Stop making those with the least bear the burden of tough economic times

November 20, 2023

By Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress as published in The Hill Times

Over 20 years as an elected politician Pierre Poilievre has perfected the fine art of grievance mining. He’s a master of effectively delivering the pointy end of a talking point. He relentlessly grinds out angry YouTube videos, juices social media algorithms, and provokes rage on X. But none of his ‘rage farming’ does a thing to help people.

No matter how much Poilievre cosplays as a regular working stiff and claims to have workers’ backs, that’s not what he does. Remember how Poilievre sat in cabinet and defended every Conservative cut to EI or other supports workers and families relied on. Even today, he continues to oppose free dental care for low-income families.

For sure people are hurting. The anger and frustration out there are real. Even as inflation slows, wage growth continues to lag behind rising shelter and food costs. One in three Canadians now live in a household experiencing financial difficulties. Statistics Canada just released a study showing that after the largest single year reduction in poverty in 2020, the next year saw the largest ever increase. Meanwhile the 0.01% super elites at the very top saw their average income hit $12.5 million, topping six figures for the first time. You know the type—rich CEOs living in the stratosphere who couldn’t even tell you how much a loaf of bread or carton of eggs costs these days.

So where does this leave finance minister Chrystia Freeland as she crafts this week’s Fiscal Update? The government has an opportunity to show they’ve been listening. Ms. Freeland can table a Fiscal Update that stops making those with the least bear the burden for today’s tough economic times.

Its clear business leaders aren’t going to act in the public interest on their own. The fact is there’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to holding companies to account for profiteering off inflation and jacking up corporate profits at the expense of their customers. It’s clear that when left to their own devices large corporations will squeeze out every cent of profit they can. Governments have a duty to balance this and act for the public good.

This means more than just changes to competition laws. The Fiscal Update must go further and crackdown on price gouging while making wildly profitable oil companies and grocery chains finally pay their fair share through a windfall profits tax.

The government can then show they understand the difficult times workers and families face by using these new revenues to better support people who need it.

We’ve seen some positive steps on housing, but the scale of the need continues to outsize government action. We need dramatic new investments to expand non-market housing, building new units and creating a non-profit Housing Acquisition Fund to convert existing units into affordable homes for low- and modest-income people.

Meanwhile, families continue to face sky-high prices for prescription medicines. A publicly funded and publicly delivered pharmacare system is another critical part of addressing the affordability crisis.

Lastly, some regions are facing rising layoffs as our economy slows. Yet fewer than four in 10 unemployed people get Employment Insurance benefits. By delivering EI reform, the Fiscal Update could finally make sure this critical support is there for workers when they need it.

In the end, the best way for the government to respond to Mr. Poilievre’s Conservative ‘rage farming’ is to table a Fiscal Update that shows the government has been paying attention—and delivers real help to people who need it.

Bea Bruske is President of the Canadian Labour Congress. Follow her on Twitter @PresidentCLC

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