Now that we’re into a federal election campaign, everything is looking political—even the death and funeral last week of Charlie Keating, the one-time cable TV czar. In my former life as a CBC hack, I vividly remember clomping door-to-door with Charlie in his futile 1988 campaign to eject John Savage from the mayor’s chair in Dartmouth. As a politician, Keating came across to me as a phony gladhander playing up his “Dartmouth roots” to undermine Savage, the come-from-away Welshman. But there was nothing phony about Keating’s lifelong devotion to the Liberal Party. Was it any accident then that Charlie was one of those few lucky Liberals granted lucrative cable TV licences in the late 1960s and early ’70s? Isn’t helping your own to help themselves the good old Liberal way? In a more democratic country, monopoly cable outfits would be non-profit co-ops, owned and controlled by their subscribers. But not in the Great White North, where business-friendly Grits and Tories have been handing patronage plums to themselves for 138 years. In 1999, Keating sold his cable empire for $168 million—a lovely chunk of change.
And how about our business-friendly prime minister? Paul Martin was a millionaire many times over when he was first elected to Parliament in 1988. Seven years earlier, he had acquired Canada Steamship Lines, a big Great Lakes shipping company. Martin decided to enter the world of international shipping. It’s a cutthroat business in which companies, including Martin’s, routinely fly foreign flags so they can dodge taxes, avoid environmental regulations and operate ‘sweatships’ with cheap foreign workers. Two years ago, a CBC investigation found that as finance minister, Martin failed to close tax loopholes that enabled his shipping company (then in a so-called “blind trust”) to save millions by operating out of a tax haven in Barbados. Martin responded to the flap by handing the company over to his sons. A new controversy erupted a year later when the Liberals admitted that Martin’s companies, including Canada Steamship Lines, had received $161 million in government contracts over 11 years, including $10.3 million in federal grants and a $4.9 million government loan.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s the normal state of affairs in a country where political and business elites legally line each other’s pockets. As finance minister for example, Paul Martin abolished the Canada Assistance Program for poor people, then handed out the biggest tax cuts in Canadian history. The tax cuts benefit rich people and big corporations. Abolition of the CAP has made welfare recipients worse off today than in 1989. In fact, two reports released last week, document the plight of the poor. One, from Campaign 2000, says that the number of Canadian children living in poverty has risen 20 percent since 1989, the year that the House of Commons voted unanimously to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. The report says 1.2 million children still live in poverty partly because of deep cuts in federal transfer payments for social services and partly because governments have failed to provide affordable housing. It points out that many good-paying jobs have been replaced by poorly-paid part-time, contract or seasonal ones, while only 38 percent of unemployed workers now qualify for employment insurance. The other report from the Canadian Association of Food Banks shows that hundreds of thousands of Canadians are hungry in one of the world’s richest countries. Food bank use has more than doubled since 1989.
Now that we’re into an election campaign, we all get to watch as fat cat Liberals and fat cat Tories run around shouting slogans and criticizing each other. Very entertaining, but who do they think they’re kidding? Thanks to the Liberals, Canadian soldiers are dying for George Bush in Afghanistan. And, if Stephen Harper had been prime minister, Canadian soldiers would probably be dying for George Bush in Iraq. Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber. The choice on January 23 is clear. Neither!
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