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WORKERS AND HARPER’S SHAME

Frank A. Pelaschuk

With the fallout from the kerfuffle of RBC story, in which businesses took advantage of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP), we have Gordon King of RBC apologizing for outsourcing jobs and promising to find jobs for those affected by the process and we have Harper promising to look into the matter and initiate reform.

In the RBC apology, signed by CEO Gord Nixon, there is this: “While we are compliant with the regulations, the debate has been about something else.” That statement, in its way, says it all in a nutshell. Too many companies, politicians and individuals hide behind legalese. If it’s legal, it’s allowable. You get that in the first part of that statement. It’s the “something else” in the second part that should grab us. What most enrages Canadians, or really any decent thinking person the world over, is not that Big Business makes a profit, that’s why they do what they do, but that it demands that profits be ever greater by whatever means and whatever cost.

It began with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, those freewheeling, free enterprise anti-union misanthropic ideologues who turned their backs on the workingmen and women and embraced Big Business as the answer to all good and holy things. Unfortunately, all the good and holy things were not to extend to us, not directly, that is. The belief, of course, was that what benefitted those on top would eventually trickle down to those on the bottom. Well, piss does the same thing. But here we are with Harper and gang and one-note Tim Hudak in Ontario selling us the same message. You’d think we’d wake up by now. Are we really that dumb? Well Harper seems to know something about at least 40% of voters.

When Thatcher and Reagan went after unions, Thatcher firing striking miners and Reagan air traffic controllers, Big Business was ecstatic and clearly felt emboldened to do the same. From then on, union member or not, workers have been under fire, business more determined than ever to maximize those profits at the expense of those same workers, many of them unionists, who have made those corporations the successes they are. As a consequence, aided by governments, they have set about to destroy unions and the morale of workers in general and have largely succeeded, particularly in some American states. One of the methods employed is the use of temporary foreign workers. These imports, trained by the very workers they are replacing, after months or a year or so in Canada, then return home taking the jobs with them to train workers in their home country. Because they are contracted to an outsourcing company, they often return to Canada (or the US), are trained in other jobs and, after a few months or a year or so, return home taking more jobs with them. The cycle is repeated time and again. These workers possess no greater skills than Canadians but, when working in Canada can be paid 15% less and when sent back home, according to a report by Kathy Tomlinson of CBC News do these jobs for 80% less than when working in Canada. The outsourcing company, iGate, makes a tidy profit and, more importantly has a pool of indentured workers to call upon. It turns out that those in that pool wishing to quit and stay in Canada, or members of their families, are forced to pay $6000 for breaching the contract, a prohibitive sum for them in their own country. It’s legal. But should it be allowable?

The “something else” referred to in the RBC letter is really about doing the “right” thing, the moral, ethical thing. It cannot, must not, be about maximizing profits on the backs of workers. It is not enough for corporations to wash their collective hands and claim they have followed the rules. We no longer live in feudal world but that is where Big Business, using outsourcing companies and abettor governments, including Harper’s, would take us. It has to stop.

Harper promises to reform TFWP. Let’s not forget that it was his government that made changes to the program. Because of those changes, temporary foreign workers (of no greater specialized skills than Canadian workers) now occupy 29% of the new jobs in Canada. Because of these changes, 338,000 temporary workers have jobs over Canadians. What incentive does a business have to seek qualified Canadian workers when a temporary foreign worker is allowed by Harper to work at rate 15% below that of a Canadian? Harper and crew were apparently untroubled by this until, pardon the expression, the shit hit the fan with the RBC fiasco a few days ago.

Harper and gang may tell you that there is no reason why a company would risk its reputation by committing a crime or mistreating its employees or outsourcing jobs to another country. They are being disingenuous at best. I can think of millions if not billions of reasons and they are all green. Businesses possess no soul, know no ethics, and know no loyalty. True, when they are caught in wrongdoing, there are usually some consequences, but they are often very little and usually handled by an apology and/or a fine. It is time that governments stop undermining their own workers. There is nothing wrong with good wages. Workers spend money. When they have it. They pay taxes. When they have a job. The Harper government has allowed these abuses to take place. Harper did not just let it happen, he made it happen.

