As we have been fighting Covid-19 there have been some interesting developments in how we have reacted to certain things that would be normally be a part of our political discourse. Before all of this, we’d hear some pretty cold and callous comments from some politicians about helping the poor or those who are struggling financially. We’d heard things that impugned the character of those who needed help from the government because they couldn’t work or find work.
That was a constant drumbeat in our political life, mostly from a cohort of some conservatives who believed that the problem was not a financial one, but a moral one. In doing so, they portrayed a callous indifference to the suffering and struggle of those who were trying to get by on said assistance, with “trying to get by” being the operative words. But in this moment, when so much has changed around us, some Conservatives have not and that’s made for some cold and uncaring scenes. Yesterday it was Conservative leader Andrew Scheer who provided us with that display, with these words:
Look everyone, I couldn’t come up with a better example of this phenomenon as that video right there. In the times before Covid-19, that would have been a cold and ignorant comment, basically suggesting that if we cut back help from the poorest in society because it would motivate them more to work, all under the assumption the lack the moral motivation to do so already. That kind of language would be par for the course, despite the callousness of it. The fact that those words would come from someone who despite earning over $250,000 a year and living in tax-free, luxury housing for most of the last decade, was also getting secretive payments from their party to cover the costs of his minivan, clothing & kids private school, would make those comments especially rich.
But in this moment, when millions of Canadians have lost their jobs, more are worried about losing theirs, and over 10 million people have applied for assistance, those words are even more unacceptable and just downright disgusting. We’re facing the worst economic downfall since the Great Depression (one that we’re not close to being at the end of by the way) and in this moment Andrew Scheer hasn’t changed his views on iota. Not one bit.
In his own words, he insinuates that some of those who are receiving the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) are not willing to go back to back to work because they’re doing so much better living on the CERB. Again he comes back with the old trope that those receive help are lazy and therefore unworthy of assistance. And his solution to the problem doesn’t involve ensuring that folks are earning a living wage, which isn’t possibly working for minimum wage. No, his problem involves cutting back the benefits of those who have the least to “motivate” folks to get back to work.
What’s just as bad in this, beside the usual tropes & insinuations about the characters of those who are reaching out for help, is a very basic fact about the situation that Scheer and his Conservatives are ignoring in their moralizing about the moral hazards of getting help. They assume that the only thing keeping people from going back to work is this “character flaw” that pushes people to “live high on the hog” off of the CERB. They don’t account for or give any thought to the idea that there might be more reasons for people to not “go back to work”. They ignore two important facts, two very good reasons why people wouldn’t be flooding back to their workplaces.
The first being the fact that for many of those people, they have no job to go back to. We’ve seen vast amounts of job losses in the retail and restaurant sectors, on top of the increasing job loses in the energy sector that Covid-19 have accelerated. The fact is that for many, they don’t have a job to go back to and in the recovery from this pandemic, they likely won’t have them to go back to. You know, that might have something to do with that global pandemic we’re facing, and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. That tends to kill a lot of economic activity and jobs along with it and has nothing to do with any alleged character flaws of those who would receive help.
The second reason, a very good one, is the fact that we’re facing a global pandemic and a disease we know precious little about. People have families and loved ones at home, and are thinking about far more than their pay cheque in this moment, no matter how big or how little it is. To be blunt about it, people don’t want to risk their lives or that of their families for a minimum wage job. Some workplaces are turning out to be dangerous in this crisis, which is making many people consider more than their pay when thinking about returning to work. We saw that play out just yesterday with the re-opening of the Cargill meat processing plant south of Calgary. That facility has the most Covid-19 cases in the country, with over 900. That’s more than some provinces have had, located completely within one plant. That’s made workers there concerned about the safety of returning to work.
A survey by their union local, UFCW Local 401, showed that 85% reported they are afraid to return to work, and 80% said they did not want the plant to reopen Monday. For those workers, this is not a simple choice because those are their jobs & they too need their salaries to life. Living off of employment insurance or the CERB is a pay cut for them, one that many likely can’t afford. But a vast majority of them are extremely concerned about their health and that of their families. Simply put, they don’t want to get sick or put their families at risk, just to get paid. That’s a real concern folks, one that won’t be made to go away by cutting back their emergency benefits from the government as Mr. Scheer is suggesting.
And that is the crux of the current moment when it comes to the language from the Conservative leader and his caucus on this. They are acting like nothing has changed and that their already-wrong assumptions about people receiving government help are still correct. They seem to refuse to consider that there is much more at play here and instead are throwing around insinuations about those who are suffering. It comes off as completely tone deaf, totally heartless, and downright cruel towards so many Canadians who now find themselves in a position they never would have dreamed just a few months ago. The vast majority of those people are in this situation through no fault of their own and this is the time when they need their government to be there for them. Instead, Her Majesty’s Official Opposition is turning the coldest of shoulders to them, insulting them to their faces and suggesting that they have their already meager incomes cut some more to help them grow some of the moral fibre they suggest those folks are lacking. It’s ugly, it’s obscene and it’s completely heartless. That indifference to their plight is something that most Canadians won’t forget the next time they go to the polls, at which point the Conservatives might find that those same people, when they’re most in need of their votes, might just leave them as high and dry as the Conservative suggest today. You know, for the good of their moral well being, because those Canadian voters who are struggling today wouldn’t want those Conservative MPs to fall victim of the moral hazard of depending on a government cheque to survive.