Unhappy start to New Year for many

The year 2012 has started off rather inauspiciously, to my mind.

The year 2012 has started off rather inauspiciously, to my mind.

There are so many things going on that are so wrong on so many fronts that it leaves our “Happy New Year” greetings with a bit of a hollow echo.

Many events affecting our world, our continent, our country, our province – even our town – barely augur well for either the immediate or the longer term future.

There’s a lot of dissension in the world – Arab spring has stretched into winter and literal chaos still reigns.

Global warming is another morass, moving forward and backward at glacial rates. Mainly, I believe, because of its varying economic impacts on so many different countries.

Greenpeace calls Canada “a climate criminal.” Internationally, however, few politicians seem agree about how to deal with it effectively and are reluctant to back noisy international environmental demands.

There’s rapidly increasing economic inequity among North American earners that is leading to more anger and division between the CEO level and the majority of earners, most of whom feel impotent while watching corporate greed proliferate.

Some do get active, as with the Occupy movement. Is it effective? I don’t know. Winter has probably been a bigger enemy than authority as the Occupy camps come down. But, with warmer weather, I expect them back – hopefully with some better-based thinking.

Our sense of impotence, however, seems exacerbated by an apparent “hands off” disinterest among powerful levels of government, both provincially and federally. In control of their own earnings, many politicians seem determined to climb rather than hold the line with the rest of us. Words and actions rarely seem to line up.

Federally, our majority Conservative government says it is targeting balanced budgets and reduced spending (including significant civil service layoffs that were never mooted during election) – but at the same time has announced incredibly-expensive multi-billion dollar taxpayer-funded programs including fighter jets and navy ships, more paid politicians, more police, more prisons, higher and higher-cost training programs, all justifiable because of a majority!

But they are not glaringly obviously supported by the middle-class taxpayer trying to make ends meet, or by the equally impotent political minority opposition.

Provincially we are certainly seeing some confusion.

Among examples, we see the exposure of unimaginable crown corporation administrator salaries and/or severance packages and numerous regionally contrary programs.

Expenditures on political attack advertisements don’t sync with a fragmenting health care system where, apparently, in some areas you have to go through the gift shop and the coffee shop to get to see a doctor in emergency.

Personally, I am astounded by a pair of recent incidents of corrosive and divisive labour relations issues in Ontario and Quebec which promise to add to the level of misunderstanding and confusion when one attempts to analyze what is actually happening and how it might impact us all.

The actions of a US-operated corporation in London, Ontario – Caterpillar Inc. – which has accepted millions in Canadian government support amaze us. It not only locks out its Ontario workforce, but wants to halve their hourly earnings and eliminate its pension plan, issues that resonate with us locally, because its workers are CAW-unionized employees, as are so many in Kitimat.

 

It is certainly not because Caterpillar and its partnering corporations are not doing well on the bottom-line. They are very healthy, but seemingly are on a Scrooge-initiative and unwilling to “share the wealth” with its Canadian employees.

Equally, the Rio Tinto Alcan lockout in Alma, Que., accompanied by managements’ operation of the smelter with major production cuts, becomes of specific interest to us in Kitimat, where our own Rio Tinto employees are guardedly and carefully negotiating a new contract in the context of a multi-billion dollar decision to modernize Kitimat  Works, that will extend its life by 50 years.

Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) national president Ken Lewenza says these two major plant lockouts – stemming from deep slashes to union wages, benefits and pension plans – reflect a growing trend in private sector contracts.

Lewenza blames weaknesses in the Canada Investment Act for the capability of off-shore corporations to drive such significant attacks on labour-relations norms in Canada.

This is all so recent that I have not read widely any Ontario, Quebec or federal government reaction to either and I watch with interest to see how governments which have pursued jobs development through financial inducements will respond to the methods being adopted.

So as I stare out at the rain and slush, 10 feet of snow on my lawn on January 4, I wonder again about whether this will be a “Happy New Year” in Kitimat.

Rio Tinto’s expansion investment is welcomed, but the ultimate loss of 500 jobs needs to be offset if our community has hopes of growing and developing.

We have other arrows in our quiver. Action on Kitimat LNG seems to be moving forward but a final commitment is needed.

However, other potential developments – especially the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipe line project — promise to start the year off with a level of disharmony never before seen in BC.

Happy, or not, it won’t be dull!

Nevertheless, my wishes to readers are for a happy and prosperous New Year.

 

ahewitson@telus.net

 

 

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