Stop Stephen Harper’s destruction of our social safety net
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials – Opposition parties need to step up and stop Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s systematic destruction of the social safety net built by generations of Canadians.
Dec 13 2013. Editorial
Social programs that took generations to build are being insidiously eroded by Conservatives obsessed with creating a leaner government at the expense of Canadians in need. Federally funded services being unravelled by Ottawa include some of the most cherished strands of this country’s social safety net: Employment Insurance, old age security, health care and advocacy for the vulnerable.
It’s all happening by stealth rather than with a dramatic showdown. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s penchant for secrecy, disdain for Parliament, his quashing of dissent, and a ruthless strategy of pursuing a thousand small cuts rather than one big one, have allowed him to loot treasured programs without rousing the ire of Canadians.
The closed nature of Harper’s government makes it hard to chart the full impact of his slashing. But, make no mistake, the net result of these changes is a colder, harsher society.
All this was detailed this week in a three-part series by the Star’s Les Whittington. He found that, since winning power eight years ago, Harper’s Conservatives have systematically and relentlessly undermined programs helping ordinary Canadians while instituting tax cuts and policy changes benefiting the rich.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been drained from social programs. Future spending on health care is being squeezed. And Employment Insurance is being run as a government cash cow — with many Canadians paying into the system while fewer and fewer ever collect.
Whittington found that just 37.2 per cent of unemployed Canadians qualified for EI benefits this July. Compare that to July 2006, Harper’s first year in office, when 46.6 per cent qualified.
Two factors account for the decline: First, the workplace is changing. It’s a trend that began well before Harper took office. People are increasingly relying on short-term or part-time work. Often they’re considered self-employed contractors. As a result many are excluded from the EI system or, if they do pay into it, can’t amass enough weeks of employment to qualify for benefits.
The second factor in the decline is the Harper government’s inexcusable abuse of the system. Instead of taking workplace trends into account and reforming EI to better serve people paying into it, Ottawa has tightened rules for eligibility. It has made benefits harder to collect while easing the way for bureaucrats to deny coverage.
Meanwhile, rates paid by employers and workers to run the EI system have been frozen at an artificially high level, resulting in more cash for the government.
Ottawa’s attack on social services has generated protests. Advocacy groups stripped of funding have cried out; workers have demonstrated outside Service Canada offices, and opposition MPs have criticized these actions both in and outside Parliament. But, unfortunately, their efforts have not registered with most Canadians.
It would help if New Democrats and Liberals formulated cogent policy alternatives to Harper’s devastation. But, as noted by the Star’s Thomas Walkom, both opposition parties are sorely lacking in specifics when it comes to fixing Canada’s torn social safety net. They’re quick to complain, but slow to explain what they would do that’s different.
This needs to change in the coming year, in the run-up to an election in 2015. Battered social programs need a champion — a party able to articulate a bold and intelligent vision for protecting the vulnerable while building a stronger country. It’s the only way to reverse Harper’s ravages and restore a compassionate Canada.
< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2013/12/13/stop_stephen_harpers_destruction_of_our_social_safety_net_editorial.html >