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Labour views: There is something amiss in Ottawa

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Am I alone in shaking my head? There is so much media attention on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and that people need to pay the CERB back, often labelling people as a bunch of crooks. Many people applied for the program in good faith, and at the time that it was rolled out  it lacked clarity. 

In comparison, there are very few stories about abuse within the many programs rolled out for businesses. There is also little airplay that the cash people received was spent directly in the community, at local businesses and kept the economy chugging along. Let’s remember that $2,000 per month helped thousands of workers pay for their family needs like medicines, rent and groceries. Let’s not forget that $2000 is a mere $500 a week gross.

Let’s not talk about a living wage or a higher minimum wage. Let’s not talk about how we are in a low-wage driven economy. Let’s not talk about how the rich and powerful corporations operate the businesses where we buy our food, medicines, and family needs. We all watched many locally-owned businesses fold up over the years when the big box stores arrived.

Back to the lack of reporting on how much employers received and spent from the COVID relief they took. Those stories were few and far between, certainly not nearly as many as the CERB reporting. Take this CBC news story as an example of that question: Trudeau government won’t say who got billions of dollars in aid. The CBC story lays out the secretive protection mode the Liberals and others have taken on reporting where and to whom billions of tax dollars went. Export Development Canada (EDC) was in charge of handing out cash to the business. The EDC refuses to name the almost 800,000 firms that have received nearly $32 billion of our tax dollars. We heard excuses like confidential and privileged information. News outlets and others also cannot get the information through the Access to Information Act as pointed out by the CBC.

That’s bullshit, and if the government had the courage, they could force businesses who took money to make that available for taxpayers to see. The CBC story also tells us that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) administered several aid programs, including the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). CRA has made high-level statistics available and says it plans to make public the names of the 355,990 employers that benefited from what the PBO estimates are more than $49.2 billion in subsidies.

Now it seems that information may not be forthcoming for five years! Meanwhile, the rules changed for the worker benefit for CERB mid-stream, while the elite corporate lobbyist and their sound bite experts pulled every bell and whistle to keep their bosses’ cash grabs secret.

No wonder people agree that the corporate elite, the rich, and the powerful play the tune and the elected politicians march to it. One could even argue that those same big corporate bosses control the media. After all, they do own it.

Thankfully though, the National Post also did some digging. As CEWS flowed in, dividends flowed out. It reports that at least 68 Canadian companies have continued to pay out billions in dividends to their shareholders while receiving government aid. The paper’s analysis found that the 68 companies received at least $1.03 billion in CEWS, a subsidy based on a drop in revenue to cover payroll costs and avoid laying off workers. 

While they received government assistance over the past months, the very same companies paid out more than $5 billion in dividends. I will not add anything further because these two news stories scratch the surface of why we need to see the numbers and seek the truth.

It’s as simple as this – If you get government money, you will need to open your books, and if you didn’t deserve the cash, if you didn’t ensure that dollars meant for workers benefited shareholders, it’s time to own up. The rich and powerful have taken far more from the public COVID 19 trough than workers have through CERB. If something is amiss in the nation’s capital, I am hanging my hat on the massive lack of transparency on many fronts. Imagine if more people showed up at the polls on voting day to demand that ordinary people actually benefited from government decisions.

Danny Cavanagh: Has COVID turned capitalism on its head?

Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

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