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Meet Canada’s Ruling Oligarchy: Parasites-a-Plenty!
Class War and the College Crisis, Part 7
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
As hundreds of thousands of students in the province of Québec continue to strike into their 13th week against tuition increases, as the provincial government continues to employ legal repression and state violence against the youth, as Canadian families are over $100,000 in debt, as a looming housing crisis begins to rear its ugly head, as youth unemployment increases, student debt explodes, jobs vanish, poverty deepens, and oppression increases, it’s time to meet those responsible, those who are doing better than ever, those who are making record profits, sitting comfortably in their estates which are larger than the entire island of Manhattan, who travel by helicopter and private jet, who co-mingle with the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Spanish royalty, presidents and prime ministers at home and abroad: meet Canada’s ruling oligarchy.
As this series, “Class War and the College Crisis,” is more focused on the issue of education, I will focus here on the composition of the oligarchy in terms of how they control our educational system. This part in the series will be part article and part research annex. First, I will introduce the reader to Canada’s most powerful family, our version of the Rockefeller’s south of the border, or the Rothschilds in Europe, and of course, all these families are close in both business and social circles. Such is the nature of being an elite in a globalized world. The Desmarais family, located in the province of Québec, are without question the most influential and powerful family in the country, and it’s no wonder, considering their power is vested in an investment company known as Power Corporation.
Why is Power Corporation important?
The name says it all: it has Power. Founded in 1925, Power Corporation of Canada is an investment company involved in communications, business, and especially finance. Power Corporation was founded by A.J. Nesbitt and P.A. Thomson, two partners in the Montreal investment firm, Nesbitt, Thomson and Company, who wanted to consolidate Canada’s power sector, and established Power Corporation as a ‘holding company,’ meaning, it owns other corporations. In the 1960s, the company began to invest in energy, finance, industry, and real estate. In 1968, financier Paul Desmarais took over the leadership of Power Corporation, and rapidly expanded the assets held by the company, including by the 1970s: Canada Steamship Lines (transportation); Consolidated Bathurst (pulp and paper); Investors Group, Great-West Life, Montreal Trust (financial services); and Gesca (communications). Power Corporation expanded across Canada, Europe, and into China. Paul Desmarais stepped aside as Chairman and CEO in 1996, though remaining as the controlling shareholder, and had his two sons, Paul Jr. and André, become Chairman and President and Co-CEOs. Power Corporation owns Gesca, a communications company which in turn owns La Presse as well as six other daily newspapers in Quebec.
The Desmarais family, wrote Christa d’Souza for the London Telegraph, are “Canada’s equivalent of the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts.” Indeed, it would appear that the Desmarais are very much akin to the Rockefellers, the most powerful family in the United States, and one of the most powerful families in the world (perhaps only challenged by the older European-based Rothschild banking family). The Rockefeller family developed the Standard Oil empire, which branched off into several different oil companies, including Exxon and Chevron; founded the Rockefeller Foundation as an engine of social engineering, founded the University of Chicago, became a dominant force in global banking (through Citibank and JP Morgan Chase), highly influential in politics (Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and Senator Jay Rockefeller), and of course, remain a dominant influence in think tanks, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, and the Trilateral Commission, which ultimately play a major role in shaping policies of industrial nations.
The Desmarais family, while not as powerful in a global sense as the Rockefellers, have nevertheless made themselves a powerful name in the global oligarchy, and most certainly the most powerful family in Canada. Paul Desmarais Sr. is one of Canada’s richest individuals, which is, of course, no surprise, and as Konrad Yakabuski wrote for the Globe and Mail, “Desmarais has been personally consulted by prime ministers on every major federal economic and constitutional initiative since the 1970s. Most of the time, they’ve taken his advice.” Power Corporation has taken large stakes in major European companies such as Bertelsmann, Total and Suez. Peter Munk, a friend of Paul Desmarais and the CEO of Barrick Gold Corporation (a major mining company profiting off of genocide in the Congo), said that, “Paul built that business with an enormous capability for networking that no one in Canadian history has ever matched. And the boys got introduced to his contacts. They were educated well, they married well. And they’ve behaved.” In the mid-1960s, a protégé of Desmarais was a young Montreal lawyer named Brian Mulroney, who would later become Canada’s Prime Minister. Paul Sr. groomed his sons, and especially André, who is now perhaps the most well-known Canadian businessman in China. André also married the daughter of another Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien. Desmarais Sr. also got involved in French banking through Paribas, and later, Pargesa, which handled investments in a wide range of European corporations, and shot Desmarais into the accepted ranks of French nobility and the old-monied European elite. Paul Desmarais Jr. is close friends with the recent French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and socializes with Spanish royalty, the Rothschilds, and other European oligarchs.
The Desmarais family have strong connections to Canada’s four major political parties: the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois, and the NDP. This has included close ties to Lucien Bouchard, former leader of the Parti Québecois and Premier of Quebec, Jean Chrétien, former Canadian Prime Minister; Brian Mulroney, former Canadian Prime Minister who worked for Power Corporation; Bob Rae, an NDP leader, and Paul Martin, another Liberal Prime Minister who worked for Power Corporation. When André Pratte, the chief editorialist of the Desmerais-owned paper La Presse, wrote in 1994 that, “Power Corp. controls everything, everyone knows that. Chrétien, [then Quebec premier Daniel] Johnson, it’s Power Corp,” Paul Desmarais Sr. intervened directly with the paper to ensure that Pratte was demoted. Claude Masson, the deputy publisher of La Presse at the time, stated that, “When you bite the hand that feeds you, there are consequences.” Indeed, the hand bites back.
The Desmarais’ also have close connections with James Wolfensohn, the former President of the World Bank, who has extensive ties to the Rockefeller family. Paul Jr. married Hélene Blouin, the “founder and CEO of le Centre d’entreprises et d’innovation de Montréal, an incubator for tech businesses; a director of the Montreal Board of Trade; chairman of HEC Montréal; and a co-founder of the Montreal Economic Institute, a think tank that has become Quebec’s leading policy advocate on the non-partisan right.” André married France Chrétien, daughter of Jean Chrétien, and he even served as a press secretary to Jean Chrétien while he was Minister of Justice in the Pierre Trudeau government. In the 1990s, the international advisory board of Power Corporation included former Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau. Brian Mulroney was sure to create friendly ties between the Desmarais family and soon-to-be Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who put two Desmarais-connected politicians in his cabinet, Peter Mackay and Maxime Bernier.
Quebec author Robin Philpot wrote a scathing critique of the power of the Desmarais family several years ago, suggesting that, “Over the last several years, [Paul Desmarais Sr.] has spun his web to such an extent that it now enables him to call the shots,” especially in promoting his right-wing economic vision, with “a disproportionate influence on politics and the economy in Quebec and Canada.” Of course, it’s not only Canadian politicians with whom Desmarais is close, but French and American politicians as well, including Sarkozy, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Desmarais owns seven of the ten French-language newspapers in Quebec, and has been close to nearly every Quebec premier, apart from Parti Québécois leaders Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry. Philpot alleged that Desmarais “has a lot of influence on Premier Jean Charest,” who is the current premier imposing tuition increases. When Desmarais received the French Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) from Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean Charest was in attendance, of which Philpot stated, “He took him along like a poodle.” Philpot added, “It’s a very unhealthy situation for a government to be indebted to a businessman that has his own interest at heart. They get their hands tied.”
Jean-François Lisée, the director of the Center for International Studies and Research at the University of Montreal stated that, “They are in a class all by themselves… There’s the Desmaraises, then there’s everyone else.” However, as one man close to the family said, in regards to their influence in politics, “We live in a village in Canada, and there are a lot of circumstances which come together which make it appear as if there’s some great manipulation… These are the coincidences of life. It might be more notorious than substantial.” Indeed, the elite live in “a village,” and that’s the whole point, which is, I might add, “substantial.”
In rural Quebec, the Desmarais family has an estate the size of Manhattan, with a private golf course and pheasant shooting range, as well as a music pavilion where opera is performed. This is the home of Paul Desmarais Sr. Guests, such as former U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, come play golf on this vast estate, and are flown in on helicopters belonging either to Power Corporation or Desmarais personally. As one of Canada’s richest billionaires, this is a simple matter. Power Corporation, which owns a controlling share in Power Financial Corporation, an insurance giant, has established ties with one of Belgium’s richest men, Albert Frere, with whom they have been in business for decades, and together hold significant shares of Total SA (the third largest oil company in Europe), Lafarge SA (the world’s largest cement maker), and GDF Suez SA (the world’s second largest utility company).
