Over the course of the past two years there has been a dramatic shift in the moods of workers and youth towards the political and economic status quo in Canada. The rhetoric of “we are all in this together” which banded Canadians behind federal and provincial governments at the outbreak of the pandemic has since turned into its opposite. Recent statistics shed a new light on the feelings of Canadians towards the Canadian political establishment.
A recent study by Nanos Research found that more than half of Canadians (54 per cent) are discontented with the federal government in Ottawa. Nearly one-third of those surveyed (31 per cent) describe their feelings towards the government as “dissatisfied”, while nearly one-quarter (23 per cent) went so far as to say they are “angry”. Compare these numbers to the 17 per cent who said they are “satisfied” and the 12 per cent who are “optimistic” and what becomes evident is that the balance of popular opinion has shifted significantly towards disappointment and anger.
To understand why this shift in consciousness is taking place, we need only to look at the cost-of-living crisis, which is driving new layers of Canadian workers into poverty and desperation, and which none of the establishment parties seem capable of addressing.
The war on inflation
Earlier this month, Liberal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland took the stage at an auto industry conference in Windsor, Ontario to warn Canadians: “Our economy will slow. There will be people whose mortgage rates will rise. Businesses will no longer be booming. Our unemployment rate will no longer be at its record low.” In summary, we can expect “difficult days ahead for the Canadian economy.”
Over the course of the last 10 months, the Bank of Canada has raised interest rates by 1,500 per cent (from 0.25 to 3.75 per cent) in an attempt to curb rising inflation. In spite of these drastic measures, inflation in Canada remains above six per cent, well above the inflation target of two per cent. Further rate hikes in the coming months are likely, which will put even more strain on Canadians trying to pay off mortgages and debts. Freeland warns that this will smother the ability of millions of Canadians to buy goods and services, opening the doors for a potential recession in 2023.
“We cannot compensate every single Canadian for all the costs of inflation driven by a global pandemic and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” Freeland said, passing the blame for the current cost-of-living crisis as far from home as possible.
However, the elephant in the room during Freeland’s speech is that the “global pandemic” and “Putin’s invasion” played a relatively small part in Canada’s inflation crisis. The far more significant factor behind Canadian inflation is the billions of dollars that were paid out to private companies by the federal government simply to keep those companies profitable during the last economic crisis, as well as the profiteering of major companies looking to artificially inflate prices and so to reap even greater profits. This has driven Canadian profits up to $402 billion this year, a 109 per cent increase over the $192 billion that Canadian corporations made in profits in 2020.
If the federal government, as it claims, “cannot compensate every single Canadian for all the costs of inflation”, perhaps this is because it has already emptied its purse and accumulated immense debts to shield the commanding heights of Canadian business from an economic downturn.
Finally, Freeland arrives at the crux of the matter: “Canadians are cutting back on costs, and so too is our government.” When asked if the federal government was planning more inflation relief for poor Canadians, Freeland answered resoundingly in the negative. Now, she said, is the time for fiscal restraint; the time for austerity.
The Liberal government is preparing to unload a double burden onto the working class. Not only are workers currently paying for the inflation crisis through increased prices and increased interest rates on debts and mortgages, but we can now expect to pay for it through cuts to social services and public funding as well! While most Canadians have still not yet fully recovered from the mass layoffs and economic downturn that took place in 2020, Freeland’s message is an ominous warning of what is to come.
Providing the absolute minimum support
The Liberal government, Freeland reminds us, has provided some reforms—through the recent Bills C-31 and C-30—to help Canadians weather the storm of both the current and the coming economic crises. However, the more one looks into the content of these bills, the more insignificant they both seem.
Bill C-30 will double GST rebates for the next six months. This will provide, on average, an extra $234 for people without children and $467 for couples with two children.
Bill C-31 will provide a one-time $500 benefit for families with incomes of less than $35,000 per year, or individuals earning less than $20,000 per year—so long as they spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. In practice, this benefit will provide only $41.67 per month to a very small layer of extremely impoverished Canadians.
Combined, these benefits, supposedly designed to shield the poorest Canadians from the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis, are utterly beneath the task. A few hundred dollars, in the grand scheme of things, is nothing when compared to the rising costs of essential goods.
The price of food, for example, is rising by 11.4 per cent this year—with the price of cereals rising by 17.9 per cent, baked goods by 14.8 per cent, fruits by 12.9 per cent, and vegetables by 11.8 per cent. Every month Canadians are forced to spend more of their income simply feeding themselves, forcing most people to change how they eat in order to keep their heads above the rising tide.
The cost of renting an apartment saw an equally dramatic increase. In September the rate of annual rental price increases grew to 15.4 per cent, and rose by 4.3 per cent in September alone, driving the average cost of an apartment in Canada to more than $2,000 per month.
