Death by a thousand cuts

A New Brunswick perspective on Harper’s round of cuts, with an excellent analysis of why. I can’t get to it online (even though it was published in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal on Sat. Oct. 14) so I’m reproducing it here.

by Ginette Petitpas-Taylor, Chairperson of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women

There is a brand of politics – shall we call it sniper politics – where groups are picked off one by one.

It’s done carefully so that – it is hoped – no broad segment of the population or one region is hit hard enough that a critical mass can form to fight back. The damage in citizen protest is calculated and deemed acceptable because the gains are assured.

It buys the loyalty of those party faithful whose vote depends on such actions and on nothing else.

That’s what happened to certain groups of Canadians this past couple of weeks. Without having mentioned it neither in the recent election campaign, nor in the Speech from the throne a few months ago, and at the same time as it announced a 13 billion dollar surplus, the federal government picked off citizen voices it does not agree with. Here are a few of the changes that will affect New Brunswick harshly.

The federal government abolished the Court Challenges program mostly because, let’s say it, the program had helped gays and lesbians go to court to get the same rights other Canadians have under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

No matter that the $5-million Program also well served seniors and handicapped Canadians, victims of sexual assault, communities concerned by obscenity and official language minorities (including English-language rights in Quebec, and P.E.I. Acadians’ right to schools in French), among others.

No matter that a few months ago, the federal government was in Geneva bragging to a United Nations Committee that the Court Challenges was a “uniquely Canadian” program that has been successful, that a recent evaluation found that there remains work for the program and so it was extended to March 2009.

No matter that Canadians of all sexual orientations have a right to access the courts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The official reason for cancelling the Program given by the Treasury Board president is that it didn’t make sense to him for the government to subsidize lawyers to challenge the government’s own laws in court. It is rather disturbing that a government minister does not respect the system and the checks and balances he is sworn to uphold.

In a constitutional democracy, laws can be measured against the constitution. Laws are not perfect, as some eminent jurists have said in response to these cuts, and those who need to point out the imperfections in our laws, in order that they may live on an equal footing with others, deserve to be heard. Now only those who can pay their way to court in Canada will get to challenge laws or seek protection of the Charter.

About a year ago, Stephen Harper was telling Canadians that if he were elected, the courts would hold him in check. What was not said was that people most affected would not be able to get to court.

Another recent change by the government was to the funding rules for community groups. Advocacy and lobbying will not be allowed. In other words, help the victims but don’t try changing the conditions that creates victims – and don’t bother us. If women’s history teaches us anything, it is that nothing ever changed without advocacy and lobbying. As the New Brunswick groups that came together to fight these cuts say, it is thanks to advocacy efforts that women now have access to wage parity, maternity leave benefits and transition houses.

The community groups in New Brunswick that share about $300,000 per year in grants from one affected program, Status of Women Canada, include the Coalition for Pay Equity, the New Brunswick Coalition of Transition Houses, Saint John’s Urban Core Support Network and several others. The change will be devastating for them and for New Brunswick.

The new rules will also eliminate any Status of Women Canada funding for work towards equality. While – for now – leaving intact the amount that is available for grants, the federal government has made such huge changes to the program that it no longer funds what it was created to do, advance women’s equality. You’ve come far enough, baby, as humourist Rick Mercer said last week.

The promise of equality is written in the Charter and Canadian governments have up to now felt some responsibility towards making that promise real, by assisting groups working to end violence, discrimination and poverty, for example.

The federal government also cut $10 million from the Canadian Volunteerism Initiative, designed to support the volunteers who run thousands of services across Canada.

Earlier this year, candidate Stephen Harper assured Canadian women that, if elected, he would “take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women”.

Nine months later, the concrete and immediate measures that Prime Minister Harper announced are mean and unnecessary and will set back equality among Canadians. The equality-seeking groups, one could say, help governments do their job: they work to end violence, poverty and discrimination, they help adults become literate and they even the playing field by giving discriminated groups access to the courts.

New Brunswickers doing equality work, including adult literacy – another abolished program – are stunned by these cuts. This is not the Canada they know. Why is this possible when this is a minority government? Where are the opposition parties? In reality, a large protest movement is building.

These cuts to some pet peeves of some Conservative party faithfuls is likely an attempt to ensure their support, since the party had to follow a moderate road to gain popular support. The cuts are carefully planned to not awaken the general population. But what is scary about snipers is that we don’t know where they will strike next.

2 thoughts on “Death by a thousand cuts

  1. This death by a thousand cuts strategy and divide and conquer via interest groups was the tried and true strategy of Harris Common Sense Revolution in Ontario during is turmulous years as premier. And some of those MPPS who either lost their prov election or quit (because they were going to get turfed anyway), well guess what, they got elected in Harpers govt. Think Clement, Baird, and Flaftery, but particularly Baird, so they just brought their devisive tactics with them, and recycled them in the bigger pond. I guess they do have an environmental policy but you just didnt recognize it as such.

  2. And the Harris govt learned from the Devine Conservatives from SK who were a Coalition of Common Sense in the 80s. Many actually ended up with jail terms for their participation in some monetary schemes. Gerry Jones’ book, SaskScandal: The death of political idealism in Saskatchewan details much of it. PMS and his ilk remind me of Devine and his you don’t say whoa in a mudhole bunch of yahoos in a big way! But the New Conservative Party wouldn’t let Devine or his buddies run for the Con nominations here.

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