The Desmarais family has even had the internationally renowned Cirque du Soleil perform on their massive 15,000-acre estate. King Juan Carlos of Spain has even been a guest from time to time. André Desmarais is himself a member of the Trilateral Commission, founded by David Rockefeller, and is also on the International Advisory Board of David Rockefeller’s former bank, JP Morgan Chase, alongside other notables such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Both brothers have regularly attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group, of which David Rockefeller is a top official (founded in 1954 as an elite think tank linking Western Europe and North America). The Desmarais also hold a major international meeting of elites in Montreal every year, the Conference de Montreal, drawing in thousands of top policy-makers, industrialists, bankers, strategists, and international elites from the major nations of the world. A son of Paul Desmarais Jr., Paul Desmarais III, is a banker with Goldman Sachs. At times, the influence of the family is shyly acknowledged. As French President Sarkozy stated upon awarding Paul Desmarais Sr. with the French Legion of Honour, “If I am the president of France today, it is thanks in part to the advice, the friendship and the loyalty of Paul Desmarais.”
So while Quebec students are being asked to pay double their current tuition to reduce public spending, the Desmarais family is hob-nobbing around with a top public-sector individual responsible for investing $150 billion in Quebecers’ public-sector pension and insurance plans, Michael Sabia. Though apparently a weekend stay at the Desmarais estate by Sabia did not involve business discussions, it was merely “friendly.” No doubt. Meanwhile, Power Financial profits rose 37% in March of 2012, earning the company $533 million, while Power Corporation itself earned $314 million in the same amount of time, with its profits also increasing by 37%.
The Canadian Oligarchy Assaults Democracy
In the 1970s, just as the United States elite were organizing for their assault on the democratic advances brought about by the activism and popular mobilizations of the 1960s, so too was Canada. With the Powell Memo and the Trilateral Commission’s “Crisis of Democracy” report in the early and mid 1970s, we saw the emergence of a vast array of right-wing pro-business think tanks which sought to – and successfully did – promote neoliberalism and thus, created enormous repercussions for universities and education. Canada was not to be left behind in the elitist assault on democracy.
As William Carroll and Murray Shaw wrote in the journal Canadian Public Policy: “Integral to the rise and consolidation of neoliberal hegemony were the emergence of new centres of class-wide business activism and the retooling of established policy institutes along neoliberal lines.” A few major think tanks and policy institutes were integral to this approach for Canada. The Conference Board of Canada was founded in 1954 when the New York Conference Board opened an office in Montreal, later moved to Ottawa, and now one of the largest think tanks in Canada, linking academia, government and corporate elites. The Private Planning Association of Canada (PPAC) was founded in 1958 by members of the Canadian American Committee (CAC), “a group of business and labour leaders from Canada and the US” who were seeking closer and deeper ties between Canada and the United States, specifically in relation to trade. When the PPAC merged with the C.D. Howe Memorial Foundation in 1973, the C.D. Howe Institute was formed. The C.D. Howe Institute became a major force pushing for free trade agreements such as NAFTA, and by the mid-1990s, was portraying social programs as a major source of Canada’s economic problems.
The Business Council on National Issues (BCNI) – now known as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) – was founded to create consensus on policy issues among Canada’s top 150 CEOs, making it less of a think tank, and more of a “shadow government.” Founded in 1976 in order to bring together the corporate elite of Canada into forming a more long-term strategic position with the government, directly lobbying the state. The mandate of the Council is “to ensure that Canadian chief executives play an influential role in the international financial, trade, investment, environmental and foreign affairs domains.” Since the era of the Trudeau Liberals, politicians have come and gone from power, but the Council, “the voice and organizational embodiment of corporate rule, is a permanent presence.” Another major player is the Fraser Institute (FI), dedicated to mythical “free market” policies and neoliberalism, founded in 1973 with money from fifteen different mining executives, and is essentially a replica of the American Enterprise Institute in the United States. The Fraser Institute is perhaps the most quoted institution in the Canadian media, ensuring that its neoliberal ideology is firmly entrenched in popular ‘information’ (i.e., propaganda). One study from 1998 showed that over the course of a year, the left-wing think tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives was quoted in business news stories 16 times, while the Fraser Institute was quoted in over 140 stories.
Today, Hélène Desmarais, wife of Paul Desmarais Jr., is on the board of the C.D. Howe Institute, alongside top officials from GE Canada, Manulife Canada, HSBC Canada, Enbridge, Barrick Gold, BMO Financial Group, and a number of other top financial and industrial corporations. Power Corporation is listed among the C.D. Howe Institute’s supporters, alongside other notable entities such as: Astral Media (a major media conglomerate), Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barrick Gold Corporation, BMO Financial Group, Bombardier, Canadian Bankers Association, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, CIBC, Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian Oil Sands Limited, Cargill Limited, CN, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Desjardins Group, Deutsche Bank, Enbridge, Encana, Ford Motor Company, HSBC, Google, Imperial Tobacco, JP Morgan, National Bank of Canada, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, RBC Financial Group, Rio Tinto Alcan, Scotiabank, Shell Canada, SNC Lavalin, Standard Life Financial, Swiss Bankers Association, TD Bank Group, and many others. The C.D. Howe Institute also gets a good deal of financial support from several Canadian universities, including Carelton, HEC Montréal, Laval, McMaster, Queen’s, Ryerson, Calgary, Lethbridge, Western Ontario, Université de Sherbrooke, U. of Alberta, UBC, Ottawa, Saskatchewan, U of T, and Wilfred Laurier University.
Looking at Power
The board of directors of Power Corporation includes: Pierre Beaudoin, President and CEO of Bombardier; Marcel R. Coutu, President and CEO of Canadian Oil Sands Limited and Chairman of Syncrude Canada, director of Great-West Lifeco (owned by Power Corporation), and is a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives; Laurent Dassault, Vice President of Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault (a Paris-based investment and financing company), and a director of a number of European companies, including SITA, Generali France, Kudelski, and the Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild Europe (a major banking house owned by the Rothschild family); Guy Fortin, Vice Chairman of Sanpalo Investments, former senior partner at Ogilvy Renault, Chairman of the Canadian Tax Foundation; Anthony R. Graham, President of Wittington Investments, formerly with National Bank Financial Inc., Chairman of President’s Choice Bank, on the board of Power Financial, Loblaw Companies, George Weston Limited, Brown Thomas Group Ltd, Holt Renfrew & Co., the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Council for Business and the Arts in Canada, and is a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives; Robert Gratton, former Chairman and CEO of Montreal Trust, director of Power Financial, member of the Harvard Business School Canadian Advisory Board, the Conference Board of Canada, the C.D. Howe Institute, and the Trilateral Commission; Isabelle Marcoux, Vice Chair of the board of Transcontinental Inc., on the boards of George Weston Ltd., Rogers Communications, the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal; Donald Mazankowski, director of Power Financial, former member of the Canadian House of Commons and member of Parliament for 25 years, former Canadian Minister of Transport, Deputy Prime Minister, President of the Queen’s Privy Council, and Government House Leader, and is a former member of the board of governors of the University of Alberta.
Other board members include: Raymond L. McFeetors, Vice Chairman of Power Financial and Chairman of Great-West Lifeco, a director of London Life, Canada Life Financial, Canada Life, Crown Life, IGM Financial, Investors Group, Mackenzie Financial, Putnam Investments; Jerry E. A. Nickerson, Chairman of Nickerson & Sons Ltd., director of several Power Corporation companies, honorary director of the Bank of Montreal; James R. Nininger, on the Board of Management of the Canada Revenue Agency (responsible for administering the tax laws of Canada and most of the provinces), on the board of Canadian Pacific Railway, former President and CEO of The Conference Board of Canada (a major research institute/think tank); R. Jeffrey Orr, President and CEO of Power Financial, a board member of several Power group subsidiaries, former Chairman and CEO of BMO Nesbitt Burns and Vice Chairman of the Bank of Montreal’s Investment Banking Group, and is a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives; Robert Parizeau, Chairman of Aon Parizeau, Inc., director of National Bank Life Insurance Company, former Chairman of Gaz Métro, former director of Van Houtte, and director of the National Bank of Canada for over 20 years, and is a director of the Institute of Corporate Directors; Michel Plessis-Bélair, Vice Chairman of Power Corporation, director of several Power group subsidiaries, and a director of Lallemand Inc., Université de Montréal, Hydro-Québec, and is a member of the International Advisory Board of École des hautes etudes commerciales (HEC) of Montréal (Business School of Montreal); John A. Rae, director of a number of Power subsidiaries, a director of Fednav Ltd, BNP Paribas (Canada), McGill University Health Centre Foundation, former Executive Assistant to Jean Chrétien, National Campaign Chairman for Jean Chrétien’s 1984 and 1990 leadership campaigns, and Coordinator of the National Campaign of the Liberal Party of Canada for the 1993, 1997, and 2000 elections, and is also Chair Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of Queen’s University; Henri-Paul Rousseau, a director of several Power group subsidiaries, board member of the Global Financial Markets Association, former President and CEO of the Caisse de depot et placement du Québec (which manages public pensions for the province of Quebec), former President and CEO of the Laurentian Bank of Canada, former CEO of Boréal Assurances Inc., and former Senior VP of the National Bank of Canada; T. Timothy Ryan, Jr., President and CEO of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), the leading trade association representing global financial market participants, CEO of the Global Financial Markets Association (GFMA), a director of a number of Power subsidiaries, as well as a director of Lloyds Banking Group, Lloyds TSB Bank, HBOS, the Bank of Scotland, and the United States-Japan Foundation, formerly a top official with J.P. Morgan, is a private sector member of the Global Markets Advisory Committee for the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC), the Council which oversees all sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies; and Emoke J.E. Szathmary, President Emeritus of the University of Manitoba, former President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manitoba, Provost and Vice President of McMaster University, and former Dean of the Faculty of Social Science of the University of Western Ontario, is currently a director of a number of Power subsidiaries, and is a director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and the Board of Governors of McMaster University.
