The Niagara Independent, February 17, 2023 – Increasingly our senior-most members of parliament in Ottawa are proving they are tone deaf to the cries of frustration and despair across the country. Each passing week there are examples of PM Justin Trudeau and his cabinet ministers seemingly blind to the financial anxieties many Canadians are shouldering at the moment. As they advance their policy agendas on Canadians, they do so at best “unknowingly” or at worst they could be called “insensitive.” Whichever it is, the Trudeau government is appearing disconnected with the realities facing Canada’s middle class – and those striving to join it.
Many Canadians are presently facing a grim reality. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has reported that many Canadians are borrowing money and taking from their savings to pay for living expenses – to pay for their groceries, home and day-to-day expenses. This week Blacklock’s Reporter made public the federal regulator’s report, which describes the current state of Canadians “as the worst of times.”
Today, nearly four in 10 (38 per cent) of Canadians borrow money – some using high-cost loans. A total of 48 per cent are using their savings just to cover living expenses. There are four in 10 (42 per cent) Canadians stressed, believing “finances control their life.”
This report coincides with a Consumer Debt Report released in January by the Canadian Counselling Society that revealed four in five Canadians (82 per cent) see spending on essential goods as the primary cause of their worsening finances. A vast majority of Canadians spend sleepless nights thinking about their finances, with six in 10 (63 per cent) planning this year to cut back on their expenses, especially on their food shopping.
Consider a Stats Can release on Monday that reported a quarter of Canadians are unable to cover an unexpected emergency expense, and those most insecure are younger and racialized Canadians. That same day a bankruptcy trustee firm released its 2022 consumer insolvency numbers and reported millennials (aged 26 to 41) accounted for half of all bankruptcies. Young Canadians are buckling under the costs of soaring rents, heavy student-debt loads, and the rising cost of living.
Canadians of all ages are impacted by the 11 per cent rise in the cost of food this past year. Food Banks Canada reports a record number of people using food banks across the country – up 35 per cent since pre-pandemic times. A downtown Toronto food bank reports a 48 per cent increase in 2022. In Saskatoon, it was reported that 20 per cent of Canadians are skipping meals. In BC, there was a survey that found University of Victoria students are resorting to dumpster diving and taking unused food from their employers to get by because they cannot afford to buy groceries.
Last Friday the Prime Minister was at Algonquin College to talk with nursing students and one student had the courage to pose the following question (verbatim): “I am in my last year of nursing and I have been working this whole pandemic in group homes and I work at three hospitals right now on top of my unpaid placement. And I am still using my credit card to pay for groceries. Why are groceries so expensive? I am eating cookies from the hospital sometimes because I can’t afford lunch and I don’t even get a break. I am eating on the go. It’s just, I’m wondering why it is so hard?”
PM Trudeau responded by saying, “The answer is you shouldn’t find it this expensive. You shouldn’t be squeezed this way. This is not the way it should be…” He talked about the pandemic and problems with supply chains that “drove up price of food, fuel and fertilizer.” He mentioned that inflation is a global phenomenon – and that Canada is doing better than most. He also admitted that these things are “cold comfort” for someone who is having problems paying for their food.
In his “cold comfort” reply, what Trudeau did not broach was how his government could be addressing issues surrounding Canadians’ cost of living. He chose not to mention how his government’s gross overspending – before, during and after the pandemic – fueled what the past-Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge has said is “a Canada-made inflation.”
Trudeau also chose not to mention the impact the government’s carbon tax is having on the cost of everything in Canada – including rising food prices due to the additional taxes on farmers producing food, on truckers transporting it, and on businesses preparing and retailing it. When he mentioned fertilizer, he skipped over what his new fertilizer emissions regulations are costing our farmers.
But the PM’s non-answers to the Algonquin College nursing student is indicative of the growing gap with reality being played out in the Nation’s Capital between implementing the government’s agenda and how it is directly impacting its citizens. In knowing Canadians’ current stresses, how else can one rationalize the recent news from Ottawa?
- The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) commissioner Bob Hamilton told MPs that it was not “worth the effort” to try and recover the outstanding $15.5 billion in Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy overpayments. When some Opposition MPs expressed their disbelief that billions were simply being written off, Liberal MPs provided an iconic Trudeau shrug.
- The Quebec City pharmaceutical company Medicago announced last week that it is closing its doors – less than two years after it was given $173 million in federal grants to produce a Canadian COVID vaccine. Ottawa also signed an undisclosed deal to buy 20 million doses of their vaccine, with an option to purchase an additional 56 million. There is no comment out of Ottawa politicians or officials about Medicago; none of the millions spent is expected to be recovered for Canadians.
- This week it was revealed that the government has purposefully blocked the details about who in the government’s delegation to the Queen’s funeral occupied the hotel room costing $6,000 per night (for five nights). The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has had to launch a legal challenge to have the government divulge the details of this absurd public expense.
- The CRA union is demanding a pay raise of more than 30 per cent over three years or they threaten to strike. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) representing 120,000 federal bureaucrats is looking for a wage and benefits hike in the amount of 47 per cent over three years. Outlandish demands given the financial straits Canadians are navigating post-pandemic.
- Trade Minister Mary Ng has become the latest ethically-challenged poster-minister in the Trudeau government. Though found in breach of ethics laws, Ng told a committee of MPs that she will not repay the cost of media training contracts given to her personal friend and CBC political pundit Amanda Alvaro. When pressed to refund the $22,790, Ng avoided the question with the statement, “I made a mistake” and later she dismissed the idea outright with a classic Trudeauesque non sequitur about ethics training and the claim “we can improve.”
This news was all in the last 10 days. It follows earlier news from Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland urging approval for a $2 billion payment to a non-existent government structure for a yet-to-be-detailed program; an MP committee exposing more than $100 million of questionable consultant contracts awarded to the Trudeau-friendly firm McKinsey; a new report on federal contracts revealing $22.2 billion was outsourced in a single year; the revelation that a total of 35,000 federal bureaucrats were hired in the two years of COVID lockdowns; and, latest estimates of the federal debt charges are expected to more than double to $53 billion by 2024.
This type of confounding news for financially anxious Canadians is non-stop from the federal government these days. It is not surprising that a recent Leger opinion survey cites one in two (50 per cent) Canadians are “angry with the way Canada is being managed today.” Is it any wonder that two in three (67 per cent) Canadians agree with a certain Ottawa politician when he says that “it feels like everything is broken in this country right now.”
The frustrations, financial uncertainty, and sleepless nights all speak to the evident disconnect between that hungry nurse and the PM’s rationalizations, between bankrupt millennials and Medicago, between the university student dumpster diver and Mary Ng – in sum, between working (and coping) Canadians and the actions of this Trudeau government.
Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com