We All Lose in Canada’s Austerity Olympics

As fallout from the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression drags on, the federal Conservatives continue to take part in the global austerity Olympics with their 2014. People and the planet are suffering as a result. Nobody wins with this approach.

The winter Olympics will overshadow the federal budget. This coincidence is consistent with the Conservative’s penchant for evading scrutiny and repressing democracy in pursuit of their agenda.

Nation-to-nation relationship?

Anyone following the media during budget day should see that nation-to-nation relationships with First Nations are the first casualty of the federal budget process.

Just this past fall, UN rapporteur on Indigenous issues James Anaya said that “Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country.”

This crisis would be a priority if Canada honoured its treaties and nation-to-nation relationships, yet Anaya’s statement hardly made front-page news in the mainstream press.

Conservative attacks on the Indigenous population will continue, but Canadian history provides ample evidence that any gains by First Nations communities are achieved through Indigenous grassroots resistance. Non-Indigenous people have a responsibility to honour their treaty relationships as well.

Ecological Crises and the Budget

Our economic system requires growth in order to survive, and Canada is a resource-based economy, so growth in the Canadian context means exploiting the earth and fostering global warming.

Youth Climate Coalition national director Cameron Fenton is right to point out that the real budget priority should be “our ever-shrinking carbon budget.”

The reality is that this “carbon budget” is a Conservative priority, so much so that the Conservatives are investing millions in a global lobbying effort to sell the toxic tar sands.

All major political parties support the Conservative vision of the “carbon budget” to varying degrees, with both the Liberals and NDP favouring oil pipeline development.

Each expansion of the tar sands’ tentacle network, fracking site and mining project eats away at the fragile global ecosystem with irreversible consequences.

That said, climate justice cannot be achieved without social justice. Too many environmental groups neglect the importance of economic equality and workers’ control as inherent to any meaningful climate justice movement.

Global Austerity Olympics

Painful spending cuts are being introduced across Europe and North America, largely to pay off public debt incurred while bailing out the banks.

The idea that we live in a free-market economy is entirely false in this sense. We live with a form of socialism for the wealthy and powerful, who are bailed out when needed, leaving the public to pay the bill and clean up the devastating mess.

Austerity is an economic policy of cutting public spending in order to balance the budget, by 2015 if the Conservatives have their way.

The problem is that household debt is at record highs and businesses are reluctant to invest, according to the latest Bank of Canada policy report.

In circumstances like these, the federal government needs to invest in social programs and infrastructure to pick up the slack, but this runs contrary to right-wing ideology, so austerity continues.

Alternatives are possible though. A statement released by some 70 economists on budget day states that “austerity policy is terribly misguided.” They go on to stress that “what is needed is a rise, not cuts, in public spending and the abandonment of the ideology of austerity.”

Austerity - and resistance to it - are also a core feminist struggle, as cuts to public spending hit women and children hardest.

Turning the Tide of Austerity

One thing is certain: the necessary environmental and economic changes that we need will not be achieved without placing our nation-to-nation treaty relationships with First Nations at the forefront.

With Indigenous women often leading these struggles, Defenders of the Land, Idle No More, the Indigenous Nationhood Movement, the Mi’kmaq Elsipogtog, and many other grassroots Indigenous groups offer real hope and prospects for change.

Matthew Brett is publishing assistant at Canadian Dimension magazine. You can find him on Facebook, twitter @mattbrett_1984 and email: brett[dot]matthew[at]yahoo[dot]ca.

This piece can be republished freely with attribution to the author and Canadian Dimension magazine.

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