And of course, we have the Desmarais family themselves, including Paul Desmarais Sr., Paul Desmarais Jr., who is not only a director of several Power subsidiaries, but is Vice Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of Pargesa, a director of Group Bruxelles Lambert, GDF Suez, Total, Lafarge, and is a member of the European Institute of Business Administration, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the International Economic Forum of the Americas, a trustee and Co-Chair of the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Institute, founder and member of the International Advisory Board of the McGill University Faculty of Management in Montreal, and the founder and member of the International Advisory Committee of HEC (business school) in Montreal. André Desmarais is not only on several Power subsidiaries, former Special Assistant to the Minister of Justice of Canada, a director of Pargesa in Europe, CITIC Pacific Ltd. in China, is a member of the Chairman’s International Advisory Council of the Americas Society (founded by David Rockefeller), and is Honorary Chairman of the Canada China Business Council.
As for Power Financial, while there is a great deal of overlap between the two boards, there are some unique names on the board of Power Financial. Among these are J. Brian Aune, President of Aldervest Inc., former Chairman of St. James Financial Corporation, is Governor Emeritus of Concordia University; V. Peter Harder, President of the Canada China Business Council, former Canadian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, former Deputy Minister of the Treasury Board, Solicitor General, Citizenship and Immigration, and Industry Canada, and is a director of IGM Financial, TimberWest, Telesat Canada, Energizer Resources, Northland Power, Pinetree Capital Ltd, and is an independent advisor to the Auditor General of Canada.
The Oligarchy of Education
Canada’s universities, like all universities, are governed by bankers and corporate executives, foundation officials, and think tank presidents, media moguls and millionaires. Given the current situation in Quebec, where hundreds of thousands of students have been taking to the streets in a strike against tuition increases, with over 200 protests in Montreal over the past three months alone, I will focus here on the two major English-speaking universities in the province: Concordia and McGill. This is important to focus on, simply because throughout this crisis, the university administrations have been claiming to be “neutral,” though they have actively set themselves against the students, filing legal injunctions against picketing, hiring private security firms to patrol the schools, and even calling in riot police to disperse striking youth. The schools have claimed to be neutral on the issue of tuition increases, though they have not – in any way – applied pressure or lobbying efforts on the government to reverse its position. In fact, it has been the exact opposite. When we look at who actually sits on the boards of the school administrations, it becomes clear that these are the very same elite who, in their various other social positions, lobby the government to increase the tuition, who sit on the boards of the banks that hand out student loans and charge exorbitant interest rates, who profit off the debt and poverty of the masses.
So let’s start with my own school: Concordia University.
The Chancellor of Concordia is L. Jacques Ménard, the President of BMO Financial Group, one of Canada’s largest banks, a director of Claridge Inc., and a director of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (a think tank promoting elite interests). The Chairman of the Board of Governors of Concordia is Peter Kruyt, President and CEO of Victoria Square Ventures, a director of La Presse (the largest French-language newspaper in Quebec), a director of Picchio Pharma Inc., a director of CITIC Pacific Ltd., Chairman of the Canada China Business Council, and a Vice President of Power Corporation, a company he has been working for since 1980 when he was Executive Assistant to the CEO, Paul Desmarais.
Norman Hébert, Jr.: CEO of Group Park Avenue Inc., former board member of Hyrdo-Québec, Chairman of the Board of Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ, a provincial crown corporation which sells liquor).
Hélène F. Fortin: a director of Larose Fortin CA Inc., member of the Institute of Corporate Directors, former Assistant to the Vice President of Quebecor Inc. (a major media conglomerate), and a former director of CBC and Hydro-Québec.
Brian Edwards: founder of BCE Emergis, one of North America’s largest electronic commerce companies, Chairman of the Board of Miranda Technologies and Biotonix 2010 Inc., and is on the boards of Camoplast Inc. and Impath Networks Canada Corporation, and Transat AT.
Jean Pierre Desrosiers: on the boards of KPGM, Aéroports de Montréal and D-BOX Technologies Inc.
Rita Lc de Santis: a partner at Davies, Ward, Phillips & Vineberg, former member of The Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada, Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal, Business Development Bank of Canada and Hydro-Québec.
James Cherry: President and CEO of Aéroports de Montréal, former executive with Bombardier, Oerlikon Aerospace Inc., CAE Inc. and ALSTOM Canada Inc.
Baljit Singh Chadha: Director of the Canada-India Business Council, Pesident and founder of Balcorp Ltd.
Charles Cavell: former President and CEO of Quebecor World Inc., former Chairman of the Board of Sun Media Corp, a director of Adaltis Inc., Novelis Inc.
Tim Brodhead: former President and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, former Executive Director of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), past chair of Philanthropic Foundations Canada.
Joelle Berdugo Adler: founder of ONEXEONE, and CEO of Diesel Canada.
Jonathan Wener: President and CEO of Canderal (a major real estate investment company), a trustee of the Fraser Institute, member of the board of the Laurentian bank of Canada, Silanis Technologies, and former president of the Urban Development Institute of Canada.
Annie Tobias: former official at Deloitte & Touche
Michael Novak: Executive Vice President of SNC-Lavalin Group, a global engineering and defense contractor.
Marie-José Nadeau: Executive Vice President of Hydro-Québec, Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and General Secretary at Cascades Fine Papers Group Inc, and is a director of Metro.
Andrew T. Molson: Chairman of the Board of Molson Coors Brewing Company, is a partner and chairman of RES PUBLICA Consulting Group, a Montreal-based holding and management company, is Chairman of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and a director of The Montreal Canadiens, DundeeWealth Inc., Groupe Deschênes Inc. and Montréal International, and is president of the Molson Foundation.
Tony Meti: President of G.D.N.P. Consulting Services, Inc., a former Senior Vice President at National Bank Financial Group, a director of ADF Group, Saputo Inc.
Jacques Lyrette: Executive at Innovative Materials Technologies, former CEO of ADGA Inc., an engineering consulting company.
Arvind K. Joshi: CEO at St. Mary’s Hospital Center, member of the advisory board of the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University.
Suzanne Gouin: President and Chief Executive Officer, TV5 Québec Canada, former director of Hydro-Québec.
H. Arnold Steinberg: Chancellor of McGill University, formerly worked for Dominion Securities (now RBC – Royal Bank of Canada – Dominion Securities), has been a member of the boards of Bell Canada, Teleglobe, Provigo, National Bank of Canada.
Heather Munroe-Blum: Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill, is on the board of the Internationalization Committee, and the Membership Committee of the Association of American Universities, a member of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) of Canada, the U.S. National Research Council’s Committee on Research Universities, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Trilateral Commission, and is co-chair of the Private Sector Advisory Committee of the Ontario-Quebec Trade and Co-operation Agreement, on the boards of the Trudeau Foundation, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Conférence de Montréal, and the Royal Bank of Canada. She has served on the boards of the Conference Board of Canada, Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Four Seasons Hotel, and Hydro One.
Stuart Cobbett: Managing Partner and Chief Operating Officer of Stikeman Elliott LLP, and is a Director of Citibank Canada.
Lili de Grandpré: founder of an organization strategy consulting firm, CenCEO Consulting, formerly with the Mercer Consulting Group and Bank of Montreal.