Looking only at these two costs, the pocket money with which the federal government proposes to address the crisis is ridiculous. For most Canadians it would only manage to cover the cost of shelter and groceries for perhaps no more than a week, and for the rest of the year Canadians are expected to get by on their own.
The Liberal government’s minimal supports are not designed to address the cost-of-living crisis. In fact, this strategy of insignificant payouts follows closely behind the examples set by provincial governments, including right-wing governments such as the Coalition Avenir du Québec and the Saskatchewan Party, who have given similar payments of a few hundred dollars in an attempt to appease voters. For the federal Liberals, the bills C-30 and C-31 are token measures, and nothing more.
And what of the rest?
It is, in light of this fact, perhaps surprising to hear how loudly the NDP have cheered their victory at having been able to win concessions from the Liberal government. Bill C-31 in particular was the low hanging fruit of their confidence-and-supply agreement, which saw the NDP tie themselves hand-and-foot to the Liberal Party until 2025, guaranteeing support for their proposed budgets.
Jagmeet Singh declared: “We have fought hard [?] and have been demanding since the spring that the Liberal government step up and give people some respect, the dignity to be able to afford their own groceries. And we have won.” Meanwhile, as Mr. Singh celebrates his party’s victory, one in four Canadians goes hungry. According to the numbers, they have won nothing.
The NDP, in the process of their deal, has managed to bind themselves to a government that is preparing austerity and forcing the cost of the economic crisis onto those in society who are least capable of paying for it: the working class. In return they have won the most meager concessions imaginable, and have provided Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre the perfect opportunity to feed off of the anger and desperation of whole layers of Canadian workers. Their disoriented celebration of miniscule “victories” only serves to reveal how alienated the NDP leadership truly are from the workers they claim to represent.
It is worth noting that since the last election, the only political party to see a noticeable rise in their support has been the Conservatives. The absence of a genuine workers’ party, capable of standing up against the ruling class and their representatives in politics, has led to the abominable situation in which a career politician like Poilievre is able to gain support by pretending to stand with working class Canadians—railing against elites, gatekeepers, and most of all the Liberal government.
Poilivre’s solution to the cost-of-living crisis, however, is fundamentally the same as Freeland’s. In the coming period, Poilievre like Freeland will stand for austerity, for cuts to social services and public spending, which can only drive Canadian workers deeper into poverty and the Canadian economy as a whole even deeper into crisis.
By appealing to workers’ frustrations, the Conservatives have made minor gains over the Liberals, but by and large Parliament remains much as it ever was—at least on the surface. None of the establishment parties—not Freeland’s Liberals, Singh’s NDP, nor Poilivre’s Conservatives—are offering any sort of genuine solution to the economic crisis. In consequence, pessimism and frustration are growing across the entire country without any organized political expression.
The political landscape of Canada at the present moment can be best described as a vacuum of genuine working class leadership during the deepest crisis in Canadian capitalism’s history. Understanding this, the question for militant workers and youth then becomes: what is to be done?
The need for a bold socialist leadership
There is an old liberal platitude that “in democracy, the people deserve the government that they get.” This is one of the foundational lies upon which bourgeois democracy rests.
In practice, workers have no control over the policies adopted by any of the country’s leading parties. We did not vote to pay for the bailouts to corporations in the midst of the pandemic, nor will we be the ones who decide to implement cuts to social services to pay for them. The ruling bodies of the Canadian government are the bodies of the Canadian ruling class—they are, to use Marx’s phrase, “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
It cannot, therefore, be surprising to note that during this deep crisis of Canadian capitalism the illusion of parliamentary democracy is being shed, and all of the establishment parties are revealing themselves as the parties of Canadian business. Even the NDP, with its historic roots in the trade unions and the workers’ movement, has spent more time fighting the socialists within its own ranks than in fighting against the Liberal government.
Wages across the country must be indexed to inflation to prevent the deterioration of workers’ buying power. Trade unions should take up cost-of-living adjustments and indexation as their most basic demand in the fight to protect workers against profiteering bosses.
Next, the ledgers of all the major Canadian banks and industries must be opened to reveal wherever prices have been artificially raised to scrape more profits out of working people.
Finally, the only genuine solution to the present economic crisis is the expropriation of the commanding heights of the Canadian economy—the banks, grocery tycoons, housing development companies, and other key industries. Only by placing Canadian industry under the democratic control of the Canadian working class can we guarantee once and for all that production and exchange will be organized not towards shoving more profits into the pockets of CEOs and major shareholders, but rather towards protecting and raising the living standards of millions of workers and youth—as well as guaranteeing, and properly funding, essential services like education, health care, childcare, etc.
To make such demands means to break with the logic of Canadian capitalism. What we need is a revolutionary socialist leadership that is willing and ready to fight for workers, and for the socialist transformation of society. Only then will we see the growing anger of Canadian workers and youth find its proper expression, and only then will this anger finally be channelled towards solving the problems of society.