Sunday, November 27, 2016

Open letter to Bill Morneau: Stop Bill C-27, an attack on the middle class and all workers

While the Trudeau government has done some good to help out the middle class in this country, they have failed a specific group of workers who are employed in federally-regulated industries including Crown corporations with the introduction of Bill C-27, an Act to Amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985.

Quietly introduced a couple weeks ago with no public statements, clearly the government is trying to sneak this into law without much notice, even though the impact on workers who are counting on their employers to deliver on their promised defined benefit pensions could be horrendous.   I'm one of those workers.  Like many, I have made a deliberate decision to stay in my current employment (which I do enjoy) partly because of this benefit, generally unavailable for my generation in the private sector.

For more information on how Bill C-27 will hurt workers, check out this page set up by CUPE. 

I penned this open letter this weekend to Liberal Finance Minister and Toronto Centre MP Bill Morneau about my concerns, urging the government to stop this attack on middle class workers.  I urge anyone impacted by this bill to write their MPs as well:


Dear Bill Morneau --

As my MP for Toronto Centre, I am writing to express my frustration and disappointment in you as a member of the Trudeau cabinet that introduced Bill C-27, an Act to Amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985. 

Your government was elected in 2015 to support and help the Canadian middle class, which has seen its earning potential grind to a halt the last 30-40 years.  Wages have stagnated barely ahead of the rate of inflation, and today, most average Canadian families include two adults who both must work full-time in order to simply survive.  Few of them earn enough to save in insecure RRSPs and defined contribution pension plans to adequately ensure a secure retirement.

At the same time, employers have seen their profits surge to historically high levels.  The wealth of our nation is not being shared equitably with the workers whose labour has greatly made that wealth possible.  You should know this full well - as these realities were often referenced by your leader during the 2015 election campaign.  

Defined benefit pension plans have sadly disappeared from most private sector industries, including federally regulated industries.  In the private sector, they only exist for certain older employees whose defined benefits have been grandfathered while younger employees have been forced to accept defined contribution plans, if any at all.  

This has been yet another reason why the rich 1% at the top have seen their wealth skyrocket in recent decades, while the middle and working classes, after seeing their pay stagnate, now realize they have to face 20-30 years of retirement not knowing if they'll be able to afford food or pay their bills in their elderly years. 

This is all part of the unfair deal that the neo-conservative/neo-liberal agenda has hoisted onto working people, exasperating unfairness and injustice, allowing the rich establishment to get richer and richer. 

The folks who run industries or Crown corporations effected by Bill C-27 are getting paid so well that they never have to worry about their retirements.  The salaries, stock options, bonuses and other perks ensure they'll be alright.  Many even continue to have defined benefit pensions.  Even Member of Parliament like yourself will enjoy bloated defined benefit pensions most Canadians can only dream of. 

The vast majority of the employees who will be hurt by C-27 include civil servants who work for Crown corporations. I'm one of those people.  We've chosen to work in organizations to promote the public good.  We've foregone more lucrative careers in the private sector in order to serve the public. 

Part of the deal was, at least, people like me would be able to count on knowing how much retirement pension money we'd receive every month following a long career serving the public interest.   Now your Bill C-27 would betray us, giving employers or former employers the power to pressure us to give up those pensions and lose retirement security, with little or no ability to transition or prepare for these losses.   If you're an employee in such an industry or corporation who is 10-20 years from retiring, how can we now change our careers or earn enough to make up for the potential losses that C-27 will bring?  

This is disgusting considering the waste and mismanagement that is still rampant in my own corporation, as it is in most federally regulated Crown corporations, despite these tight fiscal times.  And let's not even get started about the corporate excesses at the top of the private sector, who now also stand to benefit even more from C-27. 

A very well paid manager of mine very recently gave himself a cross-country, all expense paid national tour, visiting dozens of offices of the corporation including those in Northwest Territories, at great expense to the department, all paid for by the corporation.  This happened shortly after he laid off dozens of workers due to tight "fiscal realities."  The manager said his cross-country tour was necessary to meet the people in the regions working for him.  However, this same manager planned to and indeed did retire just a few months later, thus making his in-person visits fairly pointless.  All of this spending was approved by the corporation.  

