Pallister government exposes fatal flaw of Canada’s social democracy

Maintaining “humane capitalism” is a recipe for perpetual loss

When Manitobans voted in a Progressive Conservative (PC) majority government in 2016, the extent of the damage the government would do to the system was still unknown.

Now, in 2019, that damage is abundantly clear. The government has closed three of Winnipeg’s six essential emergency rooms and reduced front-line nurses by more than 550 between 2017 and 2018. Simply put, the PCs have dismantled Manitoba’s healthcare system from the inside out.

The austerity of the PC government has not been limited to healthcare. Recently, it was revealed that Pallister had plans to gut Manitoba Public Insurance with the plan of eventually privatizing it.

This is far from a surprise. Since early in his tenure, Pallister had floated the idea of healthcare premiums.

Due to the unpopular position of the policy, Pallister was forced to abandon this idea almost immediately after floating it.

But the master plan is far from over. Pallister is demonstrating over and over that the only way to achieve his final goal of privatization is to convince Manitobans that the government-run social programs they love and rely on are somehow not working.

In order to do this, each must be dismantled from the inside out through cuts and layoffs. Manitobans have seen this same pattern play out in healthcare, education and public transportation.

In only three years, Pallister’s PCs have managed to make a significant dent in many government-run industries and social programs.

This is one of the core issues with the system Canada prides itself on: social democracy is such a volatile institution that a single government, in only a matter of a few years, can all but eviscerate the welfare state which took decades to build up.

This pattern has further manifested itself in federal politics when, after years of cuts to the scientific community by former prime minister Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are still struggling to reverse the damage done by a single government.

More than just bad-faith governments, the instability of Canada’s system is further seen in the way Canadian governments interact with private industry and owners of the largest companies.

Not only failing to adequately regulate them — often due to ties between those owners and government officials — the government often loses the most important battles due to an imbalance of power.

The result of this system is evident in statistics showing CEO compensation steadily increasing faster than the median pay, while the programs that the most vulnerable need to rely on are either cut or nonexistent.

In Manitoba, these issues cannot be missed — in the form of a gigantic, unaddressed opioid epidemic, an entirely inadequate $11.35 per hour minimum wage and the cost of prescription drugs getting less and less affordable for Canadians.

The solutions to this inhumane system are to first make governments more accountable to the people they should represent by ensuring the programs of the welfare state, that so many members of the public rely on, are much harder to chip away at.

Governments should never be able to cut key parts of the social safety net when those nets benefit thousands of people and maintain a high level of popularity.

Next, and most importantly, Canada as a whole must transition away from the system that incentivizes governments like Pallister’s. As long as our governments maintain their close relationship with the CEOs of private industry, laws passed will continue to benefit those who have the most.

This means transitioning away from the social democratic “humane capitalism” Canada prides itself on, to a system where workers control their own workplace.

For years at both the provincial and federal level, Canadian lawmakers have been stifled by the power of private industry owners, leading to the watered-down laws which get passed.

This power imbalance has been on display in federal politics most recently as the federal Liberal government purchased — overvaluing it by $1.2 billion — a pipeline at the expense of the taxpayer, ignored the wrongdoing of SNC-Lavalin and bailed out Bombardier to the tune of $372.5 million, leading to senior executive pay increases of 50 per cent.

It is clear that these gaping holes in Canada’s system will not be addressed by simply voting out right-wing governments of austerity like Manitoba’s PCs or Harper’s Conservatives.

Rather, Canada must reimagine a far more humane system that rewards the hard work of every worker, where no one is forgotten.