Flaherty has tears of solidarity for Rob Ford, nothing for impoverished pensioners

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Rob Ford in September.

Yesterday, Canada's Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty got all teary-eyed over the behavior and fate of Toronto's crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford.

Turns out, Flaherty is a “close friend” of the millionaire, dysfunctional Ford family. He was asked about the mayor at a business function in Toronto where he is preparing another blunderbuss budget to continue demolishing social and environmental programs and boost the fossil fuel industry. He began to speak, teared up and paused for 15 seconds, then mumbled brief nonsense about Ford family standing behind the errant son and helping him overcome his demons. 

Flaherty's spectacle occurred on a day when a new, two-minute video of the mayor was made public by the Toronto Star. It was filmed sometime earlier this year. In it, Ford is raging against a unidentified person, saying he will f***ing kill the person, 'tear his eyes out', etc. He appears to be intoxicated, clearly on some kind of drug.

But meanwhile, the federal finance minister has no similar tears or sympathy for Canada’s impoverished pensioners. At the same budget meetings in Toronto, he once again declared that he opposes any improvements to the Canada Pension Plan.

For years, Flaherty and the Harper government have been cleverly skating around pension improvement pressures coming from Canada’s trade union apparatus and its political party, the NDP. When pressure heats up, as in the summer of 2011 when mass protests were threatened by the unions, he says he'll 'think about pension increases and get back to you.' The union leaders cheer and sit back. Then Flaherty goes about his business as before.

Union and NDP inaction has become so bad, and the public demand for pension improvements so strong, that provincial governments are musing about taking their own actions, specifically of creating supplementary provincial pension plans. For a host of reasons, not least the will of premiers, the idea of provincial plans is unlikely. So we sit and wait.

Flaherty’s tears for Rob Ford are a reminder of the ties that bind the federal Conservative government to the Toronto mayor and his criminal advisors. In August 2011, newly reelected Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a very telling appearance at the annual, summer picnic spectacle of the Ford family and its ‘Ford Nation’ supporters. Harper congratulated Ford on his election earlier the previous year. He went on to say at the event: 

“Many of you may remember Rob endorsed us in the [May 2011 federal] election. That helped a lot,” Harper told the crowd in the video. “Rob is doing something very important that needs to be done here. He is cleaning up the NDP mess here in Toronto.” (Toronto Star, Aug 3, 2011)

The prime minister said his government had cleaned up the “left-wing mess federally” and said he hoped to “complete the hat trick” by turning Ontario blue come the Oct. 6 [2011] provincial election, a comment that elicited enthusiastic applause from the crowd.

Canada’s unions and the country’s hard-working pension advocates should be making plans for mass protests on Parliament Hill demanding immediate and substantial improvements to the Canada Pension Plan. It is naïve to continue to pretend that the federal and provincial governments will act without such pressure.

Ford's continued presence in the mayor's chair, meanwhile, is another troubling sign of the slide in Canada towards authoritarian rule. The spineless city council of Toronto, which unanimously endorsed the police-state actions of its police force during the G20 summit meeting in the city in 2010, can't even bring itself to adopt a resolution demanding the resignation of the mayor. Prominent civil right lawyer Clayton Ruby says Toronto police are treating Ford's activities and associations with kid gloves and are withholding vital information that should be in the public domain.


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