For the Canadian readers, Nick Clegg is the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK. The LibDems’ policies are often, but not always, to the left of the increasingly conservative Labour party, and for this reason I have supported them on the number of issues. But recently, Clegg came out to state that, in light of the current recession, the new British government should adopt the deficit-cutting measures of the Canadian Liberal party in the 1990. If you’ve read any of my posts here before, you can imagine my response to such a claim. This is my letter to Nick…
I like a lot of what you do – I really do. I am a Canadian living in the UK who spends a lot of time talking and writing about how my time here has made me re-evaluate many of the ideas that I thought made Canada a good country – largely as a result of seeing and experiencing a greater sense of equality for most people here, than I had ever witnessed in Toronto.
More than this, I came to recognise that Canada has actually become a bit of national train-wreck when it came to questions of social justice, racism, environmental practices, poverty and a range of other important social measures. And, surprising to many, the steep decline in Canadian (governmental) egalitarianism, is perhaps most attributable to the Liberal governments of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin in the 1990s and early 2000s – the government you have recently triumphed as a model for how the UK can address its current financial woes.
I find this deeply troubling.
Though the Brian Mulroney Conservatives of the 1980s clearly set Canada’s neo-liberal wheels turning, it was the supposedly ‘Liberal’ government that followed who managed to slash public spending to levels not seen since World War II. And yes, they eventually conquered the constantly trumpeted spectre of the deficit, but at what cost? If you read through the 1st and 3rd posts on my blog, it will give you a more detailed sense, but 12 years of Liberal Party deficit-fetishism had 2 primary impacts for most Canadians:
- The abandoning of a national affordable housing strategy, which has been seen by many as the leading cause behind the unprecedented spike in Canada’s up-to 300,000-strong homeless population. As a recent report by a major foundation into the scope and causes of Canadian homelessness reads: “…Existing evidence indicates that Canadian government policy from 1993 onward actually helped to create chronic poverty and housing insecurity.”
- The near-total gutting of federal healthcare transfer payments to the provinces, leading to a steady decline in the quantity and quality of healthcare services most Canadians could receive. This also opened the door to the beginnings of ‘Public-Private Partnerships’, or ‘PPPs’ – creating the beginnings of a two-tiered healthcare system in which wealthy Canadians could receive measurably better care than those of us with less access to money.
Beyond these 2 major areas, there were massive cuts to Employment Insurance (EI), universities and a range of critical social services during the same period. The collective human impact of these cuts has been truly immense and ongoing – and the tide they set in motion is still spiralling downward today.
There is no shortage of information out there on the devastating social impacts of the Canadian Liberal government’s approach to deficit cutting – I will happily buy and ship you copies of Murray Dobbin’s ‘Paul Martin: CEO for Canada?’ and Linda McQuaig’s ‘Shooting the Hippo’, if you’d like fuller story on this not-so-proud era of Canadian history…
Odds are very good you’ll have significant sway in shaping UK politics following the upcoming elections; please don’t use this power to lead Britain down the same disastrous road of neo-liberal reforms that has left Canada’s egalitarian and just principles in relative tatters.