Michael Boychuk: President and CEO of Bimcor Inc., and is a member of the advisory board of Centennial Ventures, a U.S. private equity firm, former Senior Vice President and Treasurer of BCE Inc. and Bell Canada.
Gerald Butts: President and CEO of WWF-Canada.
Daniel Gagnier: former Chief of Staff to Quebec Premier Jean Charest, former VP at Alcan, former Chairman of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, current chairman of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and a board member of the Asia-Pacific Foundation.
Banking on Power
In Canada, there are five major banks which dominate the national banking sector (and together wield enormous influence over Canada’s monetary system through the Bank of Canada). These banks are the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), the Bank of Montreal (BMO), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD), the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). To understand how these banks wield influence over Canada as a whole, it would be useful to examine the boards of directors of the banks, drawing the overlap of leadership between the ‘Big Five’ and Canada’s major corporations, think tanks, foundations, media and educational institutions. For the purpose of this report, I will simply take a look at the board of directors of the biggest bank: Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), and show how it overlaps with the other institutions which dominate our society.
W. Geoffrey Beattie: on the board of directors of General Electric (GE), President of the Woodbridge Company, a privately held investment holding company (the majority shareholder of Thomson Reuters, a major media conglomerate of which he is Deputy Chairman), and he is also a board member of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. and Chairman of CTV Globemedia, a major Canadian media conglomerate.
Richard L. George: President and CEO of Suncor Energy, on the board of the Canadian Pacific Railway, former Chairman and current board member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), was a member of the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), which was formed in 2006 to advise North American governments on the process of ‘North American integration’.
Paule Gautier: the first woman president of the Canadian Bar Association, on the boards of Metro Inc., TransCanada Corporation, and Transcanada Pipelines, an associate member of the American Bar Association, and is on the board of CARE, a supposed “humanitarian” organization, and she was a former director of the Institut Québecois des Hautes Études Internationales at Laval University.
Timothy J. Hearn: former CEO of Imperial Oil Limited, former chairman of the C.D. Howe Institute (a major pro-business think tank) where he remains as a board member, former member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), is co-chair of a fundraising campaign for the University of Alberta and is chair of the fundraising campaign for Tyndale University, and is on the Advisory Board of the Public Policy School at the University of Calgary, a director of Viterra Inc., and is Chair of the board of directors of the Calgary Homeless Foundation.
Alice D. Laberge: former CEO of Fincentric, a current Commissioner of the Financial Institutions Commission, on the board of the Minerva Foundation, and a member of the Financial Executives Institute, and a former director of BC Hydro and Power Authority, and is on the board of directors of the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Jacques Lamarre: former President and CEO of SNC-Lavalin, a major global engineering, construction, and military contractor; is on the board of Suncor Energy, the founding member and former Chair of the Commonwealth Business Council, former Chairman of the board of directors of the Conference Board of Canada, a leader at the World Economic Forum, a former director of Canadian Pacific Railway, a member of the C.D. Howe Institute’s British North American Committee.
Brandt C. Louie: Chairman and CEO of H.Y. Louie Co. Limited, a food retail distribution company, Chairman of London Drugs Limited, Vice Chairman of IGA Canada Ltd., former Chancellor of Simon Fraser University (SFU), Governor of the Vancouver Board of Trade, Governor of the British Columbia Business Council, a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), and is a member of the Dean’s Council of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and is a current director of the Gairdner Foundation. He is also a board member of the World Economic Forum, Grosvenor (a property company), and the Fraser Institute, a major right-wing pro-business think tank.
Michael H. McCain: President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods Inc., Chairman of the Canada Bread Company, board member at the American Meat Institute, the Richard Ivey School of Business Advisory Board, a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), and a former director of Bombardier Inc.
Heather Munroe-Blum: the Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill University, board member of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, a member of the Trilateral Commission, has attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group, is co-chair of the Private Sector Advisory Committee of the Ontario-Quebec Trade and Co-operation Agreement, on the board of the Trudeau Foundation, and is on the board of the Conférence de Montréal (the International Economic Forum of the Americas), which is chaired by Paul Desmarais Jr.; and she has also been on the boards of the Conference Board of Canada, Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Four Seasons Hotel, and Hydro One.
Gordon Nixon: President and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, a director and past Chairman of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), on the board of directors of the International Monetary Conference, and has been on the boards of Daimler/Chrysler, Catalyst, EnCana Corporation, and Queen’s University School of Business; is a director of the Institute of International Finance and has attended Bilderberg Group meetings.
David P. O’Brien: Chairman of the Board of the Royal Bank of Canada, Chairman of EnCana Corporation, a director of Enerplus Corporation, Molson Coors Brewing Company, and TransCanada Corporation; he is also the Chancellor of Concordia University, and is on the board of the C.D. Howe Institute. He was the former Chairman and CEO of Canadian Pacific Limited.
J. Pedro Reinhard: a director of the Colgate-Palmolive Company, a director of Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, a chemical company; former Executive Vice President and Dow Chemical Company, is a former board member of the Coca-Cola Company, and is President of Reinhard & Associates, a financial advisory practice.
Edward Sonshine: was President, CEO and a director of RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust, Chairman and a director of Chesswood Income Fund, and is Vice Chairman and a director of Mount Sinai Hospital.
Kathleen P. Taylor: President of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, is a director of The Hospital for Sick Children Foundation, a cabinet member of the United Way of Greater Toronto and a member of the Industry Real Estate Financing Advisory Council of the American Hotel and Motel Association and the International Advisory Council of the Schulich School of Business of York University.
Bridget A. van Kralingen: Senior Vice President of IBM, and was Managing Partner of Deloitte Consulting, and is a member of the board of advisors at Catalyst Inc.
Victor L. Young: a director of Imperial Oil Ltd., former Chairman and CEO of Fishery Products International Limited, and is a current board member of McCain Foods, former Chairman and CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, and was a director at BCE Inc. (Bell Canada).
Our Parasitic Elite
Canada’s elite, like all elites, are parasitic to the social good and wellbeing of the people. They own the banks and financial institutions, own our central bank which sets the interest rates, gives loans and collect on debt, pushing people deeper into servitude and slavery; poverty as punishment. They control our media, which shapes our views and ‘opinions,’ they sit on the boards of our universities, putting future generations into debt before they have a chance at life, and control the ‘knowledge economy’ for which they have defined the purpose of education. They influence and control our governments and political leaders, sit on the boards of the think tanks that write policy and promote political agendas, they run the foundations and claim themselves to be benevolent philanthropists, when philanthropy is at best, moral masturbation for the wealthy, a way to feel good about their vast disparity of wealth, and at its more organized levels, is simply a means through which to engage in social engineering and social control: to give a little in order to continue taking so much. The profit off of the foreign wars our country wages and supports, blood plunderers of the Congo, Afghanistan, and Libya. The Canadian elite rule the country as a proxy for the American Empire, acting as a resource suction-cup for the behemoth below us, providing the United States with most of its oil, water, electricity, and timber. These rapacious parasites claim they hold the answers to the crises they cause and profit from; a super-class which can only be understood as a sprawling, venomous, and vacuous social succubus.
With a massive student movement in Quebec nearing its fourth month of strikes against tuition increases, the media has set against them in a massive propaganda campaign, the legal system has set against them in declaring injunctions against picketing students, the provincial state has dismissed, derided, and engaged in fallacious negotiations designed only to win public sympathy for the government, while the police have been incredibly oppressive against the youth: employing pepper spray, tear gas, smoke bombs, concussion grenades, beatings with batons, mass arrests, shooting students in the face with rubber bullets, and a disturbing trend of driving police cars and trucks into crowds of students. These are images you expect from a military dictatorship like Egypt, but not from a supposed “democracy” like Canada. In the midst of this social upheaval and state repression, the propaganda campaign against the students has been so successful that the majority of public opinion stands with the government and against the youth. Through every institution, and with every means made available, the elite have set themselves against the student movement. It is time the students and Canada at large recognize our elite for what they are: parasites!
While this rhetoric is perhaps a little inflammatory, it remains apt. A parasite is much smaller than its host, and it benefits at the expense of the host, changing its behaviour and health. The word “parasite” comes from the Latin word parasitus which is itself derived from the Greek word, parasitos, meaning, “one who eats at the table of another.” The elite have been eating at our table for far too long. They have long over-stayed their welcome. It’s time to make it known that we have no patience or place for them at our table any longer. This will not be easy, this will not be simple; this will take a long time and a great deal of effort. But if we don’t start now, if we don’t begin to take and create a society of, by, and for the people (what was once referred to as ‘democracy’), then elite parasitism will continue to sap the strength, health, environment, wealth, and the very hope and lives of future generations. They will continue to spread like a social cancer until the host is dead.