Because of the latest flap, there is little doubt Harper will make changes. But you can bet, whatever he does, it will be window dressing. He doesn’t care for working stiffs. He listens to Big Business. And he knows you, that special group for whom he’ll always be the one. He knows that, come next election, he will promise you whatever you want to hear. He will throw you a bone here or there and that will be enough because he knows you. He might sing a Beatles tune and he’ll play on your fears and ignorance. He’ll blame others, never accept responsibility, and only take credit. He knows you. For you, he’s the only one. As for the rest, we can only hope that, this time, there are more of us than you.

 

PENASHUE, UNREPENTANT AND DISGRACED

How much more must Canadians endure of Peter Penashue? Well, he and Harper are hoping a lot more and they’re betting Labradoreans agree.

While celebrating his 49th birthday, and with the folksy admission that he was “partisan”, he was recorded boastfully informing his supporters, and the world, that he was about to let us all in on a little “secret”: he had, he said, delayed for an extensive period (six months), a government project for Newfoundland in order to obtain funding of $85M for work on the Trans-Labrador highway.

No one can doubt his partisanship. He was, after all, another in a line of disgraced members of the Harper gang the most partisan of elected misbegotten cretins Canada has ever suffered in recent years. Nor is it surprising that such abuses were a possibility. Over the years Harper has been pretty open about which ridings get favoured treatment from the federal regime. Anyone guess Conservative? Anyone guess slush fund for Tony Clement’s riding? This isn’t new in politics and, to be fair, not just the purview of Harper’s crew, though, in truth, they are very practiced at this system of political reward and punishment. Quid pro quo if you will. That’s Harper’s version of Democracy; in simple fact it’s a form of coercion and bribery.

While Harper’s assertion that Penashue is the “best ever” MP from Labrador is ridiculous, it is not surprising Harper backs Penashue or that he may be prepared to inject huge amounts of taxpayer monies into the riding, this, after all, is Harper, a leader who is utterly shameless and thinks nothing of wielding his majority abusively. Rather, what is surprising is that Penashue actually vocalized what he had done (or would like us to think he had done), evidently unconcerned that among his supporters people were recording this and that future viewers might be offended by this prideful, likely exaggerated rodomontade. While Penashue offers no evidence that he actually stood up to anyone let alone had the clout to stop anything (including illegal corporate donations to his campaign), he nevertheless made the claim. That should be enough to keep him out of office. But will it, when or if Harper makes a major announcement in Penashue’s riding?

But, if more than mere bragging, which project did Penashue delay? The people in Newfoundland might like to know. What is most important about this episode is not whether or not this disgraced ex-MP actually did what he claims or whether or not he even had the power to do so. Though hardly credible, this story reveals a mindset that is not restricted to Penashue, but rather, to all of Harper’s gang. Penashue is saying, and Harper has shown, that with the majority, the Harper gang can do, will do, and have done what they want (remember the omnibus bills?). Penashue is willing to boast of using and abusing his office to win votes even if at the expense of others in Newfoundland. Does Penashue have the clout? Who knows, but with this episode he is clearly sending a message. Vote for me, you get this. You don’t, I’ll screw you. Nice and very, very stupid from the “best ever” Labradorean MP.

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About Frank A. Pelaschuk

I am the author of two works of fiction reviewed by Brian Porter, author of Lonely Together and The Atlas Proxies. He called the novel, Serpent in the Garden, "A convincing, seductive tale of coming home to the enemy". Of Ambiguities of Love in Six Stories, he wrote, “Moving, intelligent, and thoughtful storytelling." Both works are available on Amazon as soft cover or e-book where the full reviews also appear.

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