A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Canada is a corporate plutocracy

I want to state what I believe is the main reason why we don't have a democracy anymore. It's because Big Business has established themselves as the policy makers in this country. We do not elect them. They are not accountable to us. However, they have the ear of probably at least 95% of our elected officials. They are, in effect, the puppet masters. Their involvement in Canadian politics (all levels of Canadian politics) is not all that transparent, although in some ways it is blatant. It's hard to believe perhaps - and that is why their control has slipped by us. I will share what I have learned so far in order to get the ball rolling. It will hopefully help us start understanding why politicians do what they do; make decisions that benefit the filthy rich corporate players and undermine the rest of us, and especially the environment and the poor. And another question; why do politicians these days come from and return to the business world instead of the legal world or whereever they used to come from? Once you start thinking about it, the government's strict adherence to right-wing corporate ideology, which is totally un-patriotic, only makes sense in light of the fact that they and the business elite are one and the same.

There is a group in Canada called the BCNI: Business Council on National Issues (Now renamed CCCE). I think most of us don’t know about this group; I only recently found out about them. Here are some main points (all quotes are taken from Tony Clarke’s 1997 book, Silent Coup):
-The BCNI was formed in April, 1977, by Canada’s top business leaders (lead by W.O. Taits, CEO of Imperial Oil and Alf Powis, CEO of Noranda Mines) to act as a streamlined, effective business lobby with the purpose of essentially wresting power away from the government in favour of a free-market system in which corporations would no longer be held in check. Its contempory in the US was the Business Round Table, out to accomplish the same goals.

-After exerting pressure onto Pierre Trudeau and winning a few battles with him, the BCNI became firmly entrenched in Canadian politics with the 1984 election of Brian Mulroney. Mulroney opened up the door to the Corporate Market after having been given hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations.

-To the BCNI, there was too much democracy in Canada and that had to change. They lobbied for tax cuts and then suggested revenues be made up for with the GST – they wrote the policy for this, presented it to Brian Mulroney’s Tory government, and it was made into law. The GST is a corporate subsidy paid by us, suggested by corporate CEO's and approved by our elected government.

-It was the BCNI that lobbied in the early 80’s for the focus of the government to change from unemployment to fighting inflation.

-p. 29 "Canada’s major banks and investment houses wanted to secure greater control over the country’s fiscal and monetary policy. Historically, the federal government was responsible for managing monetary policy through its agency, the Bank of Canada. But, throughout the 1980’s, both the BCNI and the Howe Institute called for substantial changes in the central banks’ mandate and greater independence from the cabinet and elected officials. At the same time, they urged Ottawa to depend more on private financial markets. In the past, when the government needed extra funds to finance its debt load, it traditionally relied on interest-free loans from the Bank of Canada. In 1977, for example, the Bank of Canada held 21 per cent of the federal debt. When the Mulroney government took office in 1984, the Bank held only 10.5 per cent of the federal debt, and this portion dwindled to 6 per cent by 1993. Moreover, Ottawa not only agreed to borrow more from private banks at much higher interest rates, but it also abolished the requirement that private banks hold non-interest paying cash reserves with the Bank of Canada, thereby allowing them to pile up many millions more in interest and profits. In turn, these new monetary policies served to multiply Ottawa’s mounting debts."

-In this way, the BCNI engineered a Canadian panic about paying off debts rather than attending to unemployment or other social programs. Keeping people unstable was in their best interests; they could keep wages lower and unions weak. People all through the 1980’s, 90’s and up until today still believe that we can not afford strong social programs for our most vulnerable citizens, while the corporations walk away with millions of dollars of profit each year and who knows how much environmental damage which they will never pay for. They have purposefully eroded our health and education systems as well. Their goal has been a weak, disenfranchised, struggling society with no political power of their own; this is what best serves their needs to make more money. On the other hand, huge expenditures which serve big business are readily made all the time - just look through the daily news to find examples of this.

-In 2008, the top 10 CEO’s in Canada earned between them a record-breaking 1 billion dollars(this statistic comes from the Canadian Council on Policy Alternatives).

-All the major political parties are influenced heavily by the BCNI. In Clarke's book he outlines various amounts of money donated to both the Conservative and Liberal parties by various member corporations of the BCNI or other business groups. I didn't write down the details (and I had to return the book to the library) but the sums were extremely large...anywhere from $25 000 to more than $100 000, over and over again. This information is available through the freedom of information act.

“Ultimately, what counts for the big business barons is not which party forms the government but whether they can maintain their stranglehold over the levers of power and policy-making in the nation’s capital and the provinces. As long as the BCNI, through its member corporations, had the ability to buy parties and elections, it would retain the power to steer the ship of state.” p. 37 The laws have changed about campaign donations, but if you think that big business can’t find ways to circumnavigate the laws, guess again. They can hide money in Swiss bank accounts; surely they can hide campaign donations too.

This influence of the government by big business is true at all levels of government. The recent meat legislation in BC, for example, was almost certainly a campaign spearheaded by a couple of powerful factory farms as an attempt to squeeze out small producers. The claim that it was motivated by a desire to protect people’s health is ridiculous when we know that tainted meat comes from the factory farm system, not from small, local farms. There is no scientific or common sense basis for this law and intense lobbying by farmers and consumers has not been able to change it to date.

When it comes down to it, all environmental battles that are pitched in this country are a fight between people trying to save environments and/or people and corporations trying to make a profit. It doesn’t matter what issue you look at – it can be traced to corporate greed and governmental support of that greed.

A flawed economic theory has been driving globalization and Canadian politics for 30 years now. The experiment is failing. The gap between the rich and the poor has grown. The environment is being destroyed, species being lost at an accelerated pace. We are putting too much carbon needlessly into the air; farming practices alone are releasing carbon through mis-management of both soil and livestock. Humans are just cogs in a machine in this way of viewing the world. We need to live under a different paradigm, one where the dollar is not the bottom line. We need to become educated about civic life and re-gain our voices as a free and democratic people. We need to do it now.

For More Information See:
The work of Ed Finn, John Ralston Saul, Tony Clarke, Maude Barlow, Naomi Klein,
I strongly recommend reading Tony Clarke's Silent Coup
Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

2 comments:

puck said...

You may be interested in how the corporate lobby has gutted workers compensation protections for people injured on the job. Workers compensation is government legislated but paid for by corporations who have been lobbying for lower fees (which translates to denied claims for injured workers). Families are falling into poverty because of this. The Canadian Injured Workers Society at http://ciws.ca explains the issues and has a link to an online petition calling for an inquiry into WCB wrongdoing.

Monique said...

Yes, I was actually a victim of this once too. A school I was working in was painted with the wrong paint.... I had a strong reaction and lost 3 days of work over it. Although the inquiry eventually found in my favour, the adjudicator didn't understand that I had lost pay so didn't award it back to me (duh!). At the time I was a union member but my case was never properly dealt with because the union lawyer was switched half way through. I was lucky to have a union lawyer in the first place- most folks don't have help with this sort of thing. What I didn't realize was that this was just one example of the systemic dismantling of a socially-oriented democracy. I'll look up that site - thanks for the info.