Other managers throughout the private and public sectors continue to spend recklessly.  Corporate waste at the management level is rampant.  Giving those managers the option of peeling away their defined benefit pension obligations to their employees only will inspire this culture of waste and mismanagement to continue and even accelerate.   These corporations are not in financial difficulties.   Banks, for certain, are seeing record profits, as we know. 

Now Bill C-27, if passed, will put pressure on more workers to take on all the risks with regard to their retirement savings.  It will undermine the most vulnerable people in Canada - the individual workers struggling to make ends meet - while rewarding those at the top running these corporations, who've already shown little fiscal responsibility and now will be even more empowered to legally steal retirement benefits away from their workers. 

Your party has no mandate to legislate this bill.  Even Stephen Harper didn't go so far as to allow employers to betray their workers and pressure them to give up their hard-earned pension benefits. 

During the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau wrote: "I continue to believe that while they may make sense in certain circumstances, any changes to (defined benefit plans) should be made on a going-forward basis.  (Defined benefit plans) which have already paid for by employees and pensioners, should not retroactively be changed into (Target Benefit plans)."

Now your government is doing the exact opposite you promised in the 2015 election.  C-27 would allow retroactive changes to pensions.  Target Benefit plans, as would be promoted under C-27 if passed, are exactly like Defined Contribution plans - workers take on all the risks while their employers, who profited immensely from the labour of those workers, keep all of that profit for their own ends, ensuring an uncertain future for those workers after they retire.   Target Benefit/Defined Contribution pension plans free up managers to continue to make bad fiscal decisions without consequence to themselves, while workers will bear all the burden.

Yes, the least powerful and able to bear the burden, will bear all of it, thanks to your government.    

Canada needs more defined benefit pensions that will ensure a dignified retirement for workers, not fewer such pensions.  We've already seen workers' rights stripped away at every level for decades, including the stripping back of retirement pensions.  Now those few federally-regulated workers who still have defined benefit pensions are being put at risk by your legislation.  This is an attack on the middle class and all workers in federally-regulated industries, and by extension, all workers who aspire to a dignified retirement. 

While I support strengthening and increasing the Canada Pension Plan, as your government has done, these improvements will not even come close to helping those employees who stand to lose so much by your Bill C-27.   In reality, this move will ensure that more Canadians struggle in retirement while their rich managers become empowered to abandon those same workers and continue to spend recklessly and with fewer consequences. 

I urge you to abandon this attack on the middle class and all workers.  This bill would be yet another stake through the heart of working Canadians and the dignity of retirement. 

Matt Guerin
Toronto-Centre resident

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Will America avoid its 'Rob Ford' mistake next week?

Comedy Central meme interview with Trump supporter.
Over two weeks ago, Canadian columnist Andrew Coyne wrote this insightful article entitled, "How does Donald Trump still have supporters?"

In it, Coyne wrote, "The actual Republican nominee is a man who has shown himself unfit, not just for high office, but for any office; not just in his abilities as a leader, but in
his qualities as a man; not just occasionally, but on every day of the campaign.  He is not just deficient in this or that respect - knowledge, experience, judgment, tact, decency, integrity, leadership, policy - but utterly lacking in all.  Donald Trump is not just the worst candidate for president ever nominated by a major party, he is very nearly the worst candidate it is possible to imagine, and was even before it was revealed he was a serial sexual predator."

I love it when decent conservatives like Coyne show integrity and turn on horrible standard bearers like Trump.   Many also turned on another grossly flawed conservative in Toronto by the name of Rob Ford, once those flaws were exposed after he won the mayor's chair.

I'm not the first person to compare the Trump phenomenon south of the border with Toronto's own former and late mayor.   As the U.S. campaign finally winds down, I thought I'd compare the two men. 

The dynamics in this 2016 U.S. race and the 2010 mayoral election which saw Ford take the top job at Toronto city hall are eerily similar.  But there are also some major differences, which I believe will produce a different kind of result next week.   

