Category Archives: Christy Clark

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose”; or, how to ideologically re-structure your student society: a beginner’s guide: the SFSS CUPE Lockout

By Joel Blok, originally published here

This summer five years ago, the Board of Directors of the SFSS suspended its office staff, barring them from entering their offices and sending them home.  This past Thursday, a different board issued a lockout notice to its office staff, preventing them from work.

In 2006, the rhetorical justification was fiduciary responsibility to the society.  This summer, it’s financial responsibility to the student members.

The arguments will be different, and the current board will undoubtedly do its utmost to disassociate itself from 2006.  The outcome has yet to be seen.  But the goal, invariably, is the same.  The board of directors of the SFSS have unilaterally decided to re-structure the student society, and will exhaustively work to rhetorically cloak their own ideological efforts as being in your best interests.

Here’s the structural reality: the SFSS cannot exist without its staff.  None of the many services it offers could be accomplished, none of the important campaigns it mounts could be undertaken, none of the advocacy that it does could occur without the honest and sincere labour of the staff of the student society.  So how do you radically alter the direction and orientation of your society, with no transparency, accountability or consultation?  You replace your staff.

The important lesson that this board apparently learned from 2006 is to undertake this project under a more “legitimate” (though no less antagonistic) means.  As there is no contract in force between the SFSS and its employees, the board can, legally under the labour code, lock its workers out.  The last time draconian staff re-structuring was afoot, the board was much less sophisticated, and much clumsier, in its approach.  This time, you will hear arguments about how student unions and clubs will not be funded, how the membership is being taken advantage of by the “shamefully” high cost of providing fair employment to SFSS staff.  You will of course be told of the “intransigence” and “unreasonableness” of the union, who, as of course you all know, are simply unrealistically greedy individuals exploiting the system, and through it, you.  You will be told that, in spite of the board’s best intentions, this is the only way the society can fulfill its “constitutional” duties to its membership, and that the “fiscal reality” of the situation is that either you will lose resources and service, or staff will have to be cut.

All of which carefully distracts from the real imperative of the board in a clever sleight of hand.  The question really has nothing to do with the fallacious and reductive “staff vs. students” antagonism that is being presented, but rather with the ability of the board to exercise unchecked executive power over the society. Again, there’s a clear manipulation of the market discourse. While employing the staff causes “financial problems”, the real “market value” of their labour is never honestly discussed or disclosed when the management goes after the union.

Anyone who has worked in, for, or with the student society knows categorically the importance of the staff to the organization.  Not only does their labour ensure its continued functions, but their expertise and experience, their institutional memory, guarantees that it continues to exist beyond the whims of a one-year-term board.  The staff at the SFSS not only actually provides the services that this board will argue they are threatening, but ensures that those services exist in a meaningful way, that students can depend upon them as they undertake their studies, from year to year.  Without the SFSS staff none of the services their continued employment is purportedly threatening would exist in the first place.  Without the serious responsibility and care they feel towards the students they work for, there’d be no student society to speak of.

The ultimate goal here is not to ensure the “financial viability” of the SFSS; there were plenty of options open to the board both on and off the table before they decided to lockout their employees.  The goal is to remove staff from the equation as much as possible so that decisions of the board are increasingly unchecked, to consolidate executive power, and to allow the unfettered re-construction, or more ominously de-construction, of the society as a whole.  Like those directors of 2006, this current board is undertaking a project of “staff-restructuring” to re-organize the society as they themselves see fit, without membership input.  But don’t worry, this is in your best interest, just trust us.

Joel Blok is a PhD Candidate in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, the Chief Steward of the Teaching Support Staff Union, and was a graduate student representative on the Board of the Simon Fraser Student Society once upon a time.

Online activists can join a solidarity group on Facebook, supporting SFSS staff here, or can tweet using #SFUlockout as a hashtag.

I, for one, would like an HST job – and it might sway my vote.

If you’re registered to vote in BC, and provided that Elections BC hasn’t completely screwed up your voter registration (I have, at times, received three voter information cards for variations on my name), you’ve probably by now received a ballot in the mail for the mail-in referendum on the HST in BC.

(If you haven’t received a ballot, contact Elections BC ASAP!)

