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By Sid Ryan
Oh, the hypocrisy of it all. There I was dozing my way through the six o’clock news last week when I was awakened by an all too familiar burst of fury.
Conservative MP and Treasury Board President John Baird was on his feet in the House of Commons, flailing away at the Opposition for daring to criticize his government’s draconian cuts to social programs despite a $13.2 billion surplus.
In what can only be described as cockamamie and mean-spirited policy making, the federal Tories ripped into the fabric of this country’s social programs. In a purely ideological move, they wiped out programs designed to protect the rights of minority groups. Program like the Court Challenges Program and the Law Commission of Canada have been used effectively over the years to protect and in some cases advance the rights of Canadians who otherwise would never have been able to afford to challenge the government of the day in court.
Baird and his sidekick, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, teamed up in a replay of a circa 1995 Mike Harris horror movie to trash 63 programs in all. The performance by Baird and Flaherty was vintage Harris. Appeal to the right-wing base by bashing gays, lesbians, racial minorities, women’s groups, people with disabilities, homeless persons and adult literacy programs and, at the same time, to the Bay Street boys by tossing all that money at a debt that’s already at its lowest level in 30 years.
But here’s the hypocrisy. By taking the surplus out of play, John Baird who bellowed in the house that it’s the taxpayers’ money denied Canadians the ability to argue for some of that money to go towards eliminating child poverty or the introduction of a proper universal child care program or even a national infrastructure renewal program.
You’re darn right it’s our money. And millions of us pay our taxes with the expectation that they will be used for the common good.
It is difficult to fathom how the Tories and this country’s business elite can take joy and even delight in plunking down the entire massive surplus on debt reduction instead of using it to make a real difference to children living in poverty and homeless people roaming our streets.
Yet, why am I surprised? Baird and Flaherty were two of the most reactionary ministers in Harris’s cabinet. When Baird trotted into a news conference in late 2000 to announce his support for mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients, he tossed a handful of syringes on the floor of the press studio while promising to stop people on welfare from shooting welfare cheques up their arm.
And last week, on the day after announcing more than $17 million in cuts to adult learning programs, he was campaigning on Ottawa streets with the Prime Minister’s wife in support of children’s literacy programs. He simply wrote off a whole generation or two of Canadians who need help making it in the workforce by suggesting adult literacy programs are a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.
This is the same man who, as provincial minister of community and social services introduced a policy forcing welfare applicants to pass a literacy test.
As I continued to watch the news, I was struck by how little things had really changed since the days of the golf pro from North Bay. It’s like a rerun of a bad horror flick, starring Flaherty, Baird and Health Minister Tony Clement all veterans of the assault on Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens.
The message is clear: give us a majority government next time around and you won’t recognize this country. We’ve seen that movie. It’s time to get up and change the channel.