In 2011, Canada’s austerity driven federal government suspended, delayed or cancelled numerous Environment Canada programs, including the Action Plan on Clean Water. Stephen Harper’s administration made the choice even though adult residents of some First Nations communities had lived entire lives with water systems contaminated by bacteria and chemical poisons.
Although the Trudeau Liberals have made some progress, its response is far below adequate. A deputy director at Indigenous Services Canada refused to commit funding to one Manitoba community that lacked running water. He said, “Frankly, people should be living in other places.”
According to Pamela Palmater of Policy Options:
[The] response is similar to those made by previous Conservative governments and seems to be wholly in line with Canada’s historic “Indian policy” in general.
For decades, the focus of the federal government has been how to best manage the “Indian problem” in light of the fact that its policy objective has always been to acquire First Nations lands and resources and reduce the financial obligations it has acquired through treaties and other agreements.
Justin Trudeau’s father tried to erase the Indian problem through the Liberals’ 1969 White Paper, where he advocated no Indian Act, no reserves, no Indians and no more treaties.
It is often said that we are unable to pay for healthcare (including dentistry and prescriptions) and other social programs. But, political leaders seldom say that business subsidies and corporate tax reductions are unaffordable.
Kinder Morgan bailout to cost north of $15 billion, Robyn Allen, National Observer, May 2018:
Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced on May 29 that the Government of Canada will buy the existing Trans Mountain pipeline system from Kinder Morgan at a price of $4.5 billion.
When asked about the cost to build the expansion during his press conference, Mr. Morneau was cagey. He refused to explain that $4.5 billion simply buys Ottawa the rights to what exists today — a 65 year old pipeline serving B.C. and Washington State, storage facilities and a one-berth marine terminal that sends modest volumes of diluted bitumen to California markets.
By the time the expansion is built, the price tag for nationalizing the existing assets and building the expansion will cost Canadians upwards of $15 – $20 billion…
The Alberta government’s move to cut corporate taxes from 12 to eight per cent has added more than $2 billion to second-quarter net incomes of major oilsands producers Suncor Energy Inc., Husky Energy Inc. and Cenovus Energy Inc…
Signs Point to Bad News, Alberta Union of Public Employees, June 2019:
…the government has appointed a “Blue Ribbon” panel to look at how to balance Alberta’s budget. While this sounds like a good idea, the panel has been handcuffed by a mandate that means it can only look at spending and not at revenue.
So, why do the majority of Canadians tolerate a system that rewards the wealthy and fails to serve the needy?
Partly, it is a result of steady streams of misinformation fed citizens by corporate media and its owners who view commercial activities as paramount. People dying? No big deal. Wealthy corporations facing tax bills or made responsible for polluting activities? Now, that is serious.
Few people would disagree that information is pivotal for a democratic, free society. When dictators seize power one of the first things they do is seize the TV stations and close down opposition newspapers.
As is often said, a free press is essential for a free society. More broadly, the way the media and communication — newspapers, magazines, television, radio, the arts, etc. – is owned, produced and controlled has pervasive consequences for the character of public debate, the attitudes people form towards social issues and social conflicts, and ultimately the possibilities for various kinds of social change to occur in a democracy.
The problem of how the mass media is controlled, therefore, is a fundamental problem for a democratic society. At the heart of the problem of the media and democracy is the problem of the control over the production and dissemination of news.
However, other aspects of the media and communication, including movies, novels, music, theater and television entertainment, are also critical for public debate and democracy. The arts are one of the key ways that issues of public concern get articulated and made salient to democratic processes. Right after closing opposing newspapers, dictators control the arts.
Wealthy individuals, including Canada’s richest families, control most of the newspapers and almost all of the broadcast outlets. But the influence does not stop there. Financing of political parties has traditionally been dependent on large contributions and those same donors populate the board rooms of public agencies, crown corporations, universities and post-secondary institutions. Typical citizens, particularly consumers of the provided services, are sidelined.
Groups like Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Canadian Federation Of Independent Business, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Resource Works and countless other industry friendly group advocate for vested interests.
Of course, Canada’s more than 100 “research” and policy institutes are adept at getting their messages heard. So too are a large number of foundations and business associations—e.g., CAPP—that find it profitable to influence public opinion.
In my earlier working days, I typically paid for subscriptions to three newspapers and various business journals. In addition, I listened to radio and television news that originated in my community. Today, the internet marketplace of ideas is limited or contaminated and largely controlled thousands of kilometres from our homes.
Can the tide of disinformation be altered?
I doubt it. Corporate media is backed by billionaires. Alternative media is dependent on voluntary support of ordinary citizens who don’t profit directly from their contributions.
Incredibly good work is produced by non-profit journalism projects like The Tyee and The Narwhal, but they are severely limited by lack of financial resources. Living hand to mouth, they have to turn away worthwhile assignments and do less than possible on active files.
Supporting independents that focus on public interest stories not usually told in traditional media is how we can make a small difference. Today, most of us pay far more to internet service providers than we do to content providers.
It is time for that to change.