The economy made us do it …

Lana Payne
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Blame it on the economy. That’s the new Harper mantra. Union busting: the economy made us do it.

Violate the right to free collective bargaining: the economy made us do that too. End annual funding to cultural institutions: the economy again. Close the maritime rescue centre in St. John’s jeopardizing safety: we have to eliminate the deficit. It’s good for the economy.

Oh, sigh. How much longer are they going to get away with this nonsense?

Of course before the federal election, Stephen Harper told Canadians that democracy was bad for the economy. The economy is the excuse Stephen Harper and his government used to violate fundamental labour and human rights.

It is the excuse they will use to eliminate funding to arts programs filled with people who are, well, just not Conservative.

It makes no difference that our Charter of Rights protects the right to a union, to freedom of association and by extension collective bargaining. It makes no difference that Canadians believe funding the arts is an important investment in our culture. It makes no difference that unions have as their purpose a pragmatic approach to wealth sharing. It makes no difference that corporate profits are skyrocketing again and CEO salaries are 250 times the average worker’s income.

It makes no difference that the deficit is in large part a result of reckless tax cuts, mostly to wealthy Canadians and super-rich corporations.

The truth makes no difference because this is really about Mr. Harper’s goal of imposing his idea of what Canada should look like on the rest of us.

Under Stephen Harper’s majority even our Charter rights are expendable. 

Expendability? Perhaps we should ask Peter Penashue about that.

After all, his boss just told him, and the rest of the province, that he is dispensable. What other message are we to take from the Conservative government’s decision to close the maritime rescue centre, leaving Mr. Penashue with the fallout.

The new Conservative MP from Labrador is learning fast that in Stephen Harper’s world, Stephen Harper is the only guy with any real power. There is no team.

And for the handful of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who failed to see just how this prime minister operates, or who have failed to understand this man’s character, consider how he returns favours.

After Premier Kathy Dunderdale went out on a very big limb for him in the recent federal election, causing herself some political damage in the process, his response couldn’t have been any clearer: the only relationship he’s interested in will be on his terms.

The economy was the reason he and Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt used to interfere with collective bargaining in the private sector when they threatened and had drafted draconian back-to-work legislation for the employees of Air Canada, a commercial airline.

It was the reason used to trample on the rights of postal workers.

And what exactly were the unions at Air Canada and Canada Post trying to do?

Well, let’s see. They were trying to protect pensions.

Yep, that’s real bad for the economy.

Income security so seniors can support themselves in retirement. Bad. Bad. Bad. Oh yes, and what else were the unions trying to do? Protect good jobs for the next generation of workers. Bad. Bad. Bad.

Another goal of the unions: share the wealth around. Shocking! Do you know how bad that is for the economy — to actually try to do your part to narrow the income gap between the rich and everyone else? Bad. Bad. Bad. That might actually inspire consumer spending. Don’t want to do that.

Yes, the economy will be the excuse used for a lot of nastiness, but only as long as we allow it to happen and only as long as the media continue to let Harper and his government away with their outrageous claims.

Ironically, most political leaders want to build confidence in the economy, not talk it down.

But then Stephen Harper is not most political leaders. He feeds on insecurity.

The Harper government’s economic message can be summed up this way: doom and gloom. After all, if a 16-hour-strike at a commercial airline can jeopardize things, Canada’s economy must be in pretty bad shape.

It is true that parts of Canada are still struggling to recover from the recession, but other provinces, like Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and Alberta are doing just fine — better than fine.

But all that doom and gloom preached by the Harper school of economics will have an impact. Last week’s report from Nanos Research showed that Canadians’ confidence in the economy is now at a two-year low.

Self-fulfilling prophecy? Or just trying to lower expectations? The lower the expectations the better chance Mr. Harper has of meeting them and the better chance he has of fulfilling his dream — a fend-for-yourself Canada.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at

Her column returns July 16.

Organizations: Air Canada, Conservative MP, Canada Post Harper school Nanos Research Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan Alberta

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Recent comments

  • KJ
    July 02, 2011 - 20:34

    Ummm, CK, they were locked out after they went on strike. Had they not went on strike Canada Post would not have had to lock them out. The rotating stikes had minimal distrubtion to mail being delivered, however it did impact the amount of new mail coming in. Many people did not want to use CP since they were unsure what was going to happen. I know my wife's business was greatly affected by the strike. The lockout did not impact us anymore than the strike did in the first place. I do agree with Carl though on the tone of the article. Very biased. I do not agree that taxes should not be used to pay for art programs. Without the gov't covering that we would have little culture as everyone would only want to pay for essentials like roads and other services. I know I would since I cannot afford anything else and even if my taxes were a little lower to compensate it would all get sucked up into daily expenses meaning nothing going to the arts.

  • Carl
    July 02, 2011 - 16:49

    CK - I'm not a neo-conservative. I'm a traditional conservative, with a bit of a libertarian streak. Perhaps you should consullt your own dictionary. Contrary to the popular belief of socialists, the term "neo-conservative" does not mean everything you don't like.

  • ck
    July 02, 2011 - 12:31

    Carl, uh, they were locked out by management. Had management not locked them out, negotiations would've continued. Rotating strikes weren't disrupting mail delivery. That draconian bill was a poke in the eye to the working man and it sets a dangerious precedent. Who's next on the Harper hit list? And yes, there will be a next. Perhaps it will be you, unless, of course, you're management. Oh, and Carl, do get a dictionary and look up the word 'socialism', you clearly have no idea what it means. And no, contrary to popular belief of neo-conservatives, it does not mean everything you don't like.

    • Carl
      July 02, 2011 - 16:43

      CK, I didn't say the rotating strikes were disrupting mail delivery. I simply said the government did not step in until mail delivery stopped, which is true. It is also true that the union and Canada Post had several months to reach a settlement before any strike action or lockout took place. Clearly, they were at an impasse and government action was necessary to get the mail moving. By the way, Oxford defines socialism as: "a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole." This is exactly what Ms. Payne was describing when she referred to "sharing the wealth around" and "closing the income gap." Also, in a socialist system, the state takes money from everyone, pools it, and uses it to buy art that is chosen by the state. My use of the term was very precise. But perhaps you have a different dictionary?

  • Carl
    July 02, 2011 - 11:11

    There is no truth or logic whatsoever in this hateful, ideological socialist rant.. The government did not deny the postal workers their right to collectively bargain. They bargained freely but unsuccessfully with Canada Post for months. It was only when the mail stopped moving that the government stepped in - a move which I strongly support. As for arts funding, the value of art is completely subjective, and I object to the government taxing me so it can use my money to fund art that I will probably never see, and probably not enjoy if I do see it. Finally, there is no reason to believe that safety will be jeopardized by moving the SAR sub-centre from St. John's. Vessels in distress will still have the same network of Coast Guard radio stations to call, and the boats and aircraft that actually respond to the scene will continue to be based at the same locations throughout our province. Ms. Payne has no idea how the SAR system works. She's just parroting the mindless hate she hears from her fellow socialists.