And the insensitivity award goes to ...

Lana
Lana Payne
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You have to wonder if Conservative MPs are living in a bubble or on another planet; if they turn on the television news; if they ever read a newspaper.

Are they stunned? Oblivious, out-of-touch, insensitive or just plain hard-hearted?

The world is in an economic meltdown. Daily, around the globe, tens of thousands of workers are losing their jobs because those who had way too much wanted more and because those in charge of setting the rules didn't.

You have to wonder if Conservative MPs are living in a bubble or on another planet; if they turn on the television news; if they ever read a newspaper.

Are they stunned? Oblivious, out-of-touch, insensitive or just plain hard-hearted?

The world is in an economic meltdown. Daily, around the globe, tens of thousands of workers are losing their jobs because those who had way too much wanted more and because those in charge of setting the rules didn't.

In Canada, 230,000 jobs - nearly all full-time positions - have evaporated since November - that's about 2,500 jobs a day or nearly the size of the entire Newfoundland and Lab-rador labour force.

The country witnessed the largest job loss in history in a single month during January when 129,000 Canadians were thrown out of work - three times more than most economists had been predicting or about 4,100 Canadians a day.

No one seems to have a handle on how bad this economic downturn is going to be. Certainly, the Conservative federal government doesn't.

Every day newspapers are filled with stories of plant closures, layoffs, cancelled expansion plans and economic hardship.

But has any of this made a dent in the collective psyche of the federal Conservatives?

From all accounts, sympathy and compassion are in short supply. Instead, they infer the victims of the economic crisis are the problem.

Auto workers must take wage cuts, according to Industry Minister Tony Clement. They are blamed for being successful at collective bargaining. They are blamed for daring to aspire to be part of the middle class.

Yet CEOs, speculators and in-vestors, who have been taking home extravagant paycheques and obscene stock bonuses, even during this crisis, are left alone to wallow in their excessive compensation.

Not a word is said about them and their greed being at the root of the problem. Not one word by Canadian government leaders.

We have to look to the south and to U.S. President Barack Obama, who has said executives will no longer be rewarded for failure. He imposed executive pay limits on corporations and financial institutions seeking government bailout money. This is just the first step needed to get the financial world under control, to rein in the greed that is now ruining so many lives.

But Clement's disdain for the country's working class pales in comparison to Diane Finley's, the minister who is supposed to be responsible for the country's unemployed.

She wins this month's insensitivity award hands down.

In an interview with CanWest News Service, she said the Harper government didn't make improvements to Employment Insurance in the federal budget because they didn't want to make the program too "lucrative" for the unemployed.

"We don't want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it, not when we still have significant skills shortages in many parts of the country."

Her real message: this is your fault, stop lazing around and find another job. But when even Alberta is shedding workers by the thousands, where does Ms. Finley expect the unemployed to find a job?

It's not like collecting $350 a week in EI benefits (the average payment) is any great shakes when you've just lost a job that paid $50,000 or more a year and you're struggling to pay a mortgage of over $1,000 a month, to feed and clothe the kids, turn on the heat and pay the credit cards.

How do the federal Conservatives think the middle class in Canada will survive this crisis if something is not done to help them maintain some standard of living? Because those are the jobs that are dying - good-paying manufacturing, forestry and mining jobs. Jobs that keep the economy going, jobs that pay mortgages. If Canadians start defaulting on their mortgages, the country will have an even bigger problem than we do now.

And it looks as if many will have no choice but to stop paying their credit cards, and that will mean an even bigger problem for banks and financial institutions. Outstanding balances on credit cards have jumped 46 per cent since 2004. Canadians owe about $80 billion on their credit cards, and they have no savings to pay them off.

Claims for EI benefits are climbing - up 30 per cent and more in many regions of the country. According to Statistics Canada, last November, even before the latest big round of job losses, there was already a 100 per cent increase in EI claims in the city of Oshawa from the previous year. Other Ontario cities, such as London and Windsor, also saw huge increases. And now British Columbia and Alberta are following suit.

The job market has tanked. Being the minister responsible for this area, Ms. Finley should know this better than anyone.

Incompetence is never attractive.

But it is not incompetence that will turn up the anger being felt by so many Canadians, it is the total disregard for the plight they are going through. It is the lack of compassion.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com. Her column returns Feb. 28.

Organizations: Employment Insurance, CanWest News Service, Statistics Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland, Alberta U.S. Oshawa Ontario London Windsor British Columbia

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Recent comments

  • Beverly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Lana you should run in the next Federal Election you seem to have all the right answers to everything just like the other looser Jack Layton.

  • Michael
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Kudos to Lanna for this piece...well written & thought out. It's nice to see that others have also observed that the ills of society are fully the fault of working people and not the CEO's etc who take home massive bonuses for running their companies into the ground. The only welfare bums here in Canada are big busness !

  • Beverly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    Lana you should run in the next Federal Election you seem to have all the right answers to everything just like the other looser Jack Layton.

  • Michael
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Kudos to Lanna for this piece...well written & thought out. It's nice to see that others have also observed that the ills of society are fully the fault of working people and not the CEO's etc who take home massive bonuses for running their companies into the ground. The only welfare bums here in Canada are big busness !