By Jim Harding
October 19, 2011
Has the breaking point come? Might the growing inequality and corporate greed be the sleeper in our November 7th provincial election?
THE “OCCUPY” MOVEMENT
Financial districts have been occupied in over 80 countries since the Vancouver-based magazine Ad busters suggested that Wall Street be occupied. The “occupy” movement spreading across the globe speaks of the 99% versus the 1%; since the 1980s even more wealth has concentrated at the top, among those that some now call “the filthy rich”, the 1%. Meanwhile income security is bottoming out for more and more of the common, hard-working people.
We are no exception; inequality is increasing in Saskatchewan. In 2009 the top 20% of earners got 43% of all after-tax income, while the bottom 20% got only 5% of this income. If there were 100 people earning $100 a day in total, the bottom 20 would have to share $5.00, getting an average of only 25 cents. The top 20 would share $43, giving them an average of over $2.00 a day. This wouldn’t tell the full story; the top 20 earners would perhaps include one person who got huge earnings. This 1% is mostly CEO’s and wealthy investors. In 2010 while the rest of us lost savings and earning power, Canada’s top CEO’s got a 13% increase in pay and a 20% increase in bonuses. This includes CEO’s running multinational corporations in Saskatchewan. In 2008 Cameco’s CEO had compensation of “just over $4.5 million, up from 3.7 million in 2007”. To put this in perspective, this was one-third of the $14 million in uranium royalties going to the province in 2003.
RENT, HOUSING, FOOD BANKS
Premier Wall speaks of us as a “have province”, as though resource profits trickle down to improve quality of life for everyone. Growing income inequality suggests otherwise. Things continue to get harder for working people. Since 2006, rent for a two-bedroom apartment has increased by 50% to nearly $900 per month. The cost of housing increased even more, up 90%. Our occupancy rates are amongst the highest; since 2009 Regina’s occupancy rate has been the worst in all Canada.
For every rich CEO there are thousands of homeless. From 2008 to 2010, homelessness nearly doubled here. Over 2,500 people used a Saskatchewan shelter at least once, and this wasn’t for a few days. Those using shelters just once averaged 56 days in the shelter. The largest group of homeless people was women and men aged 25-34. Rural and urban shelters are both stressed; Regina’s shelters run at 93% capacity year-round.
In March 2009, 18,875 Saskatchewan people were assisted by food banks. The number rose by 20% to 22,662 people in March 2010. More than four of ten people depending on food banks are children. By 2008, 33,000 Saskatchewan children lived in poverty and the number continues to climb. Northern Saskatchewan remains the second poorest region in all Canada.
Meanwhile, the resource boom gives incredible wealth to the large corporations. In 2007, of the $14.4 billion in resources sales, the province got only $1.8 billion in royalties. In 2010 with $1.6 billion in potash sales, royalties were only 77 million. In 2009 with $1.3 billion in uranium sales, royalties were only 105 million.
In 2010 the Sask Party government signed the New West Partnership, an agreement virtually identical to TILMA (trade, investment and labour mobility agreement) which it opposed when in opposition. This allows corporations from Alberta and BC to sue Saskatchewan for laws and policies that they think are unfair to their businesses. This could further jeopardize the crowns and force small businesses to compete with large out-of-province corporations.
The crowns have protected us somewhat from the escalating inequality. We still have the lowest auto-insurance in Canada and until 2007 we had the lowest utility bundle. Sask Water still works for a need-based rather than greed-based system, trying to ensure that quality water is available to all citizens as a right. However, even after the grave warning about the role of “inadequate oversight and enforcement” in the 2003 North Battleford water disaster, this August we had nearly 200 Drinking Water or Boil Water Advisories across the province. First Nations communities remain disproportionately at risk.
WHAT’S IN STORE?
What if Wall’s government further entrenches its majority rule? Should we expect more of the same? As I write, the government is sharpening its knives for even more privatizing of Saskatchewan resources. An estimated 27,000 square KM of oil-sands in the northwest stands ready to exploit without comprehensive land use plans, mapping of aquifers or an adequate regulatory or royalty-sharing system. In 2010 the government gave itself the authority to abolish the habitat or conservation status of crown land, which it can privatize without recourse to the legislature. First Nations and Métis communities complain that the government is continually bypassing their “duty to consult”. The Sask Party is encouraging more use of fracturing technology for shale gas drilling in spite of land and groundwater contamination. With Sask Party approval, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) continues to bypass democracy and target the north for a nuclear waste dump.
Environmental health continues to erode. Even without tar-sands projects, we have the highest greenhouse gas footprint in all Canada (72 tonnes per capita compared to 20). We are on the receiving end of most of the acid rain from Alberta’s tar-sands. And as other jurisdictions are moving towards green energy, our government continues to shore up the toxic economy. The $1.2 billion earmarked to capture carbon for a measly 100 MW unit at Boundary Dam is outrageous when you consider what kind of non-toxic renewable energy could be built for that kind of public investment.
The choice is becoming clear. Are we going to become a resource colony for the corporations who take most of the wealth out of the province and leave the toxic wastes for our grandchildren? Are we going to idly stand by while inequality increases among us? Or are we going to begin to develop a social economy, a green economy for the benefit of the environment and the 100 percent?