Tag Archives: poverty

An Open Letter to UK Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg

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…
LibDems logo
Dear 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.


Liam Barrington-Bush


A brief, belated summary of the ugly truths of Vancouver 2010

Vancouver 2010Though I admittedly tuned-out much of the noise associated with the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, I did pick up a range of links that people pointed me to in one way or another, looking at the typically less-publicised impacts of the Games, namely on Indigenous peoples and the poor and homeless populations of British Colombia.

Here are some of the most poignant journalistic gems:

Toban Black’s deconstruction of the portrayals of a single, homogenous Indigenous culture in Van2010 marketing and branding, on Racialicious.com

“The harmonious vision conveyed through ‘indigenous’ packaging around the Olympics is an extension of mainstream Canadian visions of an outright “multicultural” “mosaic” in this country — where some claim that there is a complete lack of systemic racism, as well as equally proportioned room for all ethnic groups.”

The Guardian ran a story on the expected financial disaster of the Games, and the impacts of it on public services.

“While the complete costs are still unknown, the Vancouver and British Columbian governments have hinted at what’s to come by cancelling 2400 surgeries, laying off 233 government employees, 800 teachers and recommending the closure of 14 schools.”

Even the neo-liberal National Post wrote about the  rule of private companies over public services, during the lead up to the Games:

“Even Libraries have been put on notice to ensure that they’re complying with all registered Olympic sponsors and partners. Librarians have been asked to help ensure corporate brands like Coke and McDonald’s get exclusive coverage during the Olympics.”

Vancouver’s alternative staple, The Georgia Straight, covered some of the criticism around the lack of investment in supporting the city’s ever-growing homeless population.

“One homeless person, on average, dies every 11.4 days in B.C., according to housing activist and Olympic critic Am Johal.”

Britain’s often-sensationalist Telegraph caught wind of the poverty in Vancouver’s down town eastside, and gave it a story, demonstrating the contrast of the Olympic glitz, and the day-to-day realities of a shocking number of Vancouer residents.

“There is a jarring contrast between the harsh realities of life on the streets of North America’s most desperate Skid Row and the sporting extravaganza that is being celebrated in city just named the most liveable in the world for a third successive year…

In an alleyway near the corner of Hastings and Main streets, addicts openly smoked crack pipes and shot up heroin, others slumped listlessly in doorways or mumbled incoherently, and streetwalkers propositioned passers-by in a hope of financing their next hit.”

Another progressive mainstay, Vancouver Media Co-Op, ran a piece of the dual histories of activism and neo-liberalism in the city.

“Vancouver has, in recent decades, been a paragon of neoliberalism, has always had a colonial relationship with the Indigenous peoples whose land they’ve stolen, and is home to the most impoverished neighborhood in the country.”

Some of these issues seem endemic to Olympic Games, the world over… thus far I have seen very little in the way of an anti-London 2012 movement in the works, but am hoping this will change.  Canada’s existing inequalities put the contradictions of the Olympics industry in no unclear terms – let’s hope London and other cities who have struggled to win the ‘opportunity’ to host the Games can learn something from the Vancouver experience.