There’s been a lot of discussion about the HST. Is it bad for families, is it good for business, is it the spawn of evil reptilian kitten eaters from outer space, on and on and on.  But strangely, thanks to British Columbia’s unique citizen-driven initiative legislation, we now have the opportunity to vote yes or no to say no or yes to the HST.

And my vote is up for grabs.

The rhetoric around the HST has confounded many.  There was an argument that some said the government claimed the HST would be revenue neutral, though I’m not sure of any public proclamations that support this thesis.  There was the argument advanced that prices would magically drop by the savings that businesses managed to get in HST – a neoclassical economic argument if ever there was one.  And no one has noticed that the costs in grocery stores have gone down 12% – if anything, a lot of them have gone up by a comparable number, and then more and more through inflation.

But now we find that the rhetoric has shifted even more – the business coalition / BC Liberal support squad that is supporting the HST is claiming that the HST creates jobs.  Jobs! they scream.  Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!  This group’s twitter username is even @hstjobs – which shows you how intensely they’re investing in the narrative that the HST will magically create jobs.

So here we come to the crux of the issue – I need a job, in BC.  And I’m willing to take one that’s been created by the HST. But I can’t find any.  And I have experience – five years of progressively senior administrative roles in a nonprofit, two years of Board-level experience on a $350 million+ per year public institution charged with a public trust, and on and on and on.

Find me an HST-created job that matches my experience and education, and I’ll vote for the HST.

But I don’t think you will.  Because the myths that surround the HST are so intense that even this idea that the HST creates jobs is bunk, too.  The economic theory behind the HST is relatively sound – the old system put taxes on a lot of business ‘inputs,’ the things that businesses buy then process or use to sell to you – and the HST claims to remove these, saving business huge amounts of taxes.

It’s a sound theory if you’re fine with the tax burden being transferred – what businesses used to pay, people like you and me now have to.  The theory isn’t so sound when the claim that prices should have dropped 12% is evaluated, as that definitely didn’t happen.  But let’s get back to this idea that changing input taxes will create jobs.  Because I still need an HST job, and I’m willing to vote for the HST if someone can find me one.

But how could the HST create jobs?  Imagine you’re a business, and you spend roughly $600,000 a year in business input costs.  I believe GST was always exempted on business inputs, but I’m willing to be corrected on that fact.  With the idea of $600k in input costs, we can hypothesize the following figures:

  • $42,000 in PST input taxes paid by company
  • If the inputs were not GST exempt, up to $72,000 in input taxes.

So, by removing the input taxes for businesses, our hypothetical company that pays $600k in input costs (meaning, without labour and assuming a 200% markup, the business could see as much as $1.2 million in annual gross sales, alone generating a possible $144,000 in taxes) could save between $42,000 and $72,000.

There’s definitely enough in there to hire someone, maybe two people at relatively good salaries.  So perhaps there are jobs to be found in the HST?

Nope. The reasoning is flawed – first, a huge amount of business inputs were already tax exempt, either fully or partly.  I worked in retail in a business supply store – we were used to people presenting PST and GST numbers and we had to deduct taxes at the till.

Second, there’s a quirk with the HST, that I discovered when I handled HST implementation for the nonprofit I worked with.  While in the past a tax number might have meant that taxes were deducted at source for business inputs – imagine a box of paper for a print shop – the HST doesn’t allow this.  Businesses have to pay the HST up front, and receive deduction or reimbursement for it later.

So, instead of saving that $42k – $72k, our hypothetical $1.2m grossing company has to pay it, and apply for reimbursement later.  If our hypothetical company is running on a shoe string, the actual increased costs of HST compliance might mean that they’re paying more than they used to.

I came across a letter from a small-business owner, one that might fit the parameters of our hypothetical business, that shows what’s happening in the real world. The business owner says:

On top of our lease we were horrified, to say the least, that when the HST kicked in, our overhead on our lease was driven up $795.00 per month over night. This has put us in such a bad position we have had to let go one of our staff members that works the afternoons here, which has caused her a lot of distress as she quite loved working here.

And:

Personally myself, I feel my staff of 13 and all 50 of our clients haven’t seen the benefit to the HST. The HST may end up being a deduction for me come tax time, but it doesn’t help me intermittently and that’s when I need that money. The $795 could come in handy now, especially for our laid off staff member.

