A federal election? What are the issues?

With all the talk about the likelihood of the Conservative Government being defeated and bringing on a federal election, some of the pundits are saying that it would be a waste of time - an election without issues. While this may be an accurate reflection of the similarity of Liberal and Conservative policies, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t crucial issues that need to be dealt with – whether or not we have an election.

We are in the midst of the worse economic downturn since the 1930s depression. In spite of booming bank profits and the talk of recovery, we have not yet hit bottom. Official unemployment rates will likely continue to rise into double digits over the next several months, and disguised unemployment in the form of reduced hours, labour force drop-outs and nominal “self-employment” will also likely grow.

It is essential for our governments to continue to support economic expansion through at least another year and probably longer. If we are to avoid falling into a much longer and deeper slump, we cannot afford spending cutbacks in the name of deficit reduction that will undermine the fragile recovery. The price of the Canadian dollar needs to be lowered to make our domestic production and our exports more competitive.

Beyond these short-term imperatives, we need to deal with the long-term problems that got us into this mess – the unholy trinity of deregulation, “free” trade and growing inequality that have dominated our economic culture for over three decades. Since the mid-1970s, we have seen, in North America and much of the rest of the world, anti-union policies, trade deals that have empowered corporations, and deregulation that has given massive profits and overwhelming power to a bloated financial sector.

The results have been harmful, if not toxic, for most working families. As union density has declined, the wealthiest have got richer, while low and middle income families have fallen behind. Our manufacturing sector is rapidly disappearing, as we run huge trade deficits with low-wage nations, particularly China. Most North American families got little benefit from the financial bubbles brewed on Wall Street and Bay Street, but they are paying the price of their bursting.

We need active strategies to re-invigorate our manufacturing sector – trade and public procurement policies that encourage Canadian production and employment. We need a stronger regulatory regime that limits the damage that corporate greed can wreak on the rest of us. We need policies aimed at increasing equality – starting with legislative action to make it easier for workers to join the unions of their choice. We need to re-negotiate or withdraw from “trade” deals to weaken the corporate stranglehold on our economy.

A growing economy and a fairer economy, that creates good jobs and gives families the opportunity to get ahead, is at the centre of where we need to go. And no more tax cuts that go primarily to corporations and the wealthy, at the cost of starving public services like health care and education.
If we are going to be a fairer and more equal society, we need to bring back the unemployment insurance system to where it was two decades ago – with most unemployed workers actually qualifying for and receiving benefits.

To eradicate poverty among seniors, we need to increase the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement. To protect pensions from vagaries of the stock market and corporate incompetence, we need national pension insurance to top-up pensions when bankrupt corporations leave their pension plans with funding deficits.

Finally, we need to deal with the fact that most employers do not provide workplace pensions, leaving most Canadian seniors almost entirely dependent on public benefits – Old Age Security, the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Expanded RRSPs will not do the job, and would drain off huge amounts in fees to the already bloated RRSP/Mutual Fund industry.

To ensure a decent retirement for future generations, we need to phase-in an improvement - ultimately doubling – of Q/CPP benefits – a solution that is universal, efficient and affordable.

So there are at least a few issues worth talking about, in spite of the pundits, whether or not we have an election.

The Canadian Labour Congress will be trying to put these issues at the top of the political agenda.. We all need to make sure that our politicians hear the message.