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Interview : John Clarke from OCAP on Jim Flaherty

An honest accounting on the human impacts of Jim Flaherty's policies of economic violence

by Stefan Christoff

Interview : John Clarke from OCAP on Jim Flaherty
Finding critical reports in the mainstream media on Jim Flaherty's policy legacy has been extremely difficult over this past week. As politicians and pundits from across the mainstream political landscape line-up to lionize a man who's policies equaled extreme economic violence for poor and working people, both during the "Common Sense Revolution" of the Harris Conservatives in Ontario and again under the austerity-driven Conservatives in Canada.
In an effort to highlight a critical voice on Flaherty's legacy in real human terms, I sent a series of questions to community organizer John Clarke from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty in Toronto who has dealt first hand with Flaherty's economic hits on the ground in marginalized communities in Ontario over the past decades. 
Stefan Christoff : Today mainstream media outlets are lionizing Flaherty's life in politics, stretching from the "common sense" revolution in Ontario, to the austerity-driven current Conservative government in Ottawa. As an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) you dealt first hand with the impacts of Flaherty's policies on the daily life for low income, poor and working people in Ontario, could you offer some insight into the lived realities of Flaherty's policies for economically disadvantaged communities?
John Clarke : The Tory ‘Common Sense Revolution’ in the Ontario of the 1990s was one of those Thatcher or Regan like operations that sought to speed up the process of dismantling the social infrastructure, weakening unions and transferring much more wealth to those who were already the wealthiest.
Flaherty was the Finance Minister during this period and, as such, was an exceptionally influential and important figure in the implementation of the agenda. People on social assistance saw a massive cut to their grossly inadequate incomes. Single parents, overwhelmingly single mothers, had their relatively secure incomes taken from them. Precarious workers had what few protections they had available to them removed. In Toronto, the 21.6% cut to social assistance rates was followed by a 67% increase in the use of homeless shelters.
One of the defining incidents of the period was a homeless man who was found dead on the streets following a winter storm. He could not be identified when discovered because his hands were frozen to his face. Those were the politics of James Flaherty at work.

Stefan : Can you offer your comments on the soft and humanist image that major media is projecting, the CBC reports on Flaherty's "personal touch", while the National Post writes that Flaherty was a "good servant to Canada".

Across the mainstream media spectrum there seems to be a universal attempt to celebrate Flaherty, to create an image of humanist politician. I understand from many experiences within social movements that Flaherty's policies are based on extreme economic violence, can you detail how Flaherty's polices were deeply violent for so many people?

John : While we might not be able to precisely calculate it, there exists a certain number of years of human life that were lost to the political agenda and decisions of James Flaherty. People in poverty despaired or sickened as a result of the things he did. Families were broken up. Children went through formative years that were marked by inadequate diet and unhealthy housing conditions.

I don’t know anything of James Flaherty’s personal life but I can only say that his political role was that of someone who inflicted misery on hundreds of thousands of people.  He was a ‘good servant’ of the ruling class and its profits and an enemy of working people and the poor.

Stefan : Any reflections on the cross political consensus on lionizing Flaherty, including the NDP, being respectful of someone's passing is one thing, but a collective dishonest accounting on the politicians record is another thing? Any thoughts on this front?

John : Generations ago, in many of the European countries, trade unions fighting for the rights of workers realized that the representatives of the employing class would never stand up for them in the parliaments so they formed labour parties and elected from working class communities men and women who they trusted to stand up for their interests.

The ruling class political representatives in those places were smart enough to conceal their contempt and disgust and welcome the working class MPs into their little club. They house trained them to shadow box during the question period but to join them for drinks afterwards and to respect the rules and decorum of the institution.

Under those rules, when one of the ‘honourable members’ kicks the bucket, he or she is praised to the hilt regardless of the injustices that person inflicted on working class people. The NDP politicians became part of the club generations ago. Watching them tear up over this Tory enemy is entirely predictable. The fight against everything James Flaherty stood for will be waged outside of the Parliaments by the communities he spent his political life attacking.

John Clarke is an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) in Toronto @JohnOCAP. Stefan is a community activist and independent journalist based in Montreal @spirodon.


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Stefan Christoff (Stefan Christoff)
Montreal, Quebec
Member since Avril 2010


Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based journalist, community organizer and musician.

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