So, let’s get this straight.  In the hypothetical, neoclassical economics fantasy world where prices go down if inputs go down, the HST might allow businesses to save money on their inputs enough to create jobs.

However, the input prices don’t go down with the HST, not at first.  In fact, many – if not most – go up. So businesses are paying more now but get it back later.  And unless they have a lot of capital floating about, they won’t be able to afford to hire someone based on unrealized gains in the future.

That being said, I’m still willing to vote to keep the HST if someone offers me a job commensurate with my experience and my education. So, if you’re reading this, and you’re looking to hire an MA grad with five years of nonprofit admin experience, two years of board-level experience with a major public institution, and excellent communication skills, leave a comment below.  Offer me a job that pays well, and if it’s the direct result of your business saving money through the HST, I’ll vote to keep the tax.

Because that’s the argument, isn’t it?  Vote for the HST, that was promised not to happen but then foisted on us, that was the brainchild of Gordon Campbell and his band of BC Liberal buccaneers, or you’ll not have any jobs.  Vote for the HST and you might be lucky enough to get one.

I have a feeling I’ll be voting “yes” in the end… but, my vote is up for grabs. I, for one, would like an HST job. 😉

Releasing Government Bad News Under Cover of a Hockey Game

Based on the bad news coming from the BC and Canadian governments under cover of game one of the Stanley Cup finals, we should be wary of the Canucks going to seven games.

It used to be Friday afternoons were a great time for governments to release bad news. The week’s media cycle was drifting off into a weekend and there would be less room for public analysis than if bad news was released at 9am on a Monday. This is why I am always scouring news websites after 3pm on Fridays. Just in case.

But yesterday, game one of the Stanley Cup finals was a perfect day for bad news because the city, province and much of the country was fixated on the hockey game. Here’s what contemptuous filth emerged while we were anticipating the game…in case you missed it:

1. A few days ago, the BC Liberal government changed the date and time of budget estimates debate for the premier’s office to coincide with the hockey game. Budget estimates debates are when the opposition can examine the contents of each line item of the provincial budget. In a contemptuous, cynical obstruction of democracy, transparency and accountability, the premier decided that debate about her office budget would take place when virtually no one would be interested in watching on Hansard TV and virtually all of the media would be distracted.

2. On a related note, BC Liberal cabinet minister Moira Stilwell [whose Twitter introduction to her leadership debate was a moderate failure] tweeted on Monday how much she was distressed at the legislature sitting past dinnertime this week. I’m sure she was being at least somewhat facetious, since they might have to miss the hockey game:

The house is sitting till 9pm this week; couldn’t we just talk faster? #BCPOLI

Since it was her government that chose to keep the legislature closed for around 600 of the last 700 days, her hypocrisy is galling. But then, if she’s being facetious, that’s ok, right? No. That makes it even worse because of how little regard her government holds for democratic accountability.

But then she followed up that gem with this one last night:

The house sits tonight during the game-ridiculous!! Go #Canucks!

Honestly? I’ll tell you what is ridiculous: her premier rescheduling her office’s estimates debate to occur during the game. And I agree that evening sittings aren’t terribly valuable, but they are necessary when the government’s goal is to minimize the number of legislative sitting days, thereby minimizing the number of question periods they must endure, and maximizing the opportunities to vote closure on debate so they can ram through legislation with their majority of votes. This is why I’d particularly enjoyed the recent years of minority governments in Ottawa and why we’ll be bothered by lots of majority closure motions in the House of Commons in Harper’s majority.

3. CBC BC’s legislative reporter, Stephen Smart, also reported yesterday that the BC Liberals’ public sector wage austerity program of net zero wage increases will continue for two more years. We’ll see about that. Again, not the kind of news to release on a Monday morning.

4. Laila Yuile discovered yet another announcement buried in Stanley Cup hype that affects the safety of citizens using court services: the firing of a few dozen more sheriffs leading to the closure of even more courtrooms. This, all during a time when millions of our tax dollars are funding stick men/mimes on TV commercials to explain to us what the government wants us to know about their beloved HST.

5. Shifting to Ottawa, we found out today Foreign Minister Baird announced before yesterday’s hockey game that parliament will be using their majority to ram through a 90-day [or more] extension to the Canadian Forces’ military involvement in Libya, which is set to expire in 14 days.