The youth are always told that the future is ours, but that remains up to us to make it so. The past and the present belong to the parasites, so if we do not stand up and struggle now and forever, we have no future to inherit, no world in which to grow and no hope in which to gaze. We have only debt bondage, state violence, table scraps, impoverishment, punishment, and oppression. The youth in Quebec are trying to just begin to stand up, to say ‘No More!’ and demand for themselves and others a chance at a future. The success of the strike is secondary to the newly-discovered strength of the students. They have been dismissed and derided, insulted and oppressed, from the left and the right, from so-called Progressives and self-congratulating Libertarians. Because the students do not articulate the same philosophy as those of other critics, they are presented as naïve and ‘entitled.’ Those who insult and deride without empathy or understanding only expose their own naivety.
The fundamental and historical importance of the present situation in Québec is not the cost of tuition, it’s the mass mobilization of youth: it is an expression of a popular and growing dissatisfaction with the way things are and an articulation and drive to create something different, to chart a course for the way things can be. Those who fail to see and recognize that, fail to see the development of progress through history, not immediate, but evolving, not instant, but incremental and persistent. If nothing else, this generation can look back and say, “At least we tried. At least we started.”
What will you look back and say?
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
 Christa d’Souza, The art of being Louise MacBain, The Telegraph, 26 June 2004:
 Konrad Yakabuski, Like Father, like sons?, The Globe and Mail, 26 March 2006:
 Marianne White, “Author delivers high-voltage critique of Paul Desmarais Sr. — the man behind Power Corp,” Ottawa Citizen, 21 October 2008:
 Ian Austen, “The Name Is ‘Power’ and It Fits,” The New York Times, 26 January 2007:
 Lisa Kassenaar, “Desmarais family keeps a low profile,” Edmonton Journal, 1 August 2009:
 Lisa Kassenaar, “Buffett Loses to Desmarais as Power Exceeds Return,” Bloomberg, 30 July 2009:
 Christinne Muschi, “Great-West Lifeco helps boost profit at Power Financial,” Reuters, 14 March 2012:
Kevin Dougherty, “Sabia-Desmarais meeting was “friendly”, not lobbying, Caisse de dépôt says,” Montreal Gazette, 7 February 2012:
 William K. Carroll and Murray Shaw, “Consolidating a Neoliberal Policy Bloc in Canada, 1976 to 1996,” Canadian Public Policy (Vol. 27, No. 2, June 2001), pages 196-200.
 William K. Carroll and Murray Shaw, “Consolidating a Neoliberal Policy Bloc in Canada, 1976 to 1996,” Canadian Public Policy (Vol. 27, No. 2, June 2001), pages 200-202.
 C.D. Howe Institute, Members and Supporters: http://www.cdhowe.org/members-and-supporters
Canada’s Economic Collapse and Social Crisis: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 5
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
What are the Spending Priorities of the Government?
In the debate raging over increased costs of tuition in Quebec, increased debt loads of the federal and provincial governments, the need to reduce costs – impose “fiscal austerity” – and find “solutions” to these problems, very little context is given. As students fight back against increased fees, the counter argument simply states that people must pay for their education, that governments must reduce their deficits, and therefore, cuts in spending and increases in tuition are necessary, though undesirable. But how necessary are they? Where is the government putting its money?
The question really comes down to one of priorities and approach. What are the spending priorities of the government, for people in need or for the benefit of the rich? What is the government’s approach to spending in terms of addressing a major social and economic crisis, to treat symptoms or address the cause? A great deal is revealed about the moral, ethical and humanitarian considerations of a state in terms of how and where it spends its money. Canada is no exception.
First, let’s start with Canada’s debt. In October of 2011, it was reported that Canada’s combined federal and provincial debt equaled roughly $1.1 trillion. This raised calls from the business community in Canada stating that, “It’s time for governments across Canada to get more serious about controlling and reducing debt.” In other words: time for fiscal austerity! (i.e., cutting social spending and increasing costs and taxes) This debt load amounts to roughly 58% of government GDP (that is, 58% of yearly tax revenues), as opposed to Greece, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 160%.
An interesting issue to note is that the Bank of Canada (Canada’s central bank) was created in 1934 as a private bank, and it was transformed into a government-owned bank in 1938, and was then able to lend to the government without interest, and thus, “the Bank is ultimately owned by the people of Canada.” The job of the Bank is to manage monetary policy, by issuing the currency and setting interest rates. Canada had a unique central bank, as most other central banks were founded and maintained as private banks (responsible to private shareholders), such as the Bank of England (1694), the Bank of France (1801), and the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States (1913). It was responsible for financing Canada’s war machine during World War II, railways, the St. Lawrence seaway, the TransCanada Highway, schools, hospitals, healthcare, pensions, and social security, all with no interest attached. Between 1940 and 1974, Canada had a national debt below $18 billion. In 1974, all of this changed as Canada sunk into its neoliberal abyss, when private banks (the “big five” in Canada) essentially took over the function of lending to the government, and at high interest rates, with Canada paying over $61 billion per year on interest to private banks alone. Between 1981 and 1995, the Canadian government collected $619 billion in income tax, but because the debt was owed to private banks, instead of being interest-free with the Bank of Canada, during that same period of time, the Canadian government paid the private banks $428 billion in interest payments.
Interest payments on Canada’s debt account for roughly 15% of Canada’s revenues. Statistics Canada provides information up until 2009 on the Canadian government’s expenditures and revenues. In 2009, the federal government’s expenditures amounted to $243 billion, with $26 billion spent on health care, $88 billion on social services, $5.8 billion on education, and $18.6 billion on debt charges.
So, while cuts are being made to social programs and education (fiscal austerity), they are increasing dramatically to the military, defense, and police. In 2000, Canada spent $10 billion on defense, and that rose to $21.8 billion in 2011. In 2008, Canada’s Conservative government set out a plan to increase defense spending over the following 20 years, setting the goal at $490 billion in total defense spending over that period. Included in the plans are the purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, the American war profiteering corporation, to a possible dollar amount of $30 billion or more. So there is money for the war machine, to support an increasingly imperialistic foreign policy, and as the ever-present appendage lap-dog to the American Empire to the south.
And since Canada has its lowest crime rate since the 1970s, naturally the ever-pragmatic Conservative government is seeking to rapidly accelerate the construction of prisons and expansion of police forces. The government’s proposed changes to the criminal system seek to “create a flood of Canadians into the prison system.” The government identified prisons, police, and the purposely-Orwellian classification of “public safety” as the biggest winners in increased budget allocations for 2011, seeking to build more prisons and hire hundreds more police officers. At the same time, the government is slashing benefits to seniors and old-age pensioners. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, prison costs are expected to rise from $4.4 billion in 2011 to $9.5 billion in 2015-16. When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, prison costs amounted to $1.6 billion per year. So while the government spends billions on corporate tax cuts, fighter jets, police and prisons, it is simultaneously planning on cutting spending for old age pensioners and social security programs.
As the government cuts between 11-22,000 federal public sector jobs, the Canadian Forces (military), RCMP (police), and the overall ‘national security’ establishment will not suffer such cuts, and in fact, will gain employees. Ultimately, under the plans of the Conservative government, between 60,000 and 70,000 jobs could vanish across the country to implement $8 billion in spending cuts.
While spending on health care exceeded $200 billion in 2011, it amounted to $5,800 per person in Canada. While this system – of what is often called ‘socialized healthcare’ – is portrayed by Americans as costly and wasteful, it is far cheaper than the American corporatized – or privatized – health “care” system. The average spending on health care for OECD countries – as a percentage of GDP – is 9.5%: Canada spent 11.4% of its GDP on healthcare in 2009, compared to the United States, which spent 17.4% of its GDP on healthcare; with the Netherlands spending at 12% of GDP, France at 11.8% and Germany at 11.6%. In terms of spending per capita (that is, the cost of healthcare spread out evenly to each individual within the country), Canada spends $4,363 (U.S. dollars) per person on healthcare, with the OECD average at $3,223, and compared to the United States at $7,960 per capita. The irony here, of course, is that a for-profit health system is far more costly than a ‘socialized’ healthcare system, despite the common claims to the contrary.
So naturally, the Federal Government, in the midst of – and on the precipice of a far greater – economic crisis, decides that the best courses of action are to increase unemployment by firing tens of thousands of people, reduce social spending so that they are left with less support in their newfound poverty, and continue to privatize everything. Of course, this inevitably leads to social unrest, protests, even rebellion. Quebec is a great example, as it seems that the anti-tuition strikes and protests are getting more dramatic with each passing week. As the reality of our situation settles in over the course of the next year and years, the protests and resistance will exacerbate and grow nation-wide (along with the development of similar movements around the world). Thus, we may properly understand the impetus of the government to increase spending on police, the military, “public safety” (national security/police state) and prisons: as typical state responses to social crises, throw money at the systems, structures and institutions of oppression so that when the people begin to rise up, the state may have the force available to push them down, oppress them, and imprison them.
