Canada’s federal $107 billion COVID-19 aid package props up banks on the backs of the poor

Canada’s $107 billion “COVID-19 Aid Package”, passed on March 20, is a slap in the face to every working and Indigenous person in Canada. As we lose our jobs and hear from landlords that rent will still be expected on April 1st, those of us who are not already mobilized in communities and mutual aid networks for day-to-day survival might be surprised. The contradictions of Canadian capitalist and colonial society are quickly coming into focus. 

Canada’s $107 billion response disproportionately aids… banks and bosses.

The social safety net that social democrats champion is not enough to keep people fed and housed during this crisis, and it has zero capacity to support the well-being of homeless and unemployed people. Canada’s $107 billion response disproportionately aids a very different, and far better resourced population: banks and bosses.

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, an independent agency of the government of Canada created “to contribute to public confidence in the Canadian financial system” has committed to buy up to $50 billion in mortgages. This bailout is engineered not to provide relief for Canadian homeowners or renters of these homes, but to allow banks to continue to lend (with interest of course). If the Canadian state is able to buy out mortgages of working people in Canada, why couldn’t they at least cancel (not defer) the payments of these mortgages, or even cancel them outright? 

Within seven days, more than 900,000 workers have submitted for EI benefits due to layoffs. A typical week sees about 45,000 applicants. The industries that are feeling the economic slowdown first and hardest include hospitality and tourism. Commercial air travel has come to a sudden stop and many airline companies are laying off significant parts of their workforce. We are still at the early point in this crisis, and the airline Air Transat has already laid off 70% of its employees, equaling over 3,600 workers. The union that represents Air Canada’s flight attendants have reported over 5,000 layoffs among their members. The total of these layoffs will be in the tens of thousands very shortly in this one industry alone. These numbers do not fully describe the economic fallout of this pandemic, and the working class is expected to take this on the chin and prepare to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. As regular pay cheques have dried up for over a million people in Canada, many working-class people are getting a quick answer to the question “How many pay cheques away from homelessness am I?” 

Residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside line up to collect their March welfare cheques (Jesse Winter/Reuters)

Unrelated to the current pandemic, oil prices have plummeted over the last few months. Oil and gas corporate executives were already lobbying for a federal bailout. Sixty-five Albertan oil and gas executives have signed and sent Trudeau a letter requesting a suspension of the carbon tax and income tax at every level, as well as asking for Ottawa to purchase significant shares in distressed companies, without conditions to support workers in this sector. Other than the money they are injecting into the banking, financial, and oil and gas industries directly, the Federal government is lowering interest rates, so banks can give out profitable loans to more of the population. Trudeau is ensuring that during a world wide emergency, banks are still able to grow the base of their profits.

The financial aid and resources that the Trudeau Liberals are providing to businesses is in the magnitude of billions—thousands of millions—while their aid to those communities most vulnerable to death by COVID-19 is altogether less than one-quarter of that. Homeless communities are set to receive less than $200 million, and Indigenous communities are promised just over $300 million. This is where the slap in the face will be felt as a deathblow. We will lose many lives to the collective tightening of the financial belt; there will be disproportionately many more preventable deaths from COVID-19 among homeless and Indigenous communities than any others. Tuberculosis is almost completely extinct among non-Indigenous communities in Canada, but within Indigenous communities the rate of TB is 50 times higher. This cannot be brushed away as coincidental.

While we do what we can to mitigate losses, and we will mourn the friends and family who will pass due to this virus, we also have to strike while the iron is as hot as it’s ever been in our lifetimes. This means we must organize and mobilize among our communities to fight for a better world to be formed within the shell of the old.

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