Kicking them while they’re down
By Trish Hennessy
Four years after a global economic meltdown threw scores of Canadians out of work during one of the worst recessions ever, followed by a tepid recovery that has us still biting our fingernails, Canada’s federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made himself available to reporters to talk jobs.
Was it to announce a new jobs training program? Better income supports for the unemployed? A plan to address the hard reality that there are more unemployed than there are job vacancies? No, it was not. Instead, The finance minister took to the unbecoming practice of blaming the unemployed for their inability to find a job.
Apparently the finance minister feels he’s got the right, since he once spent time driving a taxi and refereeing hockey games (not sure if that was before or while he was getting his Princeton and Osgoode Hall degrees).
It’s always easy to spot people who have never really spent a large chunk of their adult life stuck in a truly bad job with no options, because they say silly things like “There is no bad job, the only bad job is not having a job”. Ask anyone who’s been there and didn’t have a law degree or influential friends to help them get out of it: there is such a thing as a bad job.
And yes, finding yourself on the unemployment line is a full-time job: searching for work, trying not to lose your confidence, struggling to keep the mortgage or rent payments up, falling deeper into debt, relying on the goodwill of friends and family. It’s so bad that no one needs to kick you while you’re down. Certainly not your own elected representatives.
Flaherty’s language, however, is a perfect example of the conservative ‘father knows best’ frame that George Lakoff talks about. To conservatives, the only reason why anyone struggles with jobs is a moral one. They’re lazy, they haven’t gotten enough tough love and so government’s job is to force you to pull up your bootstraps. From the conservative world view, the father figure imposes moral authority on the people, with the goal to restore order to a chaotic universe.
This world view is hugely lax with its more stubborn and willful child, the free market, finding it easier to blame the individual rather than examine a system that is putting at risk the gains of Canada’s middle class.
That Flaherty’s remarks reveal a government out of touch with and insensitive to the reality of Canadians – especially youth shut out of the opportunities of work that their baby boomer parents never in their lifetime faced – is one thing.
That any government would promote the perpetuation of bad jobs over good ones is quite another.
The evidence from the years preceding the 2008 Great Recession indicates that when the jobs are there, Canadians are more than willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. But the Great Recession sparked new questions about our labour market and whether the system has become too skewed in favour of the elite.
The Occupy movement’s iconic 99% message says it all. With the richest 1% of Canadians and Americans enjoying a growing share of the income pie, they are forcing the rest of us to compete with each other for a shrinking share. It doesn’t help that we have political leaders egging us on, pitting public sector workers against private ones, and now blaming the unemployed for an unstable global economy for which this government provides no new answers.
Our federal government has been pretty tight-lipped about Occupy. It was also conspicuously silent when EMD/Caterpillar locked out workers at its London, Ontario plant on January 1st of this year with the threat that workers either take a 50% pay cut or the company would go back to America. The corporate giant has since fled, reigning similar terror on workers south of the border.
There is such a thing as a bad job. More importantly, there is such a thing as a decent job – one that allows you to earn a living, rather than keeps you working poor.
A decent jobs plan would value the treatment of workers, including temporary foreign workers, rather than make it easier for big corporations to exploit well-meaning people just trying to make a go of it.
A decent jobs plan would look to the future and promote jobs that fuel a sustainable middle class and a sustainable planet.
We heard no such plans from our finance minister this week. Instead, Jim Flaherty looked at the unemployed in this country and decided to kick them while they’re down. They deserve better.