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NEWS: Harper’s Davos agenda must be stopped

In his speech to the corporate World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland late last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper outlined a frightening blueprint for Canada.

The Globe and Mail reports, “He will change how Canadians finance their retirement. He will overhaul the immigration system. He will make oil and gas exports to Asia a ‘national priority’ and aggressively pursue free trade in India and Europe. …Regulatory delays for mines and energy projects are also being targeted.”

Weaken pensions
Harper said, “We’ve already taken steps to limit the growth of our health-care spending. …We must do the same for our retirement-income system.” Keep in mind that the smaller annual increases in health transfers to be implemented by Harper will cost the provinces approximately $31 billion over the life of a new 10-year health plan and lead to a weaker health care system and further privatization.

The Canadian Press adds, “Although he was not specific, speculation had been building for weeks that Ottawa would increase the age of eligibility for Old Age Security by two years to 67 and that the measure would form part of the upcoming budget.”

That article puts into context, “Ottawa estimates the cost of OAS will rise from $36 billion in 2010 to $108 billion in 2030 (from $36.5 billion in 2010), while the number of taxpayers for every senior declines from four-to-one to two-to-one. But as a slice of gross domestic product, or the size of the economy, OAS remains tiny. It will only increase from the current 1.8 per cent to 2.5 per cent in 20 years. Even when the Guaranteed Income Supplement is included, both programs will cost a total of 3.2 per cent of GDP in 2030.”

Restrict immigration
Postmedia News reports, “With regard to immigration, the system faces ‘significant reform’, said Harper. ‘We will ensure that, while we respect our humanitarian obligations and family reunification objectives, we make our economic and labour-force needs the central goal of our immigration efforts in the future.'”

The Huffington Post adds, “Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has already made several fundamental changes to encourage economic immigrants. Harper’s officials would add no details about additional reforms. Andrew Jackson of the Canadian Labour Congress said the point system used to grade applicants is weighted toward education qualifications, which skilled labourers often lack. He said he suspects the government will change the system to emphasize skills needed to fill gaps in the labour force.”

Further reduce environmental protections
Postmedia News notes, “(Harper) said Canada would be looking to export energy projects outside of the U.S., particularly to Asia. ‘In this regard, we will soon take action to ensure that major energy and mining projects are not subject to unnecessary regulatory delays — that is, delay merely for the sake of delay,’ said Harper.”

The next day, “Natural resources minister Joe Oliver, who has been in the job since March, (said he) plans on making ‘system-wide legislative changes’ to the current regulatory system that will include firm deadlines so projects like the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline through the N.W.T. are not delayed for years by environment-related evaluations.”

In mid-July, another Postmedia News reported, “The federal government will slash funding to the environmental agency that evaluates potentially harmful policies and projects before they get the green light. …The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is looking at a 43.1 per cent cut in spending, dropping from $30 million in 2011-12 to $17.1 million in 2012-13, according to the agency’s planning documents. This cut follows a 6.9 per cent, or $2.2-million, drop in the funds government allocated to the agency in 2010-11. Along with the budget cuts, the 17-year-old agency is facing a one-third reduction in the number of full-time staff…”

Pursue harmful ‘trade’ deals
In his speech, Harper said, “We will continue to advance our trade linkages. We will pass agreements signed, particularly in our own hemisphere, and we will work to conclude major deals beyond it. We expect to complete negotiations on a Canada-EU free trade agreement this year. We will work to complete negotiations on a free-trade agreement with India in 2013. And we will begin entry talks with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while also pursuing other avenues to advance our trade with Asia. Of course, I will again be making an official visit to China very shortly. We will also continue working with the Obama administration to implement our joint ‘Beyond the Border’ initiative, our plan to strength and deepen our economic and security links to our most important partner.”

The Globe and Mail has previously reported, “The Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association estimates the European proposals will add $2.8-billion a year in extra costs to Canadian drug plans – mostly by delaying the sale of generic drugs by an average of 3.5 years.”

In October 2010, a study by CAW economist Jim Stanford found that Canada could lose 28,000 to 152,000 jobs under CETA.

With respect to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the concerns that have been raised include: Canada’s supply management system will now be on the negotiating table; common regulations and rules of origin will be discussed; intellectual-property protections being proposed for drugs would limit access to access to life-saving medicines; investor-state provisions would allow companies to sue governments over rules to protect the environment; government procurement would also be at risk.

Deepen austerity measures
The Globe and Mail article notes, “The major policy reforms are in addition to looming spending cuts, which Treasury Board President Tony Clement said on Thursday could be as much as $8-billion, twice the $4-billion target announced last year.”

In early-December, Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page stated that roughly 6,000 federal public servants could receive pink slips over the next three years. Additionally, the Harper government says it anticipates savings through ‘attrition’ with as many as 80,000 public servants retiring within the next five to seven years.

Page has also projected that Environment Canada would need to eliminate 1,211 jobs over the next three years in order to meet the targeted spending cuts identified by the Harper government. In early-July, the Council of Canadians led a campaign in which 50 civil society organizations sent a letter to the Prime Minister decrying his government’s cuts to Environment Canada and outlining serious concerns about the impacts those cuts will have on water.”

Next steps
Clearly we have a fight ahead of us – and we cannot let Harper’s ‘vision’ be implemented while waiting for the October 2015 federal election to defeat his false-majority government. Civil society pressure and extra-parliamentary campaigns will need to be mounted. As Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has pointed out, the three-quarters majority must resist the Harper government,