lost a lot of credibility with Quebec voters in recent weeks, and recent months,” he said.
At the party’s caucus, Mr. Ignatieff was nominated for interim leader by Toronto MP Bob Rae, who dropped out of the leadership race on Tuesday. He was seconded by Dominic LeBlanc, who dropped out on Monday.
Mr. Ignatieff told his caucus he was committed to the coalition but also wanted to make sure that Liberals take care of Canadians’ concerns about their jobs.
Mr. Ignatieff must now put his mind to building the party, a task that will include choosing his staff.
One man rumoured to become Mr. Ignatieff’s principal secretary is Ian Davey, son of Keith Davey, a former backroom operative and confidant of the late Pierre Trudeau. There was also speculation that Mr. Ignatieff might call on former Dalton McGuinty aide Don Guy for help in transition and former federal Liberal Party executive director Steven MacKinnon in a communications role. Another key supporter is defeated former MP Paul Zed, a close friend who is in daily contact with Mr. Ignatieff.
With a report from Gloria Galloway
Canada should consider extension of Afghanistan mission, Gates suggests
Last Updated: Thursday, December 11, 2008 | 7:34 AM ET
U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates meets with General David McKiernan, commander International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and commander of U.S. forces Afghanistan at Kandahar Air field on Thursday. (Scott Olson/Pool/Associated Press)
U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates hinted on Thursday that Canada should extend its military mission in Afghanistan past the 2011 scheduled end date.
Gates, who arrived at Canada’s main base in Kandahar on Thursday, was asked by a reporter whether Canada should continue its mission
“The countries that have partnered with the United States and Afghanistan here in [regional command] south have made an extraordinary commitment and proportionately none have worked harder or sacrificed more than the Canadians,” said Gates, who arrived at Canada’s main base in Kandahar on Thursday.
“They have been outstanding partners for us and all I can tell you is has been the case for a very long time, the longer we can have Canadian soldiers as our partners the better it is.”
Gates’s comments were in response to a reporter’s question on whether Canada should carry on its mission past the end of its scheduled mandate.
During the election campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reaffirmed that Canada would withdraw the bulk of its military forces in Afghanistan as scheduled in 2011.
CBC’s David Common said Gates comments should not be considered a formal request, but that they are significant because the defence secretary is staying on in that role under Barack Obama’s administration. As well, the president-elect has said getting more troops to Afghanistan is a priority.
Gates also told reporters that the Pentagon will move three brigades into Afghanistan by next summer,. the most specific he’s been on when he’d begin meeting the requests of ground commanders asking for 20,000 troops.
The extra troops are expected to be deployed to Kabul to secure the capital before moving to Kandahar, considered the epicentre of violence and where most of the 2,500 Canadian soldiers in the region are based.
Gates said he will not have to cut troop levels further in Iraq to free up at least two of those three brigades for Afghan duty.
He also said the mission needs to focus better on building the Afghan army and better co-operation with Kabul on security operations.
“I think there’s a concern on the part of some of the Afghans that we sort of tell them what we’re going to do, instead of taking proposals to them and getting their input and then working out with them what we’re going to do, so it’s a real partnership,” Gates said. “That’s an important aspect of this, that I think we need a course correction.”
With files from the Associated Press
Canadian HR Reporter
What HR needs to know about federal budget
By Ian Genno and James Pierlot
When federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled his third federal budget late last month, he unveiled two initiatives that will be welcome news for individuals and employers — the establishment of a new board to administer the employment insurance (EI) program and the creation of a tax-free savings account (TFSA).
Ottawa is creating a new Crown corporation — the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board (CEIFB). Reporting to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, the CEIFB will operate independently of the government and have responsibility to set EI premium rates and administer EI premiums collected from employers and employees.
Starting in 2009, the CEIFB will administer a new EI premium-setting mechanism designed to ensure the EI system operates on a “break-even” basis over time. To ensure rate stability, CEIFB will maintain and manage an EI cash reserve to which the federal government will contribute an initial amount of $2 billion. Differences between EI benefit payments and EI premiums will be paid from or into the cash reserve account, with the maximum year-over-year increase or decrease in the EI premium rate to be set at 15 cents per $100 of insured earnings.
To date, the cumulative surplus of EI premiums (contributions less benefit payments) has reached more than $50 billion. The CEIFB will therefore be welcome news to the many employers and economists who have advocated for reform of the EI system to align premiums with benefit payments.
The fact the budget does not announce any changes to EI benefit payments suggests if unemployment rates remain stable, both employers and employees may be able to look forward to reductions in EI premium rates.
As the CEIFB is created and works to set EI premium rates, employers should monitor developments closely to assess whether budgets for 2009 EI premiums need to be adjusted.
How the Left Sees It
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
The Coronation of Michael Ignatieff: And Then There Was One
With Bob Rae’s departure from the race, Michael Ignatieff’s has realized the second of the goals he set for himself when he returned to Canada in the autumn of 2005. First came his election to Parliament and next he embarks on his quest for the office of prime minister.
On his return, two major negatives blocked Iganatieff’s advance. The first was the bad optics of a man coming home to become prime minister after decades out of the country. The idea of a jump from Harvard to 24 Sussex Drive without a period reacquainting himself with Canadians screamed arrogance. That negative has receded with the passage of time.
His second negative was that he enthusiastically endorsed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. No decision of the federal government during this decade has been as popular with Canadians as the refusal to make Canada a partner in George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing.” In a mea culpa in the New York Times Magazine in the summer of 2007, Michael Ignatieff acknowledged that he had been wrong about Iraq.
