Vilifying the unemployed has become commonplace and pervasive in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Canada.
In Harperland, anyone and everyone who has lost their job and is able to qualify for employment insurance is a fraudster, a cheat.
That is the message the current federal government wants to permeate and take root in our consciousness.
If you say it enough and if the media repeat it often enough, as many do, it becomes “truth.”
But it’s not truth. It is spin at its nastiest.
And so far, the prime minister and his minister responsible for the beefed-up pogey police, Diane Finley, are getting away with their revolting and offensive diversion tactics.
No doubt they will find people who break the rules, but that is true of every sector of society.
Often what is called fraud is merely an honest error both by the unemployed worker and the Service Canada employee, a result of a very complex EI system where the rules keep changing.
Business owners break the rules, too.
They evade taxes and cheat their clients, like the contractor that skipped out on home-building commitments in Labrador West and was in debt to the taxman for over $200,000.
But are all business owners now to be smeared with the sins of one or two or three or even a dozen? Do we start out with the false premise that every business owner is a cheat?
Why, then, is this the basis on which the unemployed are being tainted?
This government doesn’t want us to view the unemployed as vulnerable and worthy of some sympathy because then we might then start questioning the government’s failed economic policies.
So targeting the unemployed and treating them with derision and scorn means less media attention is given to the government’s doomed economic and labour market policies.
Demonizing the unemployed helps divert attention away from the Harper government’s labour market policies which, when given proper scrutiny, expose a government seeking to suppress the wages and living standards of its citizens.
And what of Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin and their expenses?
Not a word of ridicule from the prime minister about their antics.
Did they create a Senate police squad to harass senators at home? For some senators, finding their home could turn out to be quite a bit of investigative work.
The message: breaking the rules is OK as long as you are not poor and out of work.
The EI police squad has been given, according to news reports, a 23-page audit manual outlining investigative procedures to be used on 1,200 randomly selected citizens receiving unemployment benefits, including new moms and people on compassionate leave caring for a dying relative.
Yes, even new moms must be spied on, harassed and intimidated.
EI inspectors must conduct home visits on brand-new, hormonal moms.
The last thing they need is a government worker requesting proof the baby is theirs.
For claimants receiving maternity benefits, the EI inspector is told to verify the child’s identity and parentage; the maternal relationship to the claimant; and proof of the child’s birth.
What has Canada come to that it is acceptable for the government to spy and harass the unemployed, new moms or sick workers? To delve, as the CBC report said, into the far corners of the lives of EI claimants?
These are very odd and hypocritical rules from a government that says it wants to get government out of the lives of citizens; from a government that holds nothing but contempt for the so-called “nanny state.”
Recently, referring to the anti-union Bill C377, Hugh Segal, a Progressive Conservative senator, noted this “is not who we are as Canadians.”
I would suggest that this spying and harassing of the unemployed, new moms and the sick is also not who we are as Canadians.
This is merely a diversion, perhaps even media manipulation: a ruthless, nasty, hypocritical diversion.
The real goal of the Harper government (beating up on the unemployed is merely the icing on top of the cake) is to erode the country’s social safety net, where EI plays such a critical role.
The real goal is to force desperate people into lower-paid jobs (no matter their skill level).
The end result is the unemployed are used as a tool to suppress the wages of all Canadian workers.
This government has shown over and over again that its success depends on wedge politics, on pitting one Canadian against another, on the insecurity of citizens.
Harperland is a nasty place and getting nastier by the day.
Lana Payne is president of the
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Her column returns March 23.