Level playing field now a slippery slope

Conversation and public writing has long been littered with familiar metaphors...

Conversation and public writing has long been littered with familiar metaphors. How often have we heard of corporations “bleeding” red ink, for example, or unions’ “war chests” for strikes? Sport, too, is fertile ground (metaphor) for germinating (metaphor) metaphors. Supertankers for carrying crude oil and dilbit are promoted as being up to three and a half football fields long.

A favourite metaphor for use in competitive environments (e.g. political elections, bidding for contracts in business, etc.) is the “level playing field.” Canadians frequently trot out this trite trope, expecting listeners and readers to somehow imagine opposing interests as teams on some gridiron. Think how un-Canadian it would be were the field somehow sloped in favour of one team or another!

Unfair or not, a distinctly uneven playing field increasingly characterizes society today in politics and in the conditions of everyday life. Perhaps it is because the government, that should be the referee between opposing interests, is working for one of the teams.

Canadian political competition is not about getting the best for the country, but about parties’ rewarding special interest groups that support them.

The political right resent the left for its labour affiliations, and the left resent the right for its access to the deep pockets of corporate Canada.

Within the federal sphere of influence in Canada, the section of the constitution relating to the government’s mandate to maintain “peace, order, and good government” is almost necessarily vague, allowing for a wide variety of priorities (as long as they do not infringe on other rights or mandates defined elsewhere). Under the Conservatives currently in power, “peace and order” have come from more militarized police (consider the security forces and their abuses during the G-8 meetings in 2010 and wildly expanded spending on prisons, 86 per cent higher during their first five years in office). As for “good government,” you decide.

For example, in 2012 the energy industry (according to Canjex Publishing Ltd.) had 791 separate meetings with ministers, MPs and government officials and soon the government was proposing to make regulatory changes that, according to critics, gut environmental protection. In the same period environmental groups had one meeting with the Minister of the Environment.

An alarming extension of this imbalance is the revelation (now old news) that the Canadian government has used CSIS to spy on environmental groups as part of a coordinated campaign to limit or reduce these organizations’ ability to engage the public through useful questions in environmental hearings (such as the NEB hearings on Northern Gateway pipeline).

Merit Canada, a coalition of non-union contractors, had its lobbyists meet with officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as with representatives of the Department of Finance to request these changes. Their purpose is to save money for contractors by reducing wages. In response the Conservatives have proposed Bill C-377, designed specifically to weaken the influence of labour unions in Canada.

In recent years many industries have used temporary foreign workers to fill jobs that they claim Canadians have been unwilling or unable to take. However, Blacklock’s Reporter has recently revealed that the government takes EI contributions from these workers but denies them the right to benefits if they’re laid off.

Now, based on a largely invented danger of voter fraud, proposed federal government legislation threatens to remove the right to vote of thousands of citizens who are demographically less likely to support the governing party, as well as to limit or eliminate the ability of Elections Canada to enforce funding rules in elections. To rig elections, stuffing ballot boxes is old hat. Voter suppression of likely opponents is now the method of choice.

Level playing field? The Conservatives are systematically constructing a sloped playing field in favor of a corporatized, carbonized Canada. Canada’s current government is contemptibly out of balance.

Retired English teacher Al Lehmann lives in Terrace, B.C.