Monday, December 14, 2009

Christian Labour Association of Canada promotes slashing minimum wage for young adults; Wall gov’t hiding Bill 80 information from public

CLAC Bill 80 brochure, Nov. 2009

The StarPhoenix reported last month that the number of people using food banks in Saskatchewan in 2009 rose six per cent over last year. In Saskatoon, usage rose by 12 per cent. [Food bank usage rises (StarPhoenix, November 18, 2009)]

Regina Food Bank CEO Wayne Hellquist told the Leader-Post recently the food bank needs to feed a record number of families this Christmas.

“The fastest increase we’ve seen in any user group is what we call the working poor. They hold down a job, they might hold down more than one part-time job, they’re earning $10 an hour, but they're trying to feed and clothe and keep their family on $10 or $12 an hour. And if you do the math, it’s virtually impossible. If you’re spending $800 to $1,000 a month on housing, there’s not much left over at the end of the day to insure that your family has a great Christmas,” Hellquist said.

In all, the food bank needs to prepare Christmas hampers for at least 1,800 families – as many as 250 families and 1,500 individuals more than last year. Hellquist also pointed out nearly half of the food bank’s clientele are kids. [Food bank helping more than ever this year (Leader-Post, December 4, 2009)]

On December 4, 2009, the StarPhoenix reported that the wage gap in Saskatchewan is getting worse.

Legions of Saskatchewan workers – general labourers, retail employees, office staff and care home workers – are surviving at or just above the minimum wage of $9.25 an hour, Saskatchewan News Network senior reporter Jason Warick wrote.

Despite Saskatchewan’s image as a bastion of social equality, the separation between high- and low-income earners continues to widen.

“The gap between the richest and poorest families in Saskatchewan has increased dramatically over the past generation and has mushroomed since 2000 -- during the best of economic times,” former University of Regina sociology professor Paul Gingrich wrote in his study Boom and Bust: The growing income gap in Saskatchewan.

According to the study, released in September, Saskatchewan’s income gap is now the largest of all provinces. The richest 10 per cent of Saskatchewan families take home 28 per cent of all income, while those in the entire bottom half earned 20 per cent, Warrick wrote.

Although Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate is low, much of the recent job growth has occurred in the typically low-paying service sector.

“The thought was that Saskatchewan was more egalitarian -- that just isn’t what the figures say,” Gingrich said in an interview.

“It’s a pretty bad situation for the bottom 10 or 20 per cent.”

A growing income gap will lead to a divided society, higher crime rates and poorer overall health, Gingrich said. [Wage disparity widens in Sask. (StarPhoenix, December 4, 2009)]

The provincial minimum wage board reviews the minimum wage every two years.

On September 25, 2009, the provincial government announced that a review was underway and invited the public to submit their opinions and concerns with the minimum wage by October 30, 2009.

It seems as far as the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) is concerned, the minimum wage is too generous for some people.

In its October 23, 2009, submission to the board CLAC recommends slashing the minimum wage by 10 per cent for people under the age of 21 years.

“A lower minimum wage rate for young and single adults encourages companies to hire youth who require work experience and on-the-job skills training. This approach offers young people opportunities to develop their skills for long term employment beyond summer and occasional employment while they attend school,” said the letter’s author, Chris Bosch, CLAC’s director of research and education.

Bosch says a high minimum wage for young people encourages early withdrawal from school and notes that public policy should encourage young people to get essential workplace skills while they attend school.

CLAC’s recommendation seems ill conceived and contradicts other statements in its submission.

Bosch notes that “a guaranteed minimum wage is an important provision for workers.” He said it attempts to provide adequate incomes to young people entering the labour market for the first time; for low-skilled adults workers who, in many cases and through no-fault of their own, are not candidates for higher-paid employment but still require the means to provide for themselves; and for single-parent households where the ravages of child poverty are most apparent.

Incredibly, Bosch says CLAC is “a labour union concerned for the welfare of Saskatchewan workers.”

What kind of labour union fights for lower wages that would cause additional hardship for those barely getting by or push others on the bubble over the edge into even greater poverty and despair?

Not only does the CLAC proposal discriminate against a person’s age it would also penalize young and single adults with children. It would hurt those under 21 years of age that aren’t in school or not living at home. It would also hammer first and second year post secondary students trying to hold down a job while they’re in school.

Present legislation does not permit CLAC to unionize construction companies in Saskatchewan. Construction workers who work for unionized sites must join the union associated with their particular trade. Bargaining is held on a province wide basis by trade.

CLAC, along with business lobby groups like the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, lobbied the right wing Saskatchewan Party government to change the legislation.

On March 10, 2009, their wish was granted as the provincial government introduced amendments to The Construction Industry Labour Relations Act, 1992 (CILRA) that would allow groups like CLAC to organize in Saskatchewan.

According to records obtained through a freedom of information request, Paul de Jong, the Prairies director of the CLAC, and Mike Carr, an associate deputy minister with Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL), were in contact up to a week before the bill’s introduction.

