Harper’s economic reforms bring about the “dark side of excellence”


By Edward Dodd — The Carillon (CUP)
Photo by Alex Smyth — The Fulcrum (CUP)

Twenty-four years ago, Pierre Trudeau warned that for too long, Canada had “experimented with the dark side of excellence.”

Rather than building the “just society” Trudeau dreamed of, in which the government ensured that every Canadian was treated fairly, Canada had begun to put economic competitiveness on the world stage ahead of the basic needs of its own people.

Liberal senator Jack Austin characterized this dark side as “the loss of tolerance, the absence of compassion, and the downgrading of fairness.” To Austin, there was a “hard edge” in the Conservatives’ pursuit of economic competitiveness, a hard edge that meant the one thing that mattered was staying competitive, no matter the cost that was passed on to Canadians.

Twenty-four years later, the words of these former political heavyweights ring truer than ever. One only has to look at the headlines to see the hard edge of Conservative politics at play in everything from Old Age Security to Employment Insurance to the collective bargaining rights of workers.

The social safety net, an idea once sacred to many Canadians, is slowing being snipped away by the scissors of the efficiency squad. The government justifies these changes as absolutely necessary for the future of Canada, saying that if we do not act now, our country won’t be competitive where it matters — the economy.

People need to work longer because to stop working is to start taking handouts we don’t want to find a way to pay for. Anyone who holds out for a job they’re trained for and instead uses their Employment Insurance is lazy and needs to take any job that comes their way, be it McDonald’s chef, hockey referee, or best of all, tar sands worker.

And if you can’t find a job where you are living, you should get up and move. In many cases, this means, “Get up and move to Alberta.”

This “dark side of excellence” is even more obvious in the Conservative government’s treatment of workers who look to engage in collective bargaining, or at least those who try to. Workers cannot strike because striking slows the economy down and hurts immediate growth.

When Canada Post locked out its workers last summer for taking limited collective action, the government wasted little time in passing a law that put postal employees back to work.

When Air Canada employees threatened to strike, Lisa Raitt, the minister of labour, quickly imposed another legal settlement to quell the conflict.

CP Rail employees barely had time to step onto the picket lines before they were legislated back to work. Ignore the fact that these settlements are temporary solutions for serious grievances, efficiency must be defended at any social cost.

This is a downgrading of fairness. This is a loss of tolerance.

The Conservative changes to Canada speak to a drive to make more money regardless of the cost to average Canadians. If “economic excellence” means short-term economic gain for companies that don’t care about us, rather than investing in education or social programs, or higher wages for average people, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate what our definition of excellence is, because currently it’s is a very dark one.