Over the past year all three major provinces have casted their ballots in provincial elections. Now, with the Ontario provincial campaign in full swing, the messages and surely the rhetoric used in these three campaigns is a clear indicator of what to expect of the next federal campaign. One frantic urge was at the core of the political discourse that vibrated throughout these distant and divergent political settings, setting the tone for the general political discourse to come: the urge to reduce the deficit and balance the budget.
The discourse of the main proponents —Liberals in BC and QC, the Conservatives in Ontario— hardly changed in any substantial manner. A mash-up of Couillards, Clarks and Hudaks economical bullet points would be a very suave playlist for the austerity ravers out there. Going from one to another, you can hardly tell who’s who.
On the other hand, the Canadian public under the auspices of the mainstream media, has apparently been engulfed in an era of wasteful usage of “taxpayers” money. Whether it be the Senate Scandal and its various repercussions on the federal level, the mismanagement of the Ontario Liberals and the Commission Charbonneau in Quebec, waste is portrayed as a sordid affair of political corruption, an accident that occurs when dishonest people attain the high statures of public office. The discourse of the proponents of balanced budgets and zero deficits is quite simple because of such past waste on behalf of a few greedy individuals. We’ll all just have to tighten our belts and bear with the horrendous cuts to public services while we put things back on the right track.
The problem with such a fable is that corruption is seen through a lens that overemphasizes the individuality, while completely occulting the systemic aspect of corruption. With this in perspective, to truly grasp the meaning of the balanced budgets and deficits rhetoric, one must first build from the assumption that Canadian public governance has a severe addiction to debt and it must go through detox.
When accepting the premises of austerity measures, the first question that arises is how and for whom? For the champions of austerity such as Hudak & Co, welfare fraud, welfare “handouts”, a bloated public bureaucracy, and unnecessary public programs aren’t just strains to growth and prosperity, but are also the main vector of debt, and austerity is the act of cutting those chains. Unfortunately for them, statistics beg to differ.
In many ways the liberalization of the Canadian financial markets are the main sponsors of the Canadian debt clock, which among other things has allowed Canadian banks to stash billions of dollars in their savings accounts, as well as subsidizing multinational oil, gas, and mining companies, and the reduced pressure on tax evasion that has had the direct consequence the fruition of the highest amount of Canadian dollars in tax havens in history.
Compared to this welfare fraud, the expenses that public healthcare or education and social programs might incur are meaningless. The premises of austerity – the cuts to public services, the privatization of public goods – is irrelevant because it identifies a problem and offers an inadequate solution.
Would this be out of malice or out of ignorance? The austerity fable is a means towards an end; the end of privatizing the last socialized remains of the Canadian state or the (insert name of province here) state. Balanced budgets and zero deficits are myths; they belong to the realm of tall-tales and thus, they have become god like creatures of which we mere mortals can barely comprehend unless having an MBA or a Master in Economics from the Chicago School.
The only way to create vital space for any alternative discourse to the current oppressive austerity fable is to demystify the storyline. This would allow everyone to see balanced budgets and deficits for what they truly are: a set of choices – not fatality – to put profits over people.
Unfortunately many left-wing parties mistakenly have thought that they could fight fire with fire – that they could somehow change the game by using the same rules. The fable of austerity is nothing more than a creation myth that abstracts the human element from economics. It’s the justification for a system of corruption that transforms socialized goods into private capital, and economical and social rights into privileges for those that can afford it. The only way to build a just society is to strip balanced budgets and deficits of their god-like attire and make them human again.
A luta continua.