In a March 3, 2009, email to Carr, de Jong alluded to an earlier conversation and seemed to be providing information that Carr requested.

“When we last spoke,” de Jong said. “You reminded me that it would be helpful to provide some sense of how many members we have working in, or based from, Saskatchewan. Using 2008 statistics, it would appear that we have 1270 members who live in Saskatchewan, and work elsewhere (typically in Alberta). However, some of these members actually both live and work in SK, as we have contractors such as Pyramid Electrical Corporation, who have permanent/ongoing maintenance work within the province. Also, contractors have, and continue to, work in the province on a variety of construction projects. On these projects CLAC continues to represent the employees, but with the crucial difference being that we are not able to conclude a legal collective agreement on which those members can rely.

“Many of our contractors continue to ask me about our prospects in SK, as they, notwithstanding the current economic slowdown, are in a position to bid on a variety of infrastructure and private sector construction projects that continue to be released. These contractors are very keen to see evidence that they/we can operate legally within the province.

“Any updated information you could provide about the legislative process would be much appreciated.”

Carr replied on March 4, 2009: “Paul this is very helpful thanks. We are moving ahead as planned and expect to have some positive announcements perhaps as early as next week. We will be touch. Thanks again.”

Carr did indeed keep in touch with de Jong sending him at least three more emails with the last one coming on the day the legislation was introduced.

Confident of success CLAC opened an office in Saskatoon on July 1, 2009. [Bill 80, new union threat to construction workers: SFL (StarPhoenix, June 24, 2009)]

Speaking at a North Saskatoon Business Association luncheon on November 27, 2009, AEEL Minister Rob Norris told a crowd of more than 200 people that the legislation would pass.

“Bill 80 is a priority for this government. This bill is going to pass,” Norris said. [Bill 80 will pass, Norris tells crowd (StarPhoenix, November 28, 2009)]

During that same week households in Regina and Saskatoon received a feel good colour brochure from CLAC promoting the so-called union and Bill 80.

Oddly, the one thing the pamphlet didn’t say is what the CLAC acronym stands for. Not once is the word Christian mentioned. It’s assumed the reason for this is they’re afraid of scaring people off. That in itself says a lot.

The flyer appears to fulfill one of the group’s objectives outlined in its original constitution and by-laws adopted at the first convention on April 24, 1954: “To reach its aim the C.L.A. of C. shall… Make propaganda by the written and spoken word for Christian economic and industrial principles and their proper application; and counteract the unwholesome propaganda of radical labour groups inspired by anarchistic or communistic principles.”

CLAC’s aim as stated in the constitution is: “To organize workers in trade and industrial unions, for the purpose of propagating, establishing and maintaining justice in the sphere of labour and industry, and promoting the economic, social and moral interests of the workers through the practical application of Christian principles in collective bargaining and other means of mutual aid or protection.”

The language used in CLAC’s current literature may have softened since then but the underlying aim, principles and objectives generally seem to be the same.

The provincial government, meanwhile, is continuing to hide information about Bill 80 from the public.

In response to an access to information request made October 20, 2009, AEEL released two heavily censored briefing notes dated September 15 and October 8, 2009, in which ministry officials completely blacked out the ‘key messages’ portion in each. Also redacted were details on the bill’s current status.

For most briefing notes it’s the key messages that are used by ministers or senior staff to sell a particular initiative to the public. In this case if the key messages aren’t for the public then who are they for?

The Brad Wall government contends that Bill 80 will be good for Saskatchewan but at the same time goes out of its way to withhold as much information as possible.

Paul de Jong and Mike Carr emails, March 3-4, 2009

CLAC Constitution and By-Laws adopted April 24, 1954

AEEL Bill 80 briefing note, Sept. 15, 2009

AEEL Bill 80 briefing note, Oct. 8, 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

Saskatchewan Conservative MPs blow $1.1-million on partisan mailouts in last 3-years; Vellacott, Lukiwski, Scheer & Fitzpatrick each top $100,000

The $100,000 Club – Vellacott, Lukiwski, Scheer & Fitzpatrick

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was in Toronto on November 20, 2009, to give a speech at a combined meeting of the Canadian Club of Toronto and the Empire Club of Canada on the current state of the Canadian economy and how the federal government’s Economic Action Plan is positioning the country for continued economic recovery.

According to Les Whittington, a reporter in the Toronto Star’s Ottawa bureau, Flaherty acknowledged that Canada’s economy is fragile saying “there are some tentative signs of recovery, but even with some early positive signs, there is still no evidence of firm growth.”

Whittington outlined the Harper government’s financial mess:

▪ a budget deficit of $56 billion this year and cumulative budget deficits totalling $164 billion by 2014; and,

▪ continuing high unemployment, at 8.6 per cent, following the loss of 400,000 jobs in the past year.[Don’t expect more stimulus, Flaherty says (Toronto Star, November 21, 2009)]

With numbers this grim you’d think Conservative politicians would be inclined to do their part by controlling costs in their constituency offices. But no, they’re not doing that. They’ve instead chosen to increase spending in some areas, most notably printing costs for the seemingly endless stream of nasty, partisan flyers sent to people’s homes.

