Reject scapegoating – unite to fight the real (capitalist) causes of hardship

Mass migrations globally continue due to war and environmental crises, with large numbers of deaths due to dangerous migration routes, unscrupulous traffickers, racist governments and unsafe conditions in over-crowded refugee camps.

The Safe Third Country agreement has led to the deaths of scores of people trying to reach Canada from the US, both before and after Canada closed all access points.

Last year the federal government increased immigration to 500,000 for each of the following 3 years. Canada’s population has grown by 3 percent to almost 41 million today, with another 1 million still to come. As one of the largest countries in the world, with a small population, Canada could easily accept more – and it should, since many of these refugees are coming from countries victimized by Canada’s foreign and trade policies.

However, the federal government has not provided the funds, housing, health or education services needed to accommodate this large number of immigrants and refugees. In early February it finally released a small amount of funds to feed and temporarily house refugees camped out on the streets of Toronto, after the mayor threatened to substantially raise municipal property taxes if Ottawa didn’t deliver.

Many of these new immigrants and refugees were brought to provide cheap labour at jobs and wages Canadian workers would not accept. This was seen by some as a way to drive down the general wage, and it fed into the anti-immigrant sentiments that employers and the far-right exploit in Canada and globally. Recent polls show that half of those polled blame immigrants and refugees for the housing shortage.

International students have also been brought to Canada over many years, paying exorbitant fees to universities and colleges starved for funding. These numbers have tripled since 2016, contiguous with cuts to federal funding for post-secondary education. International students pay an average of 4 times as much and up to 8 times as much tuition as Canadians for the same undergraduate courses, some of them delivered by private, for-profit companies delivering a second-class education in strip malls euphemistically called “satellite campuses.” International students are also forced to pay large sums for often inadequate food and lodging.

Now Big Business is calling on the government to rescind student visas, despite students having been accepted into universities and colleges across Canada. A coalition representing 234 public universities opposes the government’s actions, stating the inflated fees are essential to keep universities afloat. They aren’t wrong – statistics show that through their tuition and spending international students contribute $22 billion annually to the economy and support 200,000 jobs in the process.

At the same time international students, along with new immigrants and refugees, are being blamed for the shortage of affordable housing caused by Tory and Liberal federal governments’ decisions 35 years ago to pull out of the housing business, leaving it almost entirely in the hands of private, for-profit builders, developers and landlords. This is the real cause of the housing crisis that threatens all working people and youth living in Canada today.

We demand that the government adequately fund universities and colleges, eliminate tuition, and make post-secondary education free for all, including international students. We demand the government build affordable social and public housing, and we further demand an immediate roll-back of prices and profits on food, fuel, rents and housing. These are just some of the urgent demands that must be met in order to save lives today and in the future.

The Bank of Canada’s drive to recession, unemployment and austerity

In early 2024, the economy is contracting and headed into recession, with rising unemployment, rising prices and profits, inflation sitting at 3.7 percent with core inflation closer to 4 percent, Bank of Canada (BOC) interest rates at 5 percent affecting homeowners facing mortgage payments of up to $1,000 more per month, and an average $2,178 rent per month for an average unit – an increase of 8.6 percent over last year. This is on top of sky-high grocery prices and rising energy and fuel costs.

This is partnered with massive profiteering in the oil and gas sector, Big Three grocery monopolies, banks, developers, builders and corporate landlords (among others). Three grocery chains control two-thirds of all food sales and generated a profit of $6 billion in 2022 and over $6 billion in 2023, compared to an average of $1.8 billion in the 5 years before COVID. But the government and Parliament refuse to roll back or cap prices and profits, or take any action at all.

With an 18-month delay in seeing the impact of interest rate hikes, the full effect of the majority of the BOC’s hikes last year have not yet been felt. More misery is ahead for 2.2 million mortgage holders, whose renewals worth roughly $900 billion are up over the next three years.  According to RBC, mortgage holders will see their payments increase by 50 percent at renewal.

Further, population growth combined with no new residential housing construction – or action by the federal government to build public housing – means housing will be in even shorter supply and prices may yet rise, in spite of the fact that house prices are currently 30 percent higher than in 2019. While mortgage payments and rents will continue to skyrocket, evictions, bank foreclosures and repossessions will also continue to rise.

Business bankruptcies rose 57.2 percent in December 2023 compared to a year earlier, and consumer bankruptcies by 18.2 percent. This followed consumer bankruptcies of 23 percent in 2022. Personal and small business bankruptcies will continue to rise, including those driven by CEBA loans that weren’t repaid by the January 18 deadline, or with interest by March 31.

Food banks and shelters are overrun by people desperate and in need, many of them the working poor, while cities and towns struggle to address the crisis. The depth of the crisis and its deadliest consequences are visible in the opioid epidemic which is sweeping the country and claimed the lives of over 7,500 people last year alone. This excludes the thousands more who survived a lethal dose.

Meanwhile, the biggest corporations continue to rack up enormous profits, and their owners and shareholders gain enormous personal wealth. Total annual corporate profits in Canada have risen from the former $300 billion range, up to a staggering $700 billion, while global corporate profits of the top 200 companies have reach $5 trillion. Statistics Canada figures show that the wealthiest 20 percent of Canadians own 67.39 percent of the country’s wealth. The concentration and centralization of wealth is accelerating thanks to corporate power and government policies. Public anger fed by this reality, and by inaction on grocery prices and profits, is a main reason why the Liberals have lost public support.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the CEO-to-average worker pay gap exploded from 39 times to over 1,000 times between 1970 and 2000. The average worker received an average pay increase of 3 percent in 2022, despite price hikes of more than twice that much. Further, according to the National Institute on Aging, only one-third of seniors can afford to retire, and many are carrying debt; 50 percent of people aged 80 or over who are working today can’t afford to stop due to rising rent and food prices. Only one third of workers currently have workplace pensions, compared to 50 percent in the 1970s. This exposes the poverty that many people are forced into at retirement, and in 2031, one in four Canadians will be aged 65 or older.

The Bank of Canada continues its drive to a 2 percent inflation level, despite the consequences to the lives of working people. More accurately, the BOC continues to hold its interest rate at 5 percent precisely to drive down wage gains achieved by the militant strike struggles of workers across the country in 2023, and to convince workers that unions and strikes bring more pain than gain. The BOC continues to blame workers’ wages as the main cause of inflation.

Tiff Macklem, BOC Governor, said in December 2023: “With the cost of living still increasing too quickly, and with growth subdued, the next two quarters will be difficult for many.” Rate hikes are still possible, he added.

Higher unemployment is ahead as the BOC continues to slow the economy. More layoffs, fewer new jobs (only 100 created in December across Canada) with a rising population leads to growing competition for scarce jobs. Full-time job losses of 23,500 were “offset” by 23,600 part-time jobs created in December. Average job creation of 48,000 jobs per month in the first half of the year fell to about half that number in the second half; unemployment grew by 0.8% percent from April to November.

This is a deliberate, planned and organized attack on the working class by the BOC, the government and Opposition, and by finance capital.

From the February 2024 Report of the Central Committee, Communist Party of Canada

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