Commentary  Living the failure of neoliberalism

How the Quebec government is privatizing our schools and hospitals

The Quebec government has manufactured a fiscal crisis by making a succession of choices about public financing and the role of government. The province has developed a $4.5-billion deficit, and incurred over $150 billion of debt. Rather than addressing the choices and decisions that have led to the present situation, the government is proposing an unprecedented divestment of its responsibility to fund social programs.

The government’s coffers are bare for three main reasons: mismanagement, corruption, and tax policy. First, there is near parity between the number of managers and administrators (100,000), and the number of actual health care providers (108,000 nurses, doctors, orderlies, therapists, et cetera) in our health care system – just one example of poor management. Second, it costs about 30 per cent more to build a road in Quebec than it does anywhere else in Canada – a perfect example of corruption. Finally, we have gone from over twenty income tax brackets to three, and we have the lowest corporate taxes in North America.

One would think that with the hundreds of millions spent on managers and bureaucrats, the hundreds of millions overspent on infrastructure, and the billions in amazing tax breaks for industry, that Quebec would be the economic engine of Canada. But it isn’t. In terms of per capita GDP, Quebec is the seventh-best province in Canada.

God help me for using this terminology, but the “neoliberal” experiment has clearly failed: the “emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.” Yet, the government persists with its present course, and worse, it is ramping up the rhetoric of specialization, privatization, and divestment of social programs. These are the final steps in dismantling our public social systems – those intended to make us all a bit more equal in this gloomy world. Why? Because the government isn’t interested in the “common good,” it is interested in the wealth accumulation of the small fraction of our population that constitutes the “upper class.”

If we want to maintain a social and civilized society, one where the sick are healed, the poor are fed, clothed, and sheltered, and all have access to education, we need to make some choices about what our government is supposed to be doing, and who we want running that government. We cannot continue to allow the same people who benefit from mismanagement, corruption, and tax breaks to set policy. We need a new government and we need to revitalize what we believe our social contract is.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory. The facts are well documented, often by the government itself, which makes no attempt to hide its actions. It does, however, attempt to mislead the public in two very important ways. First, it cites demographic changes, economic hardship, and increasing demand on social programs as the cause of its financial problems. Then it pretends that its proposed solution – selling them off – is the only and obvious response to its financial woes. Make no mistake about it, this is a plan that is ideologically driven; it has little to do with economic and demographic pressures, and a lot to do with specific choices designed to sequester the wealth and resources of our society to a limited number of people. We are in the final stages of the plan’s execution.

The true modus operandi of the current regime is the privatization of social programs so that the wealthy don’t have to pay for them, and instead can profit by replacing the government as their providers. These are the same people that received the benefits of the mismanagement, corruption, and lower taxes which have made that privatization appear to be necessary.
What we really need to do for the benefit of our society is to: 1) slash our expenditures on failed corporate-style management of public programs; 2) make serious efforts to reign in the widespread corruption in our government and “public” service; and 3) reinstate the taxation of excessive income, profits, and capital accumulation.

The government has made it abundantly clear that it is no longer in the business of ensuring universally accessible services and support to its citizens. In its next budget, the government is planning to cap health care and education spending and to increase income tax breaks. While divesting from social spending, the deficit created by income (corporate and personal) tax breaks will be reduced by doing the opposite: raising tuition rates, consumption-based taxes, electricity rates, and user fees for access to social programs and services.

We also know that the government has refused to investigate rampant industrial corruption, all the while promising to increase “public-private partnerships” for the provision of education and health care. All of these measures are well studied. We know exactly what they accomplish: they disadvantage the poorest members of our society while topping-up the bank accounts of those who are already quite wealthy. Enough is enough.

At  noon on March 12, concerned citizens and public actors from across the province will be converging on Montreal’s Place du Canada (At René-Levesque and Peel) to protest our government’s plans. This protest is supported by the province’s largest labour unions and student federations, as well as over 115 community and social groups. Combined, these organizations represent over 1.25 million Quebeckers, including all of the students at McGill. The protest is expected to be huge, drawing up to 100,000 participants, and we should all be there. Please take a few hours out of your day and come help demand an equitable and rational society that supports us, its citizens. o