There are two kinds of mailings MPs are allowed to send using taxpayer funds: householders and ten percenters. Both are produced and mailed at taxpayers’ expense.

A householder is an oversized, often two-colour newsletter that tells constituents what the MP has been doing in Ottawa and in the community. An MP can send up to four householders per calendar year.

Ten percenters, according to the Hill Times, an Ottawa-based independent weekly newspaper on federal politics, “are single page photocopied black and white flyers” that “must be 50 per cent different from each other.”

“MPs are currently allowed to send unlimited numbers of Ten Percenters to constituents in their riding or any other riding in the country so long as the number does not exceed 10 per cent of the population in the riding,” the Hill Times said in August.

“Once a month, however, MPs can participate in a “regrouping” where any number of MPs from the same party can send the same Ten Percenters to households anywhere in the country. The total number of Ten Percenters are not allowed to exceed 10 per cent of voters in each of the members participating in the regrouping and are coordinated through the parties whips’ offices.” [Ten Percenters should be less partisan or be eliminated (The Hill Times, August 17, 2009)]

Each year the Speaker of the House of Commons, on behalf of the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE), tables the consolidated Individual Member’s Expenditures report pursuant to BOIE By-laws. The 2008-2009 report was tabled November 4, 2009.

The document includes member spending on staff, office rent, supplies, travel and printing — which includes the cost of sending out the infamous ten percenter householders.

Records show that since the Conservatives took office in January 2006, the cost of printing has increased a whopping 69 per cent going from $5.94-million in 2005-2006 to $10.06-million in 2008-2009.

A recent analysis of the report by Montreal’s Le Devoir found that the minority Conservatives spent $6.3-million on the mailouts last year, while opposition MPs spent $3.8-million. [La propagande conservatrice se nourrit de fonds publics (Le Devoir, November 16, 2009)]

In the last three years, Saskatchewan Conservative MPs have managed to blow more than $1.1-million on flyers. Leading the spending spree was Saskatoon–Wanuskewin MP Maurice Vellacott with $123,995, followed closely by Regina–Lumsden Lake MP Tom Lukiwski at $122,383. Rounding out the top four was Andrew Scheer (Regina–Qu’Appelle) with $113,143 and former Prince Albert MP Brian Fitzpatrick at $103,081.

The biggest spender last year was Lukiwksi with $50,348, an increase of 60 per cent from 2006-2007 when he racked up printing expenses of $31,402.

Then there’s Gerry Ritz, the Tory MP for Battlefords–Lloydminster, who increased spending from $5,436 in 2006-2007 to $34,846 in 2008-2009 – or 541 per cent.

Meanwhile, Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, the province’s only non-Conservative politician, spent just $13,629 last year, a decrease from the previous two years.

Rookie MP Kelly Block (Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar), spent $4,694 in 24 weeks from the day she was first elected on October 14, 2008 to March 31, 2009.

Block was the center of controversy recently when she appeared to favour spanking in one of her flyers calling it a “traditional punishment.”

The StarPhoenix reported that Block sent the mailout with the words “Are Parents Criminals?” to her constituents, asking them to help her fight a Senate bill that would see parents charged for it by mailing back their answer to a question on whether they support spanking as a form of punishment.

“The Liberal dominated Senate already voted to approve this terrible idea last year,” the mailout says. “(The bill) is designed to make moms and dads into criminals for using the traditional punishment of spanking to teach their kids right from wrong.”

Block did not return multiple interview requests seeking comment. [MP favours spanking (StarPhoenix, October 5, 2009)]

In addition to the infamous spanking flyer, Block has sent out at least nine other ten percenters in the last few months promoting the Conservative government. Nearly all contain an election style ballot across the bottom of the page with the names of four federal party leaders and an arrow pointing to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The flyer asks the recipient to check off ‘Who is on the right track’?

Block’s mailouts are not only self-serving propaganda they’re also wasteful.

Contacted on October 1, 2009, staff at Block’s Parliament Hill office said each mailout is sent to approximately 30,000 households all taxpayer expense. This means at least 300,000 sheets of paper were used to produce the MPs ten recent flyers, most of which likely ended up in the garbage.

Block’s website has a page called: ‘In Your Mail Box....What Kelly has sent out’. There you’ll find a downloadable calendar and her spring and summer 2009 householders but no ten percenters. It could be that Block and the Conservative Party don’t want voters to realize just how much public money they’re wasting.

Kelly Block flyer received Nov. 19, 2009

Kelly Block flyer received Oct. 29, 2009

Kelly Block flyer received Oct. 21, 2009

Kelly Block flyer received Oct. 6, 2009

Kelly Block flyer received Sept. 30, 2009

Kelly Block flyer received Sept. 25, 2009

Kelly Block flyer received Sept. 17, 2009