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Pandemic austerity, like capitalism more broadly, requires the threat of poverty to keep workers in line and to force them to work. This austerity is used to mobilize citizens to support nationalist public health programs (securing our own countries vaccines supply) and to accept dangerous and precarious working conditions.
The over-arching theme during the pandemic response by all levels of government in Canada has been a response tainted by elite capitalist interests. From the start, as various levels of government scrambled to mitigate (but not eliminate) the Covid-19 pandemic, corporate influence was a major factor in government action.
The influence of the private sector paid off for business owners, as they received more pandemic relief money collectively than individuals did. Justin Trudeau’s federal government came out with a slew of programs to help those in Canada, but many of these predominantly favoured employers. According to a new CCPA report, businesses received $26 billion more in financial supports than individuals did on programs like the CERB:
Record levels of government support were deployed to support individuals who were sideswiped by the pandemic. Across all levels of government, $150 billion was transferred directly to individuals to offset the economic impacts of the pandemic.
While much attention has been focused on federal supports for the jobless, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), businesses actually received more support than individuals. Across all federal and provincial programs, businesses received $176 billion in COVID-19 support through programs such as the Canada Emergency Wage Supplement (CEWS).
The federal government had scheduled October 23, 2021 to wind down the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) supporting self-employed workers and the business support programs, the CEWS and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS). Self-employed workers were indeed cut off with no additional support on that date. However businesses were not.
The CERS and CEWS were replaced with new variants for business, the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program (THRR) and the Hardest Hit Business Recovery Program (HHBRP). These new business programs are almost identical to the CEWS and CERS but they are more focused and will continue to support roughly at least a quarter of CEWS recipients. Businesses can continue to apply for the Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CRHP) to further support their needs.
Jobless workers who are eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) will still enjoy some of the features of the CERB, such as lower universal entrance requirements. But other features, like a predictable $500-a-week income floor, have been removed.
The result of the decision to direct more funds toward businesses was the maintaining of control in the hands of employers and managers. This meant there was less autonomy for workers to decide what to do with their own labour-power.
For example, consider if money directed toward businesses had been diverted toward CERB so that every worker received CERB whether they were employed or not. This would strongly increase the likelihood that a worker would walk off the job if it was unsafe, as some income would be guaranteed. The worker would have gained more control over their own labour. With the threat of poverty looming over many workers’ heads, many were forced to risk working while being exposed to the virus.
This decision by governments to give more money to businesses than individuals is one example of many of how our modern, neo-liberal capitalist order has made the pandemic worse.
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