Sunday 30 October 2011

Occupy Winnipeg & the Serious Purpose

Winnipeg has always been rather insulated.  We are surrounded by a Great Wall of Prairie and the nearest major city is a daytrip away.  We make jokes that everyone who lives here is less than six degrees of separation from everyone else.  We believe our landscape makes us Big Picture people.  In some respects, we share a hive mind and it takes a long time for any new idea to puncture it and take root – but once it does, it takes a very, very long time to remove it.

Those who do not share the hive mind – the boys and girls who cry "Wolf!" – are either patronised or mocked as a temporary blip in the bubble of complacency that surrounds Winnipeg.  We've had hippies and punks, and all the other malcontents that scourged society elsewhere, but they've all eventually grown up, got jobs, bought houses and cabins, made families and fell into line with the rest of us.  Or they left.  Either way, it's good.

So, it is generally agreed by Winnipeg's hive mind that the Occupiers will also fade.  Until they do, we will patronise or mock them for crying "Wolf!", smug in the knowledge that they will, eventually, submit.  They will acquire the stuff of life and assimilate, as we did.

This is, after all, Winnipeg, where only the weather is extreme.  The peaks and valleys, booms and busts experienced elsewhere have no real effect here.  If you're hungry or homeless, we have an app for that; it's on you if you don't use it.  We've got Siloam Mission and the United Way and the ants dutifully spare Change For The Better, support the CEOs for Downtown Sleepout and donate to Winnipeg Harvest and the Christmas Cheer Board as we always have so the grasshoppers can fiddle.

The joke, however, that people don't see is that we are not Big Picture people at all.

The Big Picture is that our societal fringes have been fraying for more than a generation, just like everywhere else.  The market crashes and burns and burst bubbles have rippled and eroded our banks, too, and all the smug denial of our collective complacency will not hold indefinitely.

The Occupiers see it.  They see that lifelong careers with benefits and pensions have been replaced by short-term contracts.  They see personal savings becoming growing debt.  They see that services to the public – water, garbage, leisure activities, education, health care – are becoming cost-driven enterprises.  They see the increasing infrastructure deficit they will inherit because we've become convinced that taxes are a burden to society, not an investment in community.  They see the looming food shortages.  They see the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer and the only ones fiddling are the ones with power and security that will be inherited by a shrinking few.  The ants, deeply consumed in their tasks, haven't noticed the grasshoppers are running the Hill.

Prime Minister Harper wasn't wrong when he said things are different in Canada; we didn't bail out any banks here. (See note below)  However, we are not immune to global economic effects any more than we are insulated from the long-term effects of deregulation and the profit-driven international agenda of major corporations that are steadily killing the beloved notion of competition keeping costs down by becoming monopolies.

It wasn't Winnipeg's small, stable market that attracted Veolia to our water utility.  It wasn't in the interest of fair trade or low-cost or efficiency that placed municipal procurement and the death of "Buy Local" on CETA'S platter.  It wasn't the desire for market freedom that is killing the Canadian Wheat Board, while other marketing boards are undisturbed.  It wasn't in the name of public safety that the gun registry is scheduled for destruction.

Tom Olsen mocked Occupy Winnipeg for having a Serious Purpose it cannot name.

Personally, I think it's more likely Occupy Winnipeg is surprised there are any reasonably intelligent beings so comfortably entrenched that they can't see or won't admit what is swarming on the horizon of our big sky.

Raising the alarm is Occupy Winnipeg's Serious Purpose. The Occupiers at Memorial Park are the ants who looked up and saw the grasshoppers have become locusts.

It's been a long time, but Prairie people know what happens when locusts swarm:  They don't leave much for the ants.

NOTE: What PM Harper said was "We obviously have a very different situation here -- we didn't bail out our banking sector."

However, as Anonymous commented below, the Government of Canada didn't just sit back and allow the market to have its way with us, either: 

"One of the major consequences of the collapse of the US real estate bubble in 2008 was the triggering of a significant crisis of confidence in global financial markets.  In Canada, as elsewhere, the crisis made it harder for major financial institutions to secure short- and long-term financing and for Canadian consumers to obtain mortgage financing for property purchases.

"To address these temporary problems in the Canadian mortgage credit market, the federal Department of Finance announced the creation of the Insured Mortgage Purchase Program (IMPP) in October 2008.  The stated purpose of the program is to "help Canadian financial institutions raise longer-term funds and make them available to consumers, home buyers and businesses in Canada."  The total program envelope, initially $25 billion, was increased to $75 billion in November 2008, then to $125 billion when Budget 2009 was tabled.

"This document provides a detailed description of the IMPP's operation, from funding to the mortgage purchase mechanism.  In particular, it shows how the government will be able to generate revenue from this operation and the reason why there is virtually no associated risk.  Lastly, it examines the possibility that the program may not be able to achieve its stated mandate of promoting access to credit for consumers and businesses."


"The Honourable Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, today announced the Government will purchase up to an additional $50 billion of insured mortgage pools by the end of the fiscal year as part of its ongoing efforts to maintain the availability of longer-term credit in Canada.

"This action will increase to $75 billion the maximum value of securities purchased through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) under this program.

"'At a time of considerable uncertainty in global financial markets, this action will provide Canada’s financial institutions with significant and stable access to longer-term funding,' said Minister Flaherty.

"'This extension of the program to purchase insured mortgages will further support the availability of credit, which will benefit Canadian households, businesses and the economy. In addition, it will earn a modest rate of return for the Government with no additional risk to the taxpayer.'"

Thank you, Anonymous; whoever you are!


  1. What you describe isn't limited to just Winnipeg but is a national or even perhaps an international malaise.

    I hear much the same sneering dismissal of the occupy movement here in the big smoke. However there is little cause for despair about this attitude for we are just in the birth stage and I am confident that in time we will win them over.

    After all one can only ignore reality for a time, eventually it becomes impossible to continue to do so. That day is coming.

  2. Maybe it's splitting hairs, but we DID bail out the banks proactively: the Govt of Cda bought up b/w $75 & $125B of fairly high risk mortgage pools from them - borrowing money, onto our public debt to do so - to ensure they were still liquid enough to keep making loans:

  3. Kev, I hear ya. I suppose I just felt the anti-Occupy Winnipeg bias more keenly because (a) it is where I live and (b) it often seems overlooked by media mention compared with Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, et al. Granted, we're a smaller berg, but we matter, too, and whatever benefit may be derived from any level of media attention, I'd like to see us mentioned - so often it seems nothing exists from Toronto to Calgary as far as even the non-MSM is concerned. #WeAreHere! ;)

    Anonymous: Great point! I am now going to prove my utter shamelessness and use it to update the blog. Thank you!