The Government of Quebec, which is doubling tuition costs over the next five years, has a current debt of $184 billion or 55.5% of GDP. Quebec’s current budget, released in March of 2012, projects spending of $70.9 billion, with 42.5% of the budget allocated to healthcare and social services, 22.5% on education and culture, 11.6% on debt servicing, 3.5% on families and seniors, and 19.9% on “other.” Total expenditures on education, leisure, and sports amount to less than $16 billion, with $1.3 billion being allocated to Quebec’s corporations, $5 billion going to manufacturing, while $8.2 billion of the budget is going to pay the interest on the debt. Meanwhile, the government was announcing major investments in mining, aiming to produce a surplus, with $1 billion in investments in mining and hydrocarbon industries, as part of Quebec’s ‘Plan Nord,’ The Plan includes the creation of Resources Québec, a new Crown corporation that will oversee a $1.2-billion equity portfolio, designed to “help develop the north and exploit the province’s abundant mineral resources.” The government, in turn, is expecting $4 billion in mining royalties over the next decade. The forestry, tourism, and agribusiness industries are also getting support from the government, creating partnerships between big business, government, and unions. Quebec provides a great deal of corporate welfare. In 2007, Quebec ranked first among Canadian provinces in how much corporate welfare was doled out, at $6 billion, followed by Ontario at $2.1 billion, Alberta at $1.2 billion, and British Columbia at over $1 billion. So, there’s no more money for education, but there’s plenty of money to throw at multi-billion dollar corporations.
For all the screaming and wailing governments engage in over the costs of social programs and benefits for the public, there’s very little discussion over the expenditures of governments which go to corporations, not to mention, tax cuts. Beginning in 2000, under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, the Canadian federal government began implementing massive corporate tax cuts, which “allowed Canadian companies to amass some $477 billion in cash reserves,” with corporate taxes going from 28% in 2000, to 21% when the Conservatives came to power in 2006, to 15% at the beginning of 2012. While the tax cuts were supposedly to encourage job creation, in reality, the cuts “allowed companies to hoard cash, pay out larger dividends to shareholders and beef up executive salaries.” For each percentage point in a decrease of corporate taxes, the federal government loses $2 billion in potential revenue. Thus, the total loss from the new tax cuts amounts to $26 billion. A report from the Canadian Labour Congress explained, “The government has been borrowing money to pay for its corporate tax giveaways. Now, to pay for tax breaks, the government is planning to make massive cuts to public services, such as meat inspection, that are essential to Canadians.”
So while students, seniors, and the poor suffer, Canadian corporations are doing marvelously well. Reports from Statistics Canada show that Canadian corporations are “sitting on more than $583 billion in Canadian currency and deposits, and more than $276 billion in foreign currency.” The cash reserves of these companies have climbed 27.3% since 2007, back when Canada’s economy was “booming,” and 9% of the increase in reserves was since last year. Not including financial corporations and banks, Canadian companies saw their cash reserves increase by $33 billion in the last quarter of 2011. While Canadian household debt has doubled since 1990, corporate taxes have been cut almost in half in the same amount of time. Canadian provinces have been lowering corporate taxes as well. Back in 2000, Canada’s combined federal and provincial corporate tax rate was the highest of the OECD countries, at 43%. Today, it’s around the world average of 26%. So while Canadian corporations sit on hundreds of billions of unused dollars, the Canadian government is continuing to give them more money to put in their bank accounts, which then reduces the government budget by billions each year, and the Canadian people are then expected to pay for this corporate welfare through reduced social services, loss of public sector jobs, increased tuition costs and increased debt.
Corporate welfare is dolled out by provincial governments as well. In 2011, the Province of Quebec and Quebec City each provided $200 million to build a new hockey arena for a for-profit hockey team. Ontario is also a corporate welfare haven, as between 2003 and 2005, the province gave $422 million to GM, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler, and in 2009, the province participated in a Canada-Ontario $15.3 billion bailout of GM and Chrysler. The last year that government statistics are available, in 2008, Ontario spent $2.7 billion on corporate welfare, while Quebec spent $6 billion. Between 1991 and 2009, the government of Ontario gave $27.7 billion in tax dollars to corporations. Meanwhile, the Government of Quebec increased taxes in 2010, and the provincial sales tax increased by 2% since then, along with an increased gas tax, and of course, tuition increases.
This system is, by definition, corporatist. A corporatist system (alternatively referred to as “corporate socialism” or “economic fascism”) is one in which profit is privatized and risk is socialized. In other words, the state ensures that corporations profit and become more powerful and dominant, while the people have to foot the bill and suffer for it. As Benito Mussolini reportedly stated, “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism, for it is the merger of state and corporate power.” It is no surprise then, that as the state becomes more supportive to the suckling-pig-like-corporate cancers of our society, they also become more oppressive and totalitarian. The very circumstances demand it.
The Big Five Banks Declare War on the People
In early March of 2012, it was reported that Canada’s big five banks (Royal Bank, CIBC, TD, Scotiabank, Bank of Montreal) have recorded “sky-high profits” of $7 billion in the first quarter alone (from November 2011 to January 2012), an average increase of 5.8% since last year. Much of the profits, especially for CIBC, “were mostly due to higher volumes of personal and commercial loans,” or, in other words: debt for people and corporations. Canadian banks are, on the whole, doing better than ever. They are consistently rated as the “world’s soundest” banks by the World Economic Forum, and are even adding some jobs, while U.S. banks cut theirs.
A recent report released by CIBC stated that corporate Canada is as “fit as a fiddle,” as “a health check on Canada’s corporate sector shows businesses across the country passing with flying colours.” In fact, according to economists from CIBC, Canada’s corporate sector has never been better. The major indices of corporate ‘health’ are: “debt-to-equity ratios, cash to credit ratios, profit margins, returns on equity, returns on capital.” The economists concluded that, “even with public sector retrenchment under way, and indications that consumers may not have the same appetite to spend as earlier in the recovery, corporate Canada could be positioned to pick up the mantle and drive economic growth in the years ahead.” So naturally while Canada’s corporations are as “fit as a fiddle” and the public at large is dominated by debt, the government – both federal and provincial – seek to extend more benefits to corporations (tax cuts and state subsidies), while extending hardships to the majority of Canadians (increased taxes, reduced social spending, increased costs). Again, it’s about priorities.
The banking sector in Canada itself is becoming two-tiered, where the big five banks are vacating the inner cities, and so-called “fringe banks” are becoming the choice banks for poor and low-income Canadians. Professor Jerry Buckland wrote that, “There is something ethically troublesome about a situation where low-income people are paying high fees for low-quality services and middle-income people are paying low fees for high-quality services.” Unexpected fees, bad banking hours, lack of ID, and other constraints have pushed lower income groups away from the big five and toward the ‘fringe banks’ which also charge big fees but are more accessible. However, the combination of the big five leaving the inner cities and the fringe banks charging high fees and interest rates, “exacerbate poverty and create a two-tiered banking system.”
Canada’s big five banks are rolling in money. CIBC reported $835 million in profits for the first quarter, up 9.4% from last year; Royal Bank reported first quarter profits of $1.86 billion; TD Bank had profits of $1.48 billion; Scotiabank had first quarter profits of $1.44 billion, a 15.2% increase from last year; and the Bank of Montreal recorded profits of $1.11 billion, up 34.5% from last year.
So why are Canada’s banks doing so well? It’s simple: because people are in debt, and getting deeper into debt. As the Globe and Mail reported, “Mortgages and credit card spending have fuelled bank profits for years.” So now what? Well, Royal Bank of Canada and TD both announced in March of 2012 that they will begin to increase their interest rates on mortgages, which means that they are seeking to further sap the wealth and deflate the future potential of the average Canadian household. But the increase in interest rates will increase bank profits, so it’s a good thing for Royal Bank and TD, never mind that it’s bad for everyone else. The other major Canadian banks will likely follow suit in raising their interest rates. The chief economist at TD Bank estimated that, “more than one million Canadian households, or about 10 per cent of those that currently have debt, will have to devote 40 per cent or more of their income to making their monthly debt payments if rates rise by two-to-three points to more normal levels.”
A Bubble Waiting to Burst?
