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November 26, 2015

Congratulations Canada, it is 2015 in more ways than one

The Canadian Charger

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In the October 19 (2015) federal election, Canadians sent a clear message that former Prime Minister Harper's regressive decade of divisive, anti-immigrant, anti-native, anti-Muslim and, for that matter, anti-democratic politics is over; and it appears that it won't be back in the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding Mr. Harper's ruthless agenda of cuts to public services and programs the vast majority of Canadians depend on, along with massive tax breaks for the richest few and most profitable corporations, leading contenders to the Conservative Party leadership, such as former defence minister Jason Kenney, continue to insist, “We got the big things right. We got the tone wrong.”

With 99 seats in parliament and 32 per cent of the vote, there is obviously still a constituency of Conservative supporters; but having alienated the broader spectrum of Canadians, the party's support is now largely in small-town and rural areas. The Conservatives were massively rejected in Atlantic Canada and their 16 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec was the lowest in a decade.

Election results indicate the Liberals didn't only win by luring defectors from the NDP. They also energized new voters. For every vote the NDP lost between 2011 and 2015, the Liberals gained four. No doubt a significant number of these new voters voted against Conservative Party policies.

At the swearing in ceremony for the new cabinet, Liberal supporters saw their votes result in the most diverse cabinet in Canadian history. Yes, it is 2015, in more ways than one. Along with 15 women in the 30 member cabinet, there are four ministers of Sikh origin. Mayyam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Values and Institutions, is a former Afghan Muslim refugee; Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is a Sikh and Jody Wilson-Raybould – a former B.C. Crown prosecutor and regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations - is the first indigenous person to take on the portfolio of Justice Minister. Moreover, a record 10 Indigenous MP's were elected.

During a virtual town hall, the week after the October 19 election, aired by APTN - Canada’s indigenous television network - Prime Minister Trudeau said he would repeal or reform many pieces of legislation that do not respect the rights of indigenous peoples, including their right to be adequately consulted about issues that affect them.

He also said he would give the First Nations a veto over development in their territories. As part of his campaign, Mr. Trudeau promised to call an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, spend $2.6 billion over four years for indigenous peoples' education and end all boil-water advisories in First Nations in five years. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with leaders from five national aboriginal organizations before the end of the year in a bid to keep his promise for "a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship" with indigenous peoples.

While the media is focused on the Liberal government's ongoing efforts to fulfil its pledge to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year, the Trudeau government has said it also plans to invest an additional $100-million for refugee processing and settlement. In the early 1990's Canada was admitting between 40,000 and 50,000 refugees per year, about half what the country has been admitting in recent years.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents trying to reunited family members who have become frustrated under the Harper government by burdensome requirements, a perceived lack of transparency, and processing times that have increased year-on-year, can look forward to a more equitable and transparent process under the Trudeau government.

While the overall number of economic immigrants may increase, throughout the campaign the Liberals pledged to make family reunification for immigrants a more open and quicker process. This includes plans to nearly double the budget for family class immigration processing in order to reduce processing times and double the application intake cap for the Parent and Grandparent Program, from 5,000 to 10,000.

Moreover, the Liberals have stated their intention to Repeal Bill C-24, also known as the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. Among other measures, this legislation allows the government, through the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, to strip dual citizens (as well as those who may qualify for citizenship of another country) of their citizenship in certain cases.

Meanwhile, while the right-wing press in Canada is continuously writing about the Liberal government's plan to run deficits for three years and balance the budget in the fourth year of it mandate, few are printing the fact that Stephen Harper managed to turn 10 consecutive federal budget surpluses of the Martin-Chretien era into seven straight consecutive deficits.

The federal debt in the fiscal year 1996-97 was $562.9-billion. By the time the Liberals left office in 2006, it was reduced to $481.5-billion. In contrast, by the year 2014-15, the Conservatives will have added $176,400,000,000 to the national debt.  Since 2008, the Harper government added 24 per cent of the total accumulated debt since Confederation.

While the Harper government constantly claimed it was commitment to economic growth and job creation, economic growth has declined in every year since 2010; and since 2006, it averaged only 1.7 per cent per year. In the previous nine years, economic growth averaged 3.4 per cent per year. In 2014, only 120,000 new jobs were created — less than in 2013.

Throughout this slide the Harper government constantly boasted about the 1.2 million jobs created since “the depths of the recession” and numerous articles appeared in the press emphasizing this “achievement”.  But it didn't tell Canadians that at the end of 2014, the unemployment rate was higher than at the end of 2008. The labour force participation rate was lower than in 2008. The employment rate (the percentage of the adult population employed) was lower than at the end of 2008.

Are Canadians better off than they were before Stephen Harper came to power?

Under Stephen Harper, household debt has exploded. The average household debt-to-income ratio (i.e., the amount of debt the average Canadian household owes for every dollar of their annual disposable income) has risen from $1.31 to $1.64 -- which is where the United States was before the housing market crashed.

Meanwhile, the youth unemployment rate in 2014 was higher than at the end of 2008. In 2014, the share of total employment made up of full-time jobs was less than it was in 2008.

Dismissing Mr. Harper's rigid ideological “trickle down” theory of economic growth, whereby if the privileged few can make more money it will “trickle down” to the rest society, the Trudeau government has pledged to invest $300-million annually in a Youth Employment Strategy, and offer a 12-month break on Employment Insurance premiums to encourage companies to hire young Canadians in permanent positions.

The Liberals have also pledged to give $500-million annually to the provinces and territories for training programs, with an additional $200-million for training workers who can’t get federal training and $50-million for aboriginal education.

With policies which address the concerns of a wide spectrum of Canadian society, not just “the base”, why would the vast majority of Canadians ever vote for Mr. Harper's brand of conservativism again, regardless of “the tone?”

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M. Elmasry

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