OTTAWA—So, us SJWs (social justice warriors) were right all along. It seems like building a just and equitable society where people are paid a livable wage, health care and housing are human rights, the environment is protected, labour is powerful, and white supremacy/colonialism and patriarchy are relegated to the annals of history is quite doable, contrary to what we’ve been told.
(My dad recently called me the Gordon Gekko of social justice and I’m not sure how I feel about that.)
However, a necessary—and some would argue, a sufficient—condition for equity is a strong government, not the hobbled mess of ineffectiveness of service that has befallen the public sector as a result of fiscal conservatism.
SJW has become a pejorative term that fanboys of market fundamentalism, conservatism, and right-wing fascists throw out to indicate that you’re too soft or sensitive and offended by everything and anything, hence the term, “snowflake.” The only thing is, when an inordinate number of snowflakes get together, they cause an avalanche. And boy, it’s snowing.
Last week’s column argued that neoliberal thinking (which should be an oxymoron at this point), had rendered the Canadian social safety net null and void, so much so that provincial and federal governments had to create new legislation to protect workers, the same type of protection labour unions and SJWs have been fighting for.
Market fundamentalism is dead. We’re all socialists now.
Neoliberalism gave way to market fundamentalism, which is the belief that unregulated markets will solve everything, yet here we are. An extension of market fundamentalism is the belief that the private sector does everything better, which coagulates into the belief that government cannot be trusted and neither can its workers. Unfortunately for market sycophants, the market is about to collapse and the only thing saving us is government; however, after decades of cuts, government infrastructure has been hollowed out to the point that the ability to deliver new and existing programs in times of crisis is questionable.
In 2012, the Harper government implemented the Deficit Reduction Action Plan (DRAP) to balance the federal budget, which they claimed to do without cutting government services. The claim was that the then-government found $5.2-billion in ongoing savings,
The stupidity required to take these claims seriously, and the consequential lack of critical analysis, continues to be astounding. The idea that more than 19,000 public service jobs could be eliminated due to “efficiencies”—which is just another way to say that government is a spendthrift, wasting your hard-earned money to give to people who are less deserving than you—is preposterous. It is that attitude that has permeated our politics and has been the lens through which government policy is developed and analyzed. It is in the name of fiscal conservatism that we’re in this mess, where our services and government infrastructure are hollowed out for the perfunctory promises of efficiency. Rarely is the frequency with which these promises are analyzed from a societal perspective: is efficiency really the role of government, or is it a just and equitable society? This is a fundamental question that relies on a view of government as being a conduit and a catalyst for societal equity, rather than a cold, callous outpost to be ravaged by the private sector whenever politically expedient.
The problem is, the effects of those cuts are being felt during a crisis that requires all hands on the government deck, only they eliminated those hands eight years ago. Instead of 19,200 jobs, the Harper government actually eliminated 26,000 federal jobs indiscriminately (another 8,900 had been planned), rather than strategically, which resulted in the loss of institutional knowledge and, yes, loss of services. If you don’t have enough people with the institutional knowledge to deliver and service federal programs, the quality and delivery of the program will suffer. And we can see this already.
According to a 2017 case study on the DRAP by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy (IFSD), contrary to the government’s insistence that no services were adversely affected by these cuts, there were impacts felt, especially by departments that are foundational to providing relief for COVID-19, such as Employment and Social Development Canada, where “the number of contact centres processing employment insurance claims dropped from 120 to 22. This led to a 40-year low in the number of unemployed people who successfully claimed EI, and led to large increases in call wait times, dropped calls, and abandoned calls.”
Welp, that’s kind of inconvenient now, eh?
The funny thing is, the Harper government refused to disclose data regarding how services fared after DRAP, so much so that then PBO-chief, Kevin Page, took them to court. One could surmise from this resistance to transparency that the government knew it couldn’t back up those claims.
“The more plausible explanation is that the government had a political motive to deny service impacts and was keen to ensure there was little public evidence to the contrary.” This assessment by IFSD, headed by Page, seems quite standard for the fiscal conservative set who like to perform funky mathematics that don’t hold to argue a political point. The only problem is, this argument is no longer academic in nature, it now has life or death consequences.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.