His change of position left unclear his view of the role of the American Empire in the world. It was that positive take on the American Empire—elaborated in his book Empire Lite and in numerous articles—that lay behind Ignatieff’s initial support for the invasion of Iraq. What we don’t know as yet is whether Ignatieff changed his mind on Iraq only because he concluded that the Bush administration had so badly bungled the occupation, or because he has developed a more critical view of the role of the American Empire in the world. That matters. As was the case for his predecessors, should Ignatieff become prime minister, he will have to formulate a position on Canadian-American relations. Will he support a competently run American Empire—say, under the leadership of Barack Obama—-or will he want to fashion a much more independent Canadian role in the world? Could he evolve a view that is more critical of the very idea of empire?
In the immediate future, the new Liberal leader, having acquired his position without the seasoning that goes with having fought for it (unless you count his less than stellar run for the job the last time), will need to cope with three immediate challenges.
First, he has to deal with the fact that he is one of the MPs who signed the letter to the Governor General saying that he no longer has confidence in the Harper government. If he chooses to try to influence the Harper Budget and later decides to support it, thereby voting confidence in the Conservative government, he will have lost any chance to assume office on the basis of a later non-confidence motion. Then the only way ahead would be through a federal election. And if he walks away from the coalition with the NDP and the deal with the Bloc, he will have to assume responsibility for the economic record of the Harper government. The way Ignatieff copes with this set of questions will tells us whether he is an adroit politician in addition to being an accomplished intellectual.
Second, he needs to work to repair the rupture between English Canada and Quebec that has been provoked by Stephen Harper’s totally irresponsible tactic of castigating the legitimacy of Quebec’s MPs in the House of Commons as a way to undermine the coalition. The effects of Harper’s attack on the “separatists” is already clear in the re-energized Parti Quebecois which has formed a much larger opposition to the Liberals as a result of the Quebec election than was thought likely a few days ago. And the PQ is no longer hiding the goal of sovereignty from public view.
Third, Ignatieff needs to alert the country to the tremendous danger of letting the United States to move ahead with a deal with the Big Three auto companies without Canada having worked out a position of it own to ensure the long-term future of the industry on this side of the border. If the U.S. proceeds with an All-American plan for the auto industry without an offsetting Canadian plan to go into effect at the same time, our auto industry will face greater risks than at any time since the Canada-U.S. Auto Pact was launched in 1965.
posted by James Laxer @ 7:31 PM
Class combat, Canadian style
| December 10, 2008
The late Ralph Miliband, renowned Marxist political scientist (and father of British Labour Foreign Minister David) liked to point out how class warfare was waged against working people from above, by political parties allied with capitalists.
We saw an example of this last week in Ottawa. Stephen Harper denounced the NDP-Liberal coalition-in-waiting as socialist (it was also framed as lining up with the Bloc – the supposed threat to Canada). He suspended parliament to stop it. On the weekend, Liberal John Manley attacked his party for agreeing to a deal with the NDP. His call for his party leader to step down came straight from the boardroom.
In Canada regional differences are exaggerated by the first-past-the-post electoral system. Parties with regional grievances, real or imagined, can win seats because their voting support can be concentrated regionally. Mainstream commentators, helped by political scientists who should know better, are always ready to transform substantive debates, such as what to do about the deepening economic troubles, into differences between the Liberals and the Conservatives on issues of region and national unity. How more exciting does it get than to pit east against west, Quebec against Canada, with the future of the country at stake?
Well, how about the collapse of American financial capitalism, and its worldwide ramifications for Canada? Apparently that is not exciting enough for Don Newman and Jeffrey Simpson, let alone Canwest Global. Yet that is the menace that brought Gilles Duceppe to say he would not vote out of power a coalition NDP-Liberal government, and that is what brought Jack Layton and Stephane Dion to conclude a monumental agreement in the first place.
The Canadian capitalist class is hoping the economic crisis can be contained, thanks to our monopoly banking system. Business does not want to give up all the gains made in the last 30 years at the expense of working people, because Dion and Layton think the crisis is
already a real one, hitting not just auto workers, and forestry workers, but communities across Canada. Thus the Liberal move to force Dion out the door, and bring in Ignatieff.
The coalition-in-waiting wanted government to re-institute some welfare state measure, and, maybe even practice Keynesian economics aka deficit-financing. Business liberals, a good part of the Liberal party, aided by the mainstream commentators, want nothing to do with social spending, let alone government strings on investment spending.
Ironically, Canada’s leading capitalist, Stephen Jarislowsky, the pension fund guru, does understand what is going on, perhaps because he is old enough to remember the 1930s. He says the two per cent of GDP stimulus commitment (about $30 billion) by Canada to the G7 is not enough, and much more spending will be needed. That would be the same two per cent commitment Harper, Jim Flaherty, the Finance Department and the Privy Council Office managed to forget when drawing up the economic outlook that precipitated the loss of confidence in the Conservative government.
Leading Liberals have not yet called for restraint, as did Flaherty, but Liberal finance critic John McCallum did not want to talk about what a coalition government would do about the $30 billion G7 commitment.
There is stimulus and stimulus, money for business, or money for people and public services, tax cuts or increases in income support, bombs or hospital beds.
What we are living is the class war. The coalition would have at least debated how to proceed with stimulus. The move by the Liberals to dump Dion, and force Ignatieff on the party as leader is a way of dropping the accord reached by the NDP, and the Liberals, and supported by the Bloc. In this scenario the Liberals position themselves – for the moment when the Conservatives fall – as the party to bail out business, and the rich. The Liberals then become the alternative for those who voted Conservative.
The media writes about Ontario and Quebec ganging up on the West, or Quebec separatists getting a veto over Canada, but the real story is what do we do to fend off recession, and who will benefit from the stimulus? Understanding the class interests at stake in the crisis of financial capitalism is the sensible way to analyze the debate over stimulus.