So what is the Canadian mortgage and housing market doing? Well, it’s replicating the disaster seen in the United States just prior to the 2008 crash. Canada’s banking regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions warned that Canadian banks were offering mortgages very similar to the U.S. subprime loans and that these pose an “emerging risk” to Canadian banks. Now the regulator didn’t just come out and say this, because that might be helpful. Instead, this information was released to Bloomberg news via a Freedom of Information law request, which revealed that Canadian mortgages “have some similarities to non-prime loans in the U.S. retail lending market.” In 2009, Canada’s housing market began to soar with record-low interest rates on mortgages. This is one of the primary reasons why Bank of Canada governor (and former Goldman Sachs executive) Mark Carney warned that household debt is the greatest threat to Canada’s economic stability.
The state of the Canadian population is abysmal. The average debt for a Canadian household is over $100,000, and the average Canadian household spends 150% of their income. This means that for every $1,000 earned, $1,500 is owed. These debt figures are primarily made up of mortgages, but also student debt, credit card debt, and other lines of credit. A 2011 report indicated that, “17,400 households were behind in their mortgage payments by three or more months in 2010, up by 50 per cent since the recession began. Credit card delinquencies and bankruptcy rates also remain higher than before the recession.”
In March of 2012, the Bank of Canada warned that household debt “remains the biggest domestic risk” to Canada’s economy. While part of the Bank’s role is to set interest rates, it has kept interest rates very low (at 1%) in order to encourage lending (and indeed, families have become more indebted as a result). Yet, the Bank says, interest rates will have to rise eventually. Economists at Canada’s major banks (CIBC, RBC, BMO, TD, and ScotiaBank) naturally support such an inevitability, as one BMO economist stated, “while rates are unlikely to increase in the near term, the next move is more likely to be up rather than down, and could well emerge sooner than we currently anticipate.” The chief economist at CIBC stated that, “markets will pick up on the slightly improved change in tone on the economy, and might move forward the implied date for the first rate hike.” This translates into: the economy is doing well for the big banks, therefore they will demand higher interest rates on debts, and plunge the Canadian population into poverty; the “invisible hand of the free market” in action.
The Canadian housing market is in a major bubble, “with a run-up in prices, high ownership rates and overbuilding.” A majority of Canadian mortgages are financed through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the equivalent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the United States (which both went bust in the 2008 crash). The CMHC has an outstanding balance of $132 billion in mortgage-backed securities, $202 billion in Canada Mortgage Bonds, and last year issued a debt of $41.3 billion (compared to $6.5 billion in 2001). The big five banks generally provide the remaining mortgages (again, just like in the U.S.). A spokeswoman for the Canadian Bankers Association, however, reassured those who somehow still trust bankers that Canadian banks “carefully manage risk in their mortgage portfolios.” Home sales are increasing – another indication of the growing bubble – by 9.5% last year alone, while home prices increased by 7.2%. CIBC reported that Canadian homes are overvalued (that is, their prices are artificially inflated) by 10%, and the heads of the Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank both warned in late 2011 that, “condominium markets in Toronto and Vancouver are at risk of correction,” which is to say, a crash.
The problem is especially large in Vancouver, which was recently rated as the most expensive city to live in across North America, followed Los Angeles and New York. Vancouver is now the 37th most expensive city in the world, whereas just last year it was ranked as 72nd. The average price for a detached bungalow in Vancouver increased by 17% from the previous year to $1.02 million. The average cost of a condominium in Vancouver rose 5.1% to $513,500 and the “average priced home in Vancouver is now 11.2 times the average family income, a figure many economists call unsustainable.” In certain areas of Vancouver, such as Richmond, West Vancouver and the West End, housing prices have soared nearly 80% in the past five years, and 27% just in the past year alone. This has been raising fears of a housing bubble in Vancouver, and indeed it should be.
In January of 2012, Bank of Canada governor warned – in very subtle and vague terms – that Canada’s property market is “probably overvalued,” meaning that it is heavily overvalued. Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty also hinted that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, stating, “We watch the housing market carefully and we are prepared to intervene if necessary.” So is it a bubble? Yes! In fact, the Bank of Nova Scotia recently reported that, “At 13 years and counting, Canada’s current housing boom is one of the longest-lasting in the world.” The price of Canadian homes has increased by over 85% since 1998, with a slight stagnant period in 2008, and then continued to rise in 2009, growing by a further 20%. It is no coincidence that household debt has increased as well, with the debt burden of Canadian families at 153% of their income, which is “almost as much debt as American households had at the peak of their bubble.” In fact, the Economist magazine estimated that the Canadian housing market is overvalued by more than 70% (which is to say, it’s probably much higher than that). One of the major American banks, Merrill Lynch, issued a report indicating that the Canadian housing market is rife with “overvaluation, speculation and over supply.” According to an international survey of housing affordability, Vancouver is the second-least affordable city in the world.
It seems that 2012 will be the year the housing market bubble begins to pop, with the economy slowing down, unemployment rising, and job creation has virtually stalled, according to CIBC, which explained that, “the job market is currently weaker than any non- recessionary period.” Canada is not alone, of course, as the United States and Ireland were just the beginning. It is expected that the U.K., Australia, Belgium, France, New Zealand, Spain, and Sweden are all set to follow suit. Within Canada, however, British Columbia and Ontario will be the most affected. But don’t worry, the Canadian banking sector will survive the pop, because it is actually the Canadian government which owns 75% of the mortgages, meaning that this will then pass to Canadian taxpayers, not the poor disadvantaged millionaire and billionaire bankers. Besides, the risk they have will probably be bailed out by our government. As our Finance Minister stated, “we are prepared to intervene if necessary,” which means that they will take all the bad debts of the banks, and then hand them to YOU.
An economist at the Bank of Montreal said not to worry, however, because Canada’s housing market isn’t a bubble, “it’s a balloon,” and therefore, she predicted, “Canada’s housing market is expected to deflate slowly rather than pop.” The argument, however, is one based upon faith: faith that the banks won’t increase interest rates by too much, faith that Canadian household debt won’t inflict as much harm as American household debt, and faith that one can compete in verbal and mental gymnastics in such a way as to convincingly refer to a bubble as a “balloon.” It should be noted that up until the burst of the American housing bubble, all the major players were denying that a bubble even existed.
Patti Croft, a recently retired chief economist from the Royal Bank of Canada warned the Canadian Parliament in January of 2012 that, “the risk of a housing bubble was among Canada’s biggest issues.” The Bank of Canada’s extremely low interest rate (of 1%) has stimulated this growth, just as the Federal Reserve in the United States helped stimulate the housing bubble there through historically low interest rates. The result of such low rates is an excess of speculative actions in the housing market, driving prices up. Croft warned that, “the greater concern is the looming housing bubble that we see, particularly in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, because I think that is where the speculative excesses lie.”
In March, TD Bank warned that Canada’s housing bubble posed a “clear and present danger” to Canada’s economy, and singled out Vancouver as “the market with the greatest risk of a housing price correction.” The effects of the bubble are already evident, as British Columbia is increasingly losing people who are moving to other provinces due to the high cost of living.
It should be noted that, even though this housing bubble in Canada has been inflated since the late 1990s, it is only being talked about, admitted as even existing (though some make absurd claims about magical “balloons”), and acknowledged NOW. This is dangerous. The fact that it is now being acknowledged by top banks, the finance minister, the Bank of Canada and other major international organizations and banks, implies that they are now preparing for it to burst, and are thus positioning themselves to profit from the coming collapse. Remember, this is not a strange idea: during the housing bubble collapse in the United States, all the big banks which helped create it then bet against the market and profited off of its collapse, not to mention, they were then rewarded by the federal government with trillions of dollars in bailouts for their outstanding accomplishments in causing the crisis in the first place. Criminals are rewarded, and victims are punished. That is for a simple reason: government is organized crime.
Canada’s youth are in a major crisis. The youth unemployment rate in Canada is at 14.7%, compared to an overall unemployment rate of 7.4%, with 27,000 less jobs for young Canadians than last year. As one economist explained, “In addition to the fact that youths are facing competition from their own age cohorts, they are now facing competition from people who just lost their jobs during the recession and have 20 years of experience in the workforce.” Further, the economist added, “the whole process of trying to get to where you wanted to be when you got out of university takes years longer than it used to. Taking a lower wage than you were initially expecting has significant repercussions for your long-term career.” A one percent increase in unemployment rates leads to a six-to-seven percent decrease in salary, and thus, “It can take anywhere from 10 upwards to 15 years to close that gap of reduced wages. So your lifetime earnings are substantially lower, for the simple fact that you graduated at the wrong time.” The real rates of unemployed are actually much higher than the stated 14% “because a lot of young people aren’t collecting Unemployment Insurance or welfare.” Thus, it is 14% of Canadian youths who are on Unemployment Insurance or welfare, and the statistics don’t include the rest of the unemployed youth population of Canada.
