Patchwork too thin, too temporary for 4 million victims of capitalist crisis
Recent changes to Employment Insurance, combined with the new Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) proposed by the government in the Throne Speech, will slash benefits to 2.7 million unemployed who just barely got by on Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Another 482,000 will be left with no benefits at all after CERB wraps up this week.
While claiming to extend help to the unemployed, the Liberals aimed to actually cut benefits by 20 percent or even more with the program changes they are making. Instead of $500 per week, benefit recipients would get an average of $377 a week gross, with some getting less than $50 per week. Taxes will be taken off the top and the payments will be made at the end of the pay period, not the beginning – unlike CERB.
The plan meant that in Toronto, 605,000 people – 79 percent of CERB recipients – would be worse off under the new regime than under CERB. In Montreal 299,000 people, or 70 percent, would be worse off. And in Vancouver it would be 260,000 people, or 80 percent of CERB recipients.
And half a million people will be destitute with no income supports at all.
This is the real story of the Throne Speech and the government’s agenda for this winter.
The concessions extracted by the NDP, if adopted by Parliament, will increase the base benefit for both EI and the CRB from $400 to $500 per week gross, making it the same as the CERB payments it will replace. However, half a million people will still get nothing at all and another 200,000 will get between $1 and $399 per week. This includes 70,000 who will get less than $50 per week. Another 300,000 people may or may not quality for any of the benefits, while 781,000 who qualify for EI must reapply. About 200,000 of these will face delays or rejections because of missing Record of Employment slips or other paperwork.
All the new benefits are temporary and will expire after 26 weeks. And while something is better than nothing, these benefits are too thin for the long-term unemployment and under-employment economists are projecting. We are sliding into a very deep and years-long economic crisis, exacerbated by the global pandemic.
Deepening economic crisis
CERB recipients, who have been struggling to get by on $500 per week since the pandemic began, will continue to struggle with high rents and mortgages, utility bills, car payments, credit cards and lines of credit, grocery bills, and the costs of internet for students and job-seekers.
This winter will bring evictions, mortgage defaults, bankruptcies and hunger to hundreds of thousands of people, who have been laid off through the pandemic – some by big, profitable corporations like Loblaws that have made enormous profits from the pandemic.
Yet the government plans to continue supporting Big Business, by extending the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) – a subsidy not to unemployed workers, but to businesses including large and very profitable corporations. The Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), which provides loans and other supports to corporations, is also extended. The biggest bailouts to the oil companies and airlines still haven’t been made public, but they will be huge. Meanwhile, small businesses across the country are going belly-up in record numbers because they can’t afford exorbitant commercial rents.
The government also plans to cut the corporate tax rate by 50 percent to corporations that produce emissions-free products. Why not punish the big corporate carbon emitters with fines and jail terms? Why punish the unemployed, women and the poor? The government is busy saving capitalism, while workers struggle to keep their heads above water.
Mass unemployment and inadequate incomes will drive down wages and benefits and make working conditions and health and safety even more precarious for desperate workers. This is austerity dressed up as help.
A People’s Recovery
Real help would have been to open up EI to all the unemployed and under-employed, to extend it for the full duration of unemployment, at 90 percent of previous earnings. These changes would be permanent, not temporary.
Real help would have been to raise the minimum wage to $20 across the country, to lower the pension age to 60 and substantially increase pension benefits now.
Real help would be a full employment policy: a 32 hour work week with 40 hours pay. A federal housing policy and action to build one million units of affordable social housing. Building and retrofitting municipal and provincial infrastructure, including clean water, sewage treatment and housing on reserves. Expanding value-added manufacturing and secondary industry. Transitioning to renewable energy, as a key part of a publicly owned energy industry with jobs and wages guaranteed to displaced workers in the fossil fuel industry. Expanding social programs. Creating a system of universal, quality public childcare. Expanding Medicare with pharmacare, long-term care, dental, vision and mental health care.
Real help would substantially increase federal healthcare transfers and reverse privatization.
Real help would introduce a Guaranteed Annual Livable Income to put a floor under every family so that everyone could live in dignity and security.
Real help would have been doubling the corporate tax rate, restoring the capital tax, collecting deferred corporate taxes, enacting wealth and inheritance taxes on the rich, and closing tax havens.
Real help would abolish income tax on incomes under $40,000 and abolish the GST and HST. It would close the $148 billion gender wage gap with universal pay and employment equity.
Real help would cut the military budget by 75 percent – including the $553 billion allocated for new fighter jets, warships and equipment – and redirect it to social spending.
Promises made – but still undelivered
The Throne Speech makes a lot of important promises, many of which we’ve heard before but never seen delivered. This includes pharmacare, which was promised in last year’s Throne Speech, and universal public childcare, promised in the Liberal government’s 1993 Red Book. Both are long overdue. So too, is transforming Long-Term Care into a publicly-owned and operated program, part of Medicare, with Canada-wide standards.
Likewise, the urgent issues of racism are skimmed over in this Throne Speech when they should be front and centre. Modernization of policing is not what’s required. It’s defunding and demilitarizing, as well as disarming most police units, and putting police under civilian controls with teeth. It’s abolishing the RCMP, CSIS and the CSE, and strengthening labour, civil, democratic and equality rights. And not least, it’s recognizing the national status and rights of Indigenous Peoples, negotiating just settlement of land claims, and ending resource development and pipelines that don’t have free, prior and informed Indigenous consent.
Funding for research, development, production and universal access to a COVID-19 vaccine is referenced, along with the important recognition that global eradication of the virus is the only way to stop the pandemic’s spread and recurrence.
A foreign policy made in Washington
Finally, the Throne Speech projects a foreign policy of peace and expanded multi-lateral relations, while simultaneously attacking China and demanding the release of Michel Kovrig and Michael Spavor, citing “the rule of law”. The Trudeau government should take its own advice, and immediately release Meng Wanzhou, detained at the request of the US government for extradition to the US, while in transit in the Vancouver airport. A genuinely independent Canadian foreign policy of peace (and disarmament) could start right there.
Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada