I have to say, I’m more than disappointed by the results of the Council of the Federation meeting in Whitehorse last week. We have a country struggling under wage inequality, rising personal debt, inaccessible postsecondary education, high unemployment, and a shameful number of working poor. This is the backdrop to the Premiers’ meeting. What was the priority of their talks? Booze and weed. The vast majority of the discussion revolved around getting a bottle of wine from one province to another unhindered, and action on legalizing marijuana. Am I living in the same country as these people?
Alcohol is a contributor to provincial tax bases, of course. But for it to be the focal point of the most important annual opportunity for discussion the country’s premiers have is befuddling – to say the least. It tells me that we’re a country being led by elites who aren’t listening to their constituents. It tells me that the real issues of poverty, inequality, and bad jobs aren’t priorities for them. It also tells me that these real issues are so beyond their experience that they don’t warrant mention.
We’re in the midst of a crisis – in corrections, in health care, and living standards in general – and the premiers talked about booze. I can’t wrap my head around it. Violent incidents in correctional and mental health facilities are on the rise. Wage disparities among people doing the same work are widening with increasing privatization of jobs. Quality of care is diminishing across the health care sector while understaffing is becoming a norm. In some of our most important institutions, patients and inmates are living in inhumane circumstances. And it’s not the fault of the workers in these facilities. It’s the fault of constant cuts made to these vital services.
Social and health transfers should have been the priority at the Council.
Under the Conservatives, health care transfers were cut from six to three per cent. Our health care sector is bleeding. Why wasn’t a new health accord demanded? Why wasn’t national pharmacare tackled aggressively?
A major player in the disintegration of society’s most vital services is the ugly p-word: privatization. Money is being handed out to private contractors who are under no obligation to be transparent or accountable. They can pay their workers less. They can let their institutions run amok. Just as long as the bottom line continues to grow.
Well, thank you, Canada’s premiers. Liberalization of booze sales in Canada is quite an accomplishment. I’ll be sure to go tell the homeless on the street that, if a drink tickles their fancy, they can now order it online, and even from Quebec or B.C. if they like! They’ll be so happy to hear their leaders are making life that much easier. Now all they need to do is find a home to have the bottle delivered to.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union