Trump is an outsider with zero political experience.  Rob Ford was already an elected councillor with ten years experience at city hall when he ran for mayor, and a well-established record for local constituency service.  Although Ford still had a reputation for being an 'outsider.'

While Trump's bombastic campaign designed to shake up the establishment this year proved effective at vanquishing his mostly weak opponents in the GOP primary, including his pandering to racism and xenophobia in the Republican base, it has been less successful at winning over mainstream Americans.

Instead, Trump has proven to be an inept campaigner, following his shallow, stupid instincts like getting into a week-long Twitter war with a former Miss Universe after falling into every debate trap launched by his more experienced opponent Hillary Clinton.

Trump's been tone deaf and has failed to exploit Clinton's perceived weaknesses, usually going over the top in his attacks.  By contrast, Clinton's attacks on Trump have defined him as a sexist, racist jerk who is fundamentally unfit for the presidency.

In 2010, by contrast, Rob Ford's campaign was laser-like in its focus on "fighting the (imagined) gravy train" at Toronto City Hall and reducing taxes.  It was exactly what Toronto voters wanted to hear that year, at least on taxes.  Ford's main opponent was George Smitherman, an openly gay, former Liberal cabinet minister with a provincial record perceived by some as scandal-plagued and wasteful.

Sadly, Smitherman proved to be far less adept than Clinton at exposing his opponent's weaknesses.  Sure, many of us on the left knew that Ford was homophobic and racist, based on his previous comments.  Still, that didn't seem to matter to the 47% of voters who decided to give him a try in the mayor's chair.  In the end, the best theme that Smitherman could muster was essentially "I'm not Rob Ford."  That wasn't good enough to stop the Ford juggernaut that swept across Toronto's inner suburbs.  

When they voted, Toronto voters didn't know about Ford's drug and alcohol addiction problems, plus his apparent ties to criminals.   When his crack cocaine scandal emerged in 2013, many in Toronto were genuinely shocked.  Had a crack video emerged during the 2010 election campaign, it's easy to assume that Ford's campaign would've fallen off the rails like Trump's did following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood video. 

Instead, Toronto had to endure four lost years as Rob Ford spent more time smoking crack in the basements of gang members instead of governing at city hall.  It was a shit show we won't soon forget.

This year, it seems that Clinton has been able to successfully define her opponent as unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans.  Despite her own flaws and history, she is widely regarded as capable.  She's mostly won over the progressive left, aided by the generous support of her Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders.  And now she seems to have won over the majority of independents and even some moderate Republicans who've looked on in horror as Trump's enormous flaws have been exposed.

In spite of last Friday's bizarre announcement by the FBI that they've found more emails that may or may not be pertinent to the Clinton email server scandal and subsequent fall-out, it does seem that most Americans have already made up their minds.  They're not going to hand the nuclear codes to someone as obviously unfit as Trump.
@thelaynee: Trump supporter hangs black mannequins in tree.

Yet, Trump's bigoted base persists in supporting him.  Why?  In my mind, because they're largely racist and don't care much about whether Trump is otherwise unfit for office, or aren't smart enough to notice.  They've been won over by Trump's attacks on Muslims and Mexicans, and don't seem to mind his admitted history of sexually assaulting women enough to change their votes.   

Like Trump, Ford too had his diehard supporters who stuck by him and his brother despite the crack cocaine scandal as well as his failure to "stop the gravy train".  They stuck by Ford because they knew, like them, Ford hated LGBT people and spared no opportunity to show disrespect to them.  In Ford, they saw a kindred spirit.

Perhaps in some ways, Ford was a lot like his supporters.  Trump, on the other hand, is a billionaire philanderer who never gave a crap about the poor or the uneducated until he wanted to seize power with their votes.  

A very effective Clinton campaign seems to have stopped the Trump monster in its tracks, I'm glad to say.  Of course, we'll see how it goes next Tuesday.  But I'll be hoping the U.S. avoids its Rob Ford mistake.