All I can say is that I hope the Canucks win the Stanley Cup in four games to minimize the likelihood of more bad news announcements buried on game days.

Political announcements are starting to remind me of a Rolling Stones song:

One hundred thousand disparus
Lost in the jails in South America
CURL up baby
CURL up tight
CURL up baby
Keep it all out of sight
Undercover
Keep it all out of sight
Undercover of the night [or, Canucks game]

Politics, Re-Spun on Coop Radio, April 18, 2011

Imtiaz Popat and I celebrated the beginning of the last two weeks of the federal election campaign on “The Rational” last night. The video podcast is below. Here is what we talked about:

  • the BC NDP leadership race/outcome
  • how yesterday is the beginning of how Clark and Dix will define their leadership and competition, regardless of how the various leadership campaigns went
  • the HST referendum and the travesty that the government will spend most of the summer sitting on the results
  • the Vancouver-Point Grey by-election
  • how voter fatigue is somewhat a ploy by the right wing to encourage us to be lazy and not embrace our democratic power
  • Clark is not at all about families first
  • reversing corporate tax cuts is not going to affect the poorest 95% of BC/Canada, just the rich and corporations
  • how the federal debates went
  • why the NDP is polling higher and why people like Jack Layton so much
  • Harper’s scare tactics are failing
  • why Canadians are beginning to understand and appreciate life after majority governments
  • how people are tired of Harper’s politics of hate

Christy Clark Plays Strombo for PR Fluff


Christy Clark was on the George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight show last night. It was a real low-light of Strombo’s career as it ended up being a pathetic, softball, fluff piece full of PR for Christy Clark 2.0, the kindler, gentler version of the worker-bashing, deputy-premier to Gordon Campbell.

I presumed that Clark had arranged this interview to coincide with her announcement of the by-election that would get her into the legislature. But a truly happy coincidence was when the BC Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional Clark’s own education-bashing Bills 27 and 28 the other day. I expected Strombo to use that as a springboard to truly engage in a full interview. It didn’t come up.

What did happen was a solid clapping and screaming contingent in the audience when Clark arrived on the stage, so she certainly got some fans in.

Despite mentioning her fight with the education system a decade ago in his introduction, Strombo brought up healthcare with her, but she replied with the unsustainable myth, which is code for privatizing healthcare. She even had the gall to say that we’re “grown up enough” for the debate on healthcare sustainability.

This implies that people who don’t agree with the right wing spin of an unsustainable public healthcare system are not grown up, childish, irresponsible. It has been the right wing concerted defunding of the healthcare system through tax cuts that have impaired its ability to function. Now BC is the second-lowest funder of healthcare in the country, and we’re all suffering for that motivation to privatize.

Contempt is a trending theme of the federal election right now. This kind of contempt for the public healthcare system and those who support it is becoming a theme in BC politics as well.

The big message she wanted to spin throughout the province was that she isn’t mean, unlike how the BC NDP’s commercial about her contends. Anyone, citizens and workers, who have suffered under the abusive, illegal and unconstitutional legislation of the BC Liberal party, and its former education and MCFD minister, and its former premier, Christy Clark, know that this is one mean government.

Christy Clark’s delight and pride in her legislation is mean. But she wants to be our friend. She wants to win a by-election so she could sit in the legislature.

So on Strombo’s show she said she wants to increase voter turnout, but that reality TV celebrates nasty people. Frankly, the right wing politicians who are defunding and privatizing our public services are nasty enough on their own to have inspired a less than 50% voter turnout in the last BC election.

BC Liberal politicians who want to get rid of the public sector love voter apathy. Clark blaming reality TV is just spin. And it’s bad spin for anyone who has paid attention to the abuse the BC Liberal party has visited upon this province for a decade.

She will continue running the Conservative-Liberal coalition agenda regardless of how much she smiles or invokes support for the Canucks, which is how she ended her Strombo fluff piece.

In the end, Stroumboulopoulos got played. His inability to ask difficult questions to a highly controversial politician with a decade of contentious political positions has resulted in a spectacularly missed opportunity for him to not only avoid being played by Christy Clark’s spin, but for him to enhance his credibility as a valuable interviewer. The interview was a sad, sympathy-building exercise for a politician trying to rebrand herself as a kindler, gentler “families first” champion.