|Economic stress may only get worse|
|Local Content - Community blogs|
|Written by production|
|Wednesday, 14 September 2011 14:44|
While it might come as a shock to some of us, not everyone in this country is sharing in the benefits of the supposed success story that is Canadaâ€™s economy.
While federal politicians (especially the Harper Conservatives) wonâ€™t hesitate to praise to the skies the strength of the Canadian economy, the slow but steady recovery from global recession, and increased job creation, it seems a growing percentage of Canadians are being left behind or shut out of the benefits of this bright, glittery, oil-driven future.
According to a global study recently released by the Conference Board of Canada, the gap between the rich and the poor is being rent asunder faster in Canada than in dozens of other countries around the world. The report noted Canada is the fourth largest in income inequality among its peers.
While the U.S. still currently holds the unenviable title of having the largest rich-poor income gap, in Canada that gap has been growing at a much faster rate. Between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s, according to the organization, inequality widened in close to a dozen countries, narrowed in five, and retained the status quo in Norway and Japan.
All of which isnâ€™t very good news for Canadians, unless you reside on the upper levels of that spectrum, rather than on the bottom rungs. As a rule, a growing class of disgruntled, underpaid people slowly slipping from the ranks of lower middle class into those of the desperately poor isnâ€™t exactly healthy for a country or an economy. For one thing, it can start to breed all of the things that stable and orderly countries tend to fear: radicalism and political extremism, spiraling crime rates, escalating person-to-person and family violence, declining consumption and a lack of purchasing power, and perhaps most troubling, a growing malaise about the ability of traditional modes and methods of change to effect real improvement.
If you think this all sounds like a fairy-tale from some hopelessly bleeding-heart liberal, think again. It has all happened, to one extent or another, even within the memory of our grandparents. During the Depression of the 1930s in Canada, we saw many aspects of what mass poverty, unemployment and economic collapse created in this nation. We saw the rise of radical politics â€” the CCF (later NDP), first in Saskatchewan, then later across the nation. And here in Alberta, the bizarre political and economic philosophy of Social Credit came quickly to power under William Aberhart. And the Communist Party of Canada was never more popular, or enjoyed more general support from a wide variety of Canadians, than during those years. In Quebec under leader Adrien Arcand, and to a lesser extent in Ontario and other parts of the country, fascism even flourished for a brief period before WWII.
Throughout that decade, mass unemployment led to acts of frustrated violence across the nation, mostly provoked by the actions of a reactionary federal government under Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett. In 1931 in the coalfields of southeastern Saskatchewan, a huge group of striking miners (admittedly organized by Communist agitators) were confronted on the streets of Estevan by an armed contingent of RCMP who were determined not to allow the strikers through the community. The situation deteriorated into a riot, and the RCMP contingent opened fire on the crowd, killing three and wounding many others. In 1935, Bennett ordered the massive On-to-Ottawa Trek of unemployed be stopped in its tracks in Regina â€” which also deteriorated into a riot, destroying businesses and property and killing and wounding several. Across the country, various factory strikes and lockouts, building occupations and other incidents led to violence.
Attempts to control this â€œreactionary elementâ€ included the infamous â€œpadlockâ€ law in Quebec, while here in Alberta, Aberhart attempted to stifle the independent media through a series of laws that were later disallowed by the federal government. Federally, Bennett wielded the RCMP almost as a personal tool against what he considered radical elements, imprisoning the leadership of the Communist Party on trumped-up charges. Across the country, a huge series of labour camps were created for the masses of unemployed, which were little better than forced labour camps.
And this is only scratching the surface, giving the broad strokes of a decade that here in Canada, for those who endorse freedom and democracy, would rather forget. It saw the rights and laws of the people, at that time enshrined under the British North America Act and a long tradition of British law, trampled on by successive governments in the name of peace and order and the curbing of â€œdistasteful elements.â€
Now flash back to the global economic recession here in 2011. Around the world, the warning signs are all there that we could be on the verge of slipping back into economic collapse. In Europe, various economies are being strained to the breaking point, desperately attempting to avert national disaster by defaulting on their national debts. Many economists have already warned that should this come to pass, it could have a cascade effect that could lead the world back into recession, or even Depression. The U.S. economy is still foundering, while Canadaâ€™s is still vulnerable to external influence, as are most global economies.
Add to all this the fact weâ€™re a different generation than our grandparents, who grew up or matured in a period where one mended their socks, might have wore their shirts threadbare, and always made sure they had something set aside against â€œhard times.â€ And they always took the promises of governments with a grain of salt when they preached of taking care of citizens in times of economic crisis.
We arenâ€™t this way. As a series of present generations, the Great Depression seems like some vague period in ancient history, where people hid in their barns from dust storms and jumped out of windows on Wall Street. We havenâ€™t learned the lessons of the past â€” weâ€™ve dismissed them, because economists, bankers, moneylenders and government told us we could. Today, we carry more massive household debt load than at any other period in our countryâ€™s history. What we donâ€™t have or canâ€™t afford, we put on credit. We donâ€™t save, and most of us apparently wonâ€™t have enough to retire on.
In my opinion, thatâ€™s a serious oversight, especially considering the unstable economic situation that exists globally. Not that Iâ€™m any better than the rest of us â€” Iâ€™ve done my fair share of buying on credit over the years, starting with my education. Still, when I look around, it might be time for fiscal prudence to start coming back into style.