Sunday, June 6, 2010

Nick Clegg and Canadian Cuts

In today's Observer, Nick Clegg contrasts the savagery of Thatcher's cuts with those carried out in the nineties in Sweden, by Clinton in the USA, and in Canada by the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien. He believes that those governments did better than Thatcher.

Clegg's approval of the Canadian approach makes me a little uneasy. I'd feel happier if Clegg was praising the Chrétien government for its firm regulation of the banking sector which has insulated Canada from the worst effects of the recession, and which contrasts so strongly with the disastrous deregulation by UK governments in the last thirty years.

The reason I feel uneasy is because when I moved to Canada four years ago, to downtown Edmonton, I was distressed and appalled by the huge number of homeless sleeping rough, most of whom seemed to be mentally ill, mentally disabled, or aboriginal. The homeless and poverty problem goes back to the aftermath of the nineties cuts:
In 1998, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights maintained that Canada’s failure to implement policies for the poorest members of the population in the previous 5 years had “exacerbated homelessness among vulnerable groups during a time of strong economic growth and increasing affluence”.
Paul Martin,
Chrétien's finance minister, was interviewed by the Guardian in January, and he stressed that since his cuts public finances have grown again. As a new resident here, I've been amazed by the level of public spending in some areas; for example my local library would probably make the average public librarian from the UK weep with joy after they'd stopped gaping with disbelief at the level of provision. Schools, colleges and universities are similarly well funded, and my GP clinic provides a much better service than I was used to from the NHS.

Parts of the UK have never recovered from the cuts and de-industrialisation of the Thatcher years, but in Canada it seems to be the entire bottom strata of the population who had their safety net removed in the nineties without it being replaced since, even while public spending has increased where it benefits the middle-classes.

In his Guardian interview Paul Martin made the point that the UK and Canada are very different countries. It is not obvious to me how the Canadian experience of sharp cuts has been less painful than the UK's.

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