Socialist Worker

Canada's cuts were not painless

by Michelle Robidoux
Issue No. 2205

There is much talk about the “caring cuts” imposed on Canadians in a deficit-busting effort from 1992 to 1996.

What isn’t discussed is the impact of these cuts, and the resistance they provoked.

The then Liberal government of Jean Chrétien instituted huge spending cuts to tackle a federal budget deficit of £22 billion.

It slashed funding from the central state to Canada’s provinces, which provide healthcare, education and social assistance.

In Ontario, a hard-right provincial government slashed welfare payments by 22.6 percent.

Homelessness shot up and food bank use soared.

Education and healthcare budgets were slashed, leading to crowded classrooms, jammed emergency rooms—and a drastic shortage of hospital beds.

But these cuts sparked resistance. In 1995, university and college students led a nationwide strike that stopped a massive hike in tuition fees.

Workers in Ontario launched a series of city-wide general strikes.

And in October 1996, one million people stayed away from work in a one-day strike in Toronto.

But the union leadership threw away this anger and wound down the strike movement. They said elections were the way to stop the cuts.

If Britain’s new coalition government copies Canada’s cuts of the mid-1990s, then deep attacks on services, jobs and conditions are coming.

The lesson for British workers is: be prepared to fight—over the heads of the union leadership if necessary.

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