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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Snapshots from the pandemic class war in Canada

As the year ends the rich are not only getting richer, they are doing so so brazenly at the expense of everyone else that they obviously know there is no meaningful political or popular threat of any kind to their power and impunity. There are no bigger grifters than an unfettered corporate class.

Image via twitter

As 2020 draws to a close the coronavirus class war is playing out more-and-more obviously and openly.

For millions of North American working people the pandemic has caused untold financial and personal stress, with many having lost their jobs and incomes, being forced to work under inherently dangerous conditions and facing or experiencing bankruptcy and even potential destitution, eviction, foreclosure and homelessness. This has impacted women and people from racialized communities even harder.

Meanwhile, for much of the billionaire class, many CEOs and major corporations it has meant soaring profits, dividends and personal worth. This has often been thanks to massive public handouts and subsidies as well as pandemic regulations that benefit them. It has also been due to their ability to defeat the few attempts to force them to treat or compensate workers more fairly.

I have already looked at some of the class aspects of the pandemic response in Ontario where the "lockdown" in Toronto and Peel Region was a farce that kept most major workplaces and all schools open. It also favoured large "essential" retailers over small ones which, from a public health perspective, is nonsensical. It is worth noting, again, that schools are kept open so that people can be forced to return to or stay at work.

People working are still crowding transit lines in cities like Toronto, where despite the dramatic surge in cases for over a month now the mask "requirement" on the TTC is actually optional. While you could be heavily fined -- or even physically assaulted -- for not paying the $3.25 or less fare, you will not even be prevented from boarding if you refuse to wear one.

Social distancing is not possible on this TTC bus, November 17, 2020 - photo by Natalie Lochwin

Now that this "lockdown" is being applied to the whole province it was delayed until after Christmas, rather obviously to avoid impacting the Christmas retail season. Once it is applied to the whole province most major workplaces will continue to remain open and the favouring of major "essential" retailers will be expanded to all communities.

Across the country the rich are not only getting richer, they are doing so so brazenly at the expense of everyone else that they obviously know there is no meaningful political or popular threat to their power and impunity of any kind.

While some leftists in social media bubbles may think the times are on the verge of dramatic progressive changes, there is little evidence of this aside from wishful thinking.

Canada's alleged "social democratic" party, the NDP, as well as much of its union movement, was wildly supportive of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), which should have been called a wealth subsidy. This is, totally predictably, exactly what it has become.

Assuming that progressives had "good intentions" supporting subsidies for big business, these were, as always, misguided.

On December 7, the Financial Post revealed that:

At least 68 publicly traded Canadian companies have continued to pay out billions of dollars in dividends to their shareholders while receiving government assistance in the form of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
A Financial Post analysis found that the 68 companies received at least $1.03 billion in CEWS, a subsidy introduced by the federal government in April to help companies that had seen significant drops in their revenue cover payroll costs and avoid laying off workers. While they were receiving government assistance over the past two quarters, the very same companies paid out more than $5 billion in dividends.

And then, on December 22, the FP broke the news that:

The chief executive officers of 68 Canadian companies that paid out dividends while receiving the pandemic wage subsidy earned an estimated $30 million in dividends themselves during the quarters in which their firms accepted the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), according to an analysis of share ownership stakes by the Financial Post.

They provided this handy chart of the rich getting richer at least partly on the public dime.

Merry Christmas.

This comes after months of business groups and the Conservative Party decrying the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) as essentially promoting laziness and grifting.

There are no bigger grifters than the corporate class though.

The profiteering is by no means limited to those companies and CEOs living large on the CEWS.

Grocery chains are laughing all the way to the bank vaults on huge profits after cancelling wage premiums for frontline workers who have been deemed essential (though not essential enough for any governments to force the companies to keep the wage premiums in place) and, in the case of Loblaw, defeating a strike that should have had mass popular support and been an easy win for the union. All this while, again, increasing dividends.

The 2021 Food Price Report says rising bread, meat and vegetable prices are all expected to push grocery bills up to five per cent higher.
That means an average Canadian family of four will pay as much as $695 more on food next year, for a total grocery bill of nearly $14,000 for the year.

Of course, some people are not going to have any issue paying the grocery bill as this Globe and Mail headline quickly reminds:

From March to September, during the first wave of COVID-19, the Loblaw Weston family’s net worth increased a whopping $1.6 billion dollars.

Food prices are not all that will be increasing. Amid an eviction wave and crisis in many cities like Toronto, realtor Royal LePage relates that Canadian home prices are forecast to rise 5.5% by the end of 2021.

The structure of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and similar programs put more money directly into households with children than in comparable countries. However, while the Government of Canada did not distribute the CERB through businesses, eligibility was tied to the employment system, meaning that some of the most marginalized households, including those detached from the labour market and reliant on social assistance, did not see the same benefit. Newer pandemic protection benefits like the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) are even more closely tied to employment conditions. At the same time, families continue to face economic risk due to loss of employment, particularly among mothers.

The wealthy and well-to-do need not worry too much though. After the Liberals, backed by the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, rejected a paltry "wealth tax" proposed by the NDP and backed by the Greens, PM Justin Trudeau has since stated unequivocally that he will not raise taxes at all to pay for any temporary increased spending.

Which means when the bills come due and the crisis has allegedly "ended" at some point into 2021, we can anticipate extreme austerity. We will be confronted by a "recovery" that will be built on the backs and suffering of working people in exactly the same way as the entire pandemic economy has been kept going in the here-and-now, much to the benefit of the parasitic corporate class.



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