The government in Ottawa has put terrorism high on its agenda but a far more urgent concern of immediate importance to Canadians is the state of the economy.
The Stephen Harper government is very focused at the moment on Islamist terrorists and weeding out any related plots or radicalization activity that would occur here in Canada. To that end, the anti-terror Bill C-51 is the subject of much discourse in Parliament and in public pronouncements from the Prime Minister himself.
The killing of two Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil and the recent threats to bomb malls in North America add fuel to the fire.
The government’s effort is paying off since the public’s preoccupation has now latched on to fear of terrorists and of terrorism. Furthermore, the fear is being projected onto people of Muslim faith. Harper’s public comments regarding a Mississauga woman’s refusal to remove her religious garb during her taking the oath as a Canadian citizen may well serve to increase his approval rating in Quebec.
With the public in a distracted state of fear over the matter of terrorism, the other much more urgent matter rests on the back burner, despite the fact that it hits much closer to home. That is the failing state of our current economy and the growing underclass.
But this is an election year, so the message that will get votes has to be well rooted and massaged until it is considered to be the priority. The rate of crime has fallen significantly over the past 20 years, yet the Harper government is making a big deal about not granting parole to people sentenced to life in prison despite legal provisions already being firmly in place to prevent dangerous individuals from ever being let out.
Crime and punishment are a much easier message to get out than having to frankly acknowledge that the strategy of cutting taxes has eroded the social safety net and is partly to blame for increasing economic insecurity for a growing number of Canadians.
Harper would have to find a distraction, especially now that the oil cartel in the Middle East has taken aim at weakening Alberta’s petroleum industry. Harper’s voting base out west, faced with the impact of the oil price war, will need to hear some other strong message if they are to be convinced to give the Conservatives another term in Ottawa.
Harper’s mission to cut government as much as possible, of starving it by cutting taxes, is now showing in the extent to which the gap between the rich and the poor has grown and continues to grow.
Study after study, whether from business interests such as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce or from social service-oriented organizations such as the United Way tell of the same findings, which is that a significant portion of workers in this country are falling farther behind in maintaining a healthy income to support a healthy lifestyle.
In the absence of stable employment and real cost of living pay rates, the piecemeal jobs environment in which many – from college professors to graphic designers to administrative workers to factory workers – now find themselves has had no response from the federal government.
There is no national labour standards bill being put forward by the Harper government to support workers in this unstable economy. There is no push to get coverage for dental care or other needed benefits for the growing legion of the so-called self-employed. Instead, the Harper government has made it harder to access support payments for those who find themselves unemployed. With the exception of retired senator Hugh Segal, the federal Conservatives have not even come close to understanding that we are approaching an era when a guaranteed annual income must be discussed.
The Conservatives are gambling that fear of Islamist terrorists will trump the fear of job insecurity and poverty. This cynical ploy speaks to the way this government views the electorate. This is an abandonment of duty to a growing population of underserved workers in this country.