As for the net unemployment rate of Canadians at 7.4%, this too is misleading, because the statistics don’t include the number of Canadians who have simply given up on the job search, amounting to 38,000 Canadians in the past year. The province of Manitoba created 600 new jobs in 2011, while cutting 10,000 jobs in the same amount of time. The Canadian economy has cut 37,000 jobs just since October of 2011, and it’s only going to get worse. While there are 27,000 less jobs for Canadian youth than there were last year, this number grows to 300,000 less jobs for youth than there were in 2008.
The Canadian federal budget, released in late March, set out the government’s priorities for the coming year. Students and youth, who are among the most in need of help, were basically left out of the budget, naturally, since they are not multinational corporations, bankers, or billionaires. What money is going to schools is marked for industry-related research (i.e., a corporate subsidy), and as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty explained, “The plan’s measures focus on the drivers of growth: innovation, business investment, people’s education and skills that will fuel the new wave of job creation.” Again, it’s important to note that when politicians use the terms “jobs” or “job creation,” what they actually mean is “profit” and “profit creation,” invariably for corporations and banks. In regards to education:
The Conservatives placed a clear emphasis on partnerships between businesses and universities when it came to research funding: among their plans, they intend to dedicate $14 million over two years to double the Industrial Research and Development Internship Program, which currently supports 1,000 graduate students in conducting research at private-sector firms.
While the Canadian government announced funding of “$500 million over five years to support modernization of research infrastructure on campuses through the Canada Foundation for Innovation,” as well as through other research granting councils, the funding will actually be reallocated from other areas of education financing, what are deemed “lower-priority programs,” which means that they do not directly support corporate or industrial profit-making potential. The government will also cut 19,200 jobs from the public sector.
The federal government’s budget estimates a $5.2 billion cut in spending, as well as increasing the limit on Old Age Security from 65 to 67, meaning that older people will have to work longer before getting any benefits. That will give the government just enough time to steal everyone’s pension and hand them to corporations before the people actually need them. So while the government cuts social spending, ignores the needs of Canada’s youth, and fires tens of thousands of workers – this is what economists call “fiscal austerity” – it simultaneously is increasing its spending and support to Canada’s corporations (who are already as “fit as a fiddle”), with “direct spending and incentives to help firms expand, invest and export, as well as measures designed to shed some of the shackles on their growth.” The chief economist at TD Bank stated, “They are trying to create a favourable environment in which businesses can grow.” So while the government provides a meager $50 million to help students find jobs, it hands out billions to corporations. The increased funding for research at universities is also specifically designed to produce products to go onto the market; so again, education funding is being further railroaded into merging business and higher education.
These moves are obviously not taken on the initiative of government alone, but are lobbied for by the corporate and financial elite, whether directly through interest groups, or indirectly through think tanks. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) – formerly the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI) – is an interest group made up of the top 150 CEOs in Canada, and which directly lobbies the government to serve their interests. They played a major role in the efforts to create NAFTA and to pursue the agenda of North American integration, as well as a plethora of other free trade deals. However, their “interests” extend beyond trade, and they seek to lobby the government to serve their interests across the whole society.
The current President and CEO of the CCCE is John P. Manley, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, former Minister of Finance, Industry, and Foreign Affairs. He was the co-chair of a Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on the Future of North America (which set the agenda for the Security and Prosperity Partnership and North American integration). He is also on the board of directors of CIBC and a number of other corporations and non-profits. The Vice Chairman of the board of directors of the CCCE is of course, Paul Desmarais Jr. (of the powerful Desmarais family, who essentially OWN Canada’s politicians and Prime Ministers), and other board members include: William A. Downe, CEO of BMO Financial Group; Gordon Nixon, CEO of Royal Bank of Canada; and a number of other leading corporate executives.
The CEOs of the following companies and business organizations are all represented in the CCCE: Air Canada, Astral Media, Barrick Gold Corporation, BCE Inc and Bell Canada, BMO Financial group, BNP Paribas (Canada), Bombardier, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Canadian Oil Sands Limited, Canadian Pacific Railway, Canfor Corporation, Cargill Limited, Chevron Canada, CIBC, CN, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Desjardins Group, Dow Chemical Canada, E.I. du Pont Canada Company, Encana Corporation, Ford Motor Company of Canada, GE Canada, GlaxoSmithKline, the Great-West Life Assurance Company, HSBC Bank Canada, Hudson’s Bay Company, IBM Canada, Imperial Oil Limited, Manulife Financial Corporation, McCain Foods Limited, Microsoft Canada, National Bank of Canada, Pfizer Canada, Power Corporation of Canada, Power Financial Corporation, Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank, SNC-Lavalin Group, Standard Life Assurance Company, Sun Life Financial, Suncor Energy, TD Bank Group, TELUS, TransCanada Corporation, The Woodbridge Company Limited, among many others.
Back in October of 2010, John Manley spoke to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada on the issue of making Canada “a leader in the knowledge economy.” Manley stated that Canada needed to ensure that “more of our academic discoveries successfully ‘cross the chasm’ to commercial success,” referring to the need to market what is done in university laboratories. Manley stated that, “there is a need for closer collaboration between post-secondary education institutions and the business community,” as, he explained: “Business-university collaboration is key to Canada’s ability to compete more effectively, to enhance our quality of life and to provide better opportunities for tomorrow’s graduates.” Manley elaborated:
All of us have an interest in achieving stronger partnerships between post-secondary institutions and the private sector, and in overcoming the barriers to commercialization of university research – barriers ranging from “hard” issues of funding and intellectual property ownership, to less tangible considerations such as differences in expectations, culture and behaviour between academia and the private sector.
With the release of the Canadian federal budget for 2012, the CCCE of course praised the budget as “taking steps to promote job creation and business investment.” John Manley stated, “By restraining the growth in public spending, reducing regulatory overlap, improving Canada’s immigration system and enhancing support for business-driven research, the government is helping to build a stronger and more competitive Canadian economy.”
Economists from Canada’s major banks had a good deal to say about the budget. Economists from TD Bank explained that, “When combined, the various measures included in today’s budget are aimed at improving productivity and boosting private sector growth, at a time when public spending is being constrained,” and that, of course, this is a good thing. An economist at CIBC praised “the path towards fiscal balance,” as “the 2012 budget was as much about Canada’s longer term prospects as it was about squeezing spending.” Economists at the National Bank of Canada praised the budget’s decision to raise the old age security pension eligibility from 65 to 67 years, “While it is a step in the right direction, it could have been implemented earlier.” Economists at Royal Bank of Canada stated that the Canadian government “has delivered on its promise of guiding the Canadian economy towards improved fiscal performance in what are generally difficult economic times globally.” Meanwhile, the National Pensioner and Senior Citizens Federation declared that, “Today’s budget tabled by Finance Minister Flaherty confirmed the worst for our children and grandchildren… This government has attacked the retirement security of future generations as it looks years ahead for dollars to finance other priorities… There was nothing for seniors, not even a discarded penny for the poorest living in poverty.”
But then, that’s the point, isn’t it? Why would you seek to help the elderly and the poor and needy when you can help the multinational corporations and global banks, and thus, when you leave government, get a secure position on their boards (as John Manley did), and live the rest of your days as a jet-setting, globe-trotting, high-rolling elite? As a politician, you get no personal benefit or profit from supporting or serving the poor or the majority, you must only serve a tiny elite, and then your place is ensured among them.
Make no mistake: Canada’s Big Five Banks, the corporations they control, and the federal and provincial governments, which they collectively OWN, have declared class war on the people of Canada. The agenda is simple: get the population of Canada indebted, which is to say, enslaved; then, increase interest rates, cut social spending, increase unemployment, increase tuition, increase consumer costs, increase taxes, and at the same time, give more support and money to corporations and banks, and decrease their taxes. Then, build prisons, fund the military and the police and the police state apparatus of surveillance and control, so that when the people wake up to the fact that their future is being stolen from them, you can put them in their place: under the boot.
So the question for Canadian is this: will you acknowledge the class war taking place against you, your friends, and your families and fellow brothers and sisters, and then seek to fight back; or, will you continue to go into credit card debt, further into student debt, get mortgages and passively accept subservience to a system which treats you like a slave, sub-human degenerates, and superfluous, that is, useless and expendable. It is a question of passive acceptance of an evil system, or active resistance to forge ahead and creatively construct a humane society. The question is for all; the answer is yours alone.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
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