How can we stand up and make ourselves count?
Instead of ritually blaming politics and politicians for so many of our challenges, should we not accept our share of responsibility for our condition?
By now, most of us have become aware that there are large numbers of people going through an enduring crisis of unemployment, under-employment and jobs with inadequate and insecure benefits.
In technical language, our workers at all levels are facing the structural crisis of precarious employment caused by an economy based on the cheapest labor available and the least amount of labor possible.
That is the bad news about inequality, poverty and marginalization of workers of all age groups. That is the especially bad news about our disappointed young people coming out of secondary school, community college and university.
But there is also some good news. I frequently have the refreshing experience of discovering there are solutions which have already been identified for many of the policy and political challenges our society faces.
In this case that we are discussing – the reality of precarious employment, underemployment and outright unemployment – the fact is that in our own country and other countries, hundreds if not thousands of persons, groups and organizations have noticed these same challenges, studied them from several and diverse angles, and tried to find solutions to overcome them.
Consequently, the real challenge then becomes getting them accepted and implemented in an orderly and timely fashion.
And that is a straightforward definition of politics: the process by which a society identifies its needs and challenges, searches for solutions to meet those needs and challenges and works to put potential solutions in place as soon as possible.
Two factors are critical for the success of that political process.
The first is our willingness to listen to a variety of opinions, particularly opinions and suggestions from persons and groups who do not agree with our views and do not agree with each other’s views.
In that regard, I present here a concrete example of the advantages of political open-mindedness. I have considered the views expressed in the pages of the Globe and Mail as opposed to those found in the documents of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; the views coming out of the Preston Manning Centre for Building Democracy as opposed to those from the Broadbent Institute; and the analysis offered by the National Post which contrasts sharply with that served up by rabble.ca.
The outcome of my broader review of the national media, academia and think tanks, when combined with the work of their international counterparts, led me to endorse the contents of the Toronto Star editorial of April 2, including a list of useful policy remedies for precarious employment in Canada’s ailing economy and its collapsing job market:
- A) The federal government should: enhance the Canada Pension Plan; make Employment Insurance easier to get; create a national pharmacare program; and create a national, affordable child care system that will enable parents to take on new jobs when they are offered.
- B) The Ontario government should: raise the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour and aim for $15; beef up the Employment Standards Act to provide mandatory paid sick days, equal pay for temporary workers, higher pay for casual workers and a fixed maximum time for temporary workers after which they should be made permanent; and enforce the Employment Standards Act with more inspections, fines and charges.
- C) Greater responsibility should be assumed by the trade unions in assisting and representing precarious workers in respect of the matters listed at A and B.
But the second factor for the success of the overall political process is equally important: those remedies will only be given serious consideration by our political parties and our three levels of government if we get involved in the conversation.
It is totally up to us to decide what form that involvement should take.
On the one hand, active, public and partisan militancy as a member of a political party is only one option. One might even choose to join and play a behind-the-scenes role in a political party.
On the other hand, more and more people are finding meaningful experiences by joining or supporting non-party activist groups based on a specific objective or a set of inter-related objectives.
Either way, we are engaging in participatory democracy: in order to get the results that the politicians may not want to give us, we have to fight for those results forcefully.
If we want more good news, we need to become involved in making things happen the way we want them to happen.