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Union and Community Activists Pan Federal Budget

Multiple speakers reject Harper government's claims on jobs, environment

by Robert Devet

Elise Graham of the Canadian Federation of Students was one of many speakers commenting on the Federal budget during the Federal Budget Watch, an annual event in Halifax that sees activists get together to watch and discuss the federal budget.  (Robert Devet photo)
Elise Graham of the Canadian Federation of Students was one of many speakers commenting on the Federal budget during the Federal Budget Watch, an annual event in Halifax that sees activists get together to watch and discuss the federal budget. (Robert Devet photo)


K'jipuktuk (Halifax) - The 2013 federal budget is bad for our maritime economy, and will do little if anything to improve lives of Nova Scotia's workers, students, and people living on low income, concluded speakers at the Federal Budget Watch in Halifax concluded. 

The Federal Budget Watch, an annual event in Halifax, is a way for community activists and trade unionists to understand what the just announced budget measures will mean for Nova Scotians. This year the event was held at the Italian Cultural Centre where people gathered on March 21st to watch the budget on TV and listen to trade unionists and community activists comment on it.     

It's also a bit of a social event. As Tony Tracy, regional representative for the Canadian Labour Congress and one of the organizers for the event,  remarked, “I would have been very depressed to watch this budget by myself at home.” 

Kyle Buott, president of the Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council, focused on the budget's austerity measures and its aim to balance the budget by 2015. “There is nothing in this budget to address unemployment,” said Buott.  “What we needed was a stimulus budget, but what we got was an austerity budget.” 

Buott doesn't buy Harper's claim that the economy is improving. “In NS right now unemployment is higher than it was at the peak of the recession in 2008, we have about a 9.3 percent unemployment rate in Nova Scotia, that is about 47,000 people who are unemployed,” Buott pointed out. “This is a jobless recovery. Corporate profits have recovered, but in Atlantic Canada 10 people are competing for every job that's been created. In Cape Breton that number is 16,” said Buott.

Other trade union speakers were Chris Di Liberatore, representing the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and Brad Smith, speaking for the Mainland Nova Scotia Building and Construction Trades Council

Di Liberatore expressed his concern about the job cuts in the public service that started with last year's budget and worried about their impact on workloads of civil servants and wait times for citizens. He also argued strongly against the trend to privatize social programs, in particular programs for youth at risk, people with disabilities, and homeless people.

Smith talked about the budget measures to address perceived skills shortages in Canada's labour force, arguing that inter-provincial wage gaps for skilled labour need to be closed if we want to stop out-migration to Alberta. “There is no skills shortage in Nova Scotia. However, there is a shortage of cheap skilled labour in Nova Scotia,” said Smith.

Elise Graham spoke on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Students, Canada's largest student organization representing over half a million students in all ten provinces.  “Education is a right, and should be well funded, affordable and democratically controlled,” said Graham. “As a result of chronic underfunding, both federal and provincial, post secondary education remains inaccessible for many Canadians. And many young Canadians are graduating with an unprecedented level of student debt.” 

High tuition rates and inadequate financial aid have meant that Nova Scotia students graduate with an average debt of $31,000, the highest in the country, Graham said. 

Christine Saulnier, director of the Nova Scotia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), talked about the Alternative Federal Budget that the CCPA recently released.  The detailed document takes a stand against austerity and proposes investments in infrastructure, childcare, pharmacare, affordable housing, income support and post-secondary education. 

Both Ian Johnson of the Nova Scotia Citizens Health Care Network and Angela Giles of the Council of Canadians echoed many of the themes first touched upon by other speakers.  

Johnson strongly argued in favour of a national pharmacare program, an initiative that would actually result in savings because of economies of scale, according to Johnson.  He also called the lack of appropriate dental services in public healthcare a tragedy.

Giles, invoking World Water Day,  talked about the lack of commitment by the Harper Government to protect this precious resource and to invest in water and wastewater infrastructure in First Nations communities.

Michael Bradfield of Nova Scotians for Tax Fairness talked about the need to implement a taxation system that supports greater equality.  Talking about the capital gains tax he invoked the example of Chris Huskilson, president of Emera.  Huskilson at one time made $4 million in profit through the sale of stocks, only half of which got taxed.  “So if you wonder what gets my blood boiling, that's one of the things,” said Bradfield. 

Sharon Murphy, well-known local poverty activist, provided the last words, once again raising doubts to Harper's claim that the economy is improving. 

“If the economy is doing so well, how come I am out freezing my buns off on the picket lines, with the postal workers, the transit workers,the health care workers, the Nova Scotia government employees who work with the disabled and seniors,” asked Murphy. 

“How come I am going out on home visits with St Vincent De Paul, and I see people who live in third world conditions”, Murphy asked. 

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