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A puzzled audience of tycoons meeting in Davos,
Switzerland, found themselves privy to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s
gratuitous plan to lop chunks from Canada’s Old Age Security system, writes
Typically, Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose somewhere far away to reveal
the next stage of his not-exactly-hidden agenda.
Four years ago, he used an international summit in Peru to signal his brief
flirtation with Keynesian economic stimulus. This week, a puzzled audience of
tycoons meeting in Davos, Switzerland, found themselves privy to Harper’s
gratuitous plan to lop chunks from Canada’s Old Age Security system.
Along with the Canada Pension Plan (which Harper says he will not cut), Old
Age Security is the major source of income for most Canadians 65 and over. These
days, the average OAS pension payout is a little over $500 a month.
Along with a sister program for the ultra-poor, it is credited with lifting
thousands of seniors from lives of execrable poverty.
Old-age pensions have always presented a conundrum to rock-ribbed
right-wingers. Like many who grew up in the era when Britain’s cost-cutting
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher served as a conservative icon, Harper has
little patience for social programs.
His view, expressed over the years in various writings, is that Ottawa should
focus on crime and defence (“prisons and armed men” as Friedrich Engels once put
it), leaving charity, family, the free market and perhaps the provinces to take
care of all else.
However, old-age pensions are popular among older people, many of whom vote
Conservative. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney found that out when he tried
to gut Old Age Security in the 1980s. In the end, he was forced to compromise.
Tellingly, Harper didn’t mention old-age pension cuts at all during last
year’s election campaign.
In Davos, the Prime Minister said his cuts won’t affect current pensioners.
Exactly what else he has in mind is unclear.
There is some suggestion he will raise the minimum age, now 65, at which
people become eligible for full Old Age Security payments. But he also could
de-link these payments from inflation, or lower the family income threshold (now
about $69,000) at which they begin to be clawed back.
What is clear from his speech in Davos is that he doesn’t need to do
As the Prime Minister correctly pointed out, Canada is no Greece. Government
debt levels, as a percentage of gross domestic product, are low; the federal
deficit is being whittled back.
There is no fiscal crisis in this country.
True, the government predicts that the cost of pensions for the elderly, now
about $35.6 billion, will triple by 2030. That sounds dire. In fact it means
that the pension bill will grow by about 5.6 per cent a year during the period
And when baby boomers start to die off, as they will from about 2020,
spending on the elderly will start to decelerate on its own.
What the times do present, however, is political opportunity. The standard
conservative critique of Europe, which Harper echoed in Davos, is that social
programs have bankrupted the continent. The case of the apocryphal Greek
hairdresser able to retire on state pension at 53 is invariably raised.
In fact, the European debt crisis is far more complex. Spain and Ireland,
which do not offer generous social programs, are in trouble. Germany, which
does, is not.
Arguably, the real root cause of the crisis was the decision by countries
with vastly different economies to use a common currency, the euro — a decision
that encouraged too much public and private borrowing during the good times and
makes repayment now near impossible.
Nonetheless, the myth of pensioner excess provides an easy talking point for
those anxious to cut social spending in Canada. The euro may be the true villain
of the piece. But the story of the slothful Greek hairdresser is easier to
Thomas Walkom's column appears Wednesday, Thursday and
Chicago’s JMC taking over
Lakeside Steel in $57.8m deal
January 25, 2012
TORONTO Lakeside Steel Inc. said Wednesday that it has agreed to be acquired
by a Chicago-based steelmaker in a friendly deal that values the pipe and tube
maker at about $57.8 million.
JMC Steel Group Inc. and Lakeside have worked out a definitive agreement
under which the American company is to acquire all of Ontario-based Lakeside’s
shares at 29.8 cents apiece.
That is a more than 300 per cent premium to the share price on Dec. 15, the
last day of trading before Lakeside announced the two were in negotiations.
The steelmaker’s shares rose 25 per cent to about 27.5 cents Wednesday after
the announcement of the definitive agreement, still well below the offer price.
JMC, which already has some locations in Canada, is a large producer of
tubular steel products.
The deal comes as a number of pipeline companies seek approval to build vast
networks that can transport massive quantities of oil and gas in order to
support growing demand for oilsands crude and other sources of energy.
“This strategic acquisition will dramatically increase our capabilities and
presence in the energy pipe market,” said Barry Zekelman, executive chairperson
“The energy pipe market is a very large market and has significant growth
potential. Lakeside Steel is a solid platform for JMC Steel Group Inc. to grow
and expand in this area.”
Lakeside had been one of the few remaining publicly-traded Canadian-owned
steelmakers. It has recently been setting up factories in the southern United
States where labour costs are cheaper and many customers are located.
“Lakeside’s manufacturing capabilities, including the new heat treat and
finishing operations in Alabama, are a great complement to our existing pipe
business,” said Frank Riddick, JMC’s chief executive officer.
“We are excited about the synergies generated by this acquisition and look
forward to leveraging our combined strengths in the market.”
The deal, subject to court approval and other customary conditions, is
expected to close in the second quarter of 2012.
Negotiations with the purchaser, whom Lakeside did not name until Wednesday,
appeared to hit a snag with the announcement Jan. 10 that the potential buyer
had lowered its original offer by 25 per cent.
Under the deal, JMC has also agreed to provide Lakeside with a secured loan
of up to $50 million.
However, if the deal falls through under certain circumstances, such as if
Lakeside’s board changed its recommendation, the company would be required to
immediately repay the loan. JMC also has the option to match any superior
proposal and a termination fee is required in some circumstances.
The takeover has the support of one of Lakeside’s biggest shareholders,
Jaguar Financial Corp., as well as all of the company’s directors and officers.
Jaguar Financial, a merchant bank headed by Vic Alboini, is the largest
shareholder in Lakeside with a nearly nine per cent stake, while Alboini, a
Hamilton native and investment banker, personally holds more than three per cent
of the company.
Alboini bought into Lakeside Steel in 2006, a year after Stelco sold off its
former tube mill in Welland. In 2009, Lakeside was granted intervener status by
the Federal Court of Canada in the Harper government’s lawsuit against U.S.
Steel for breaking production and employment promises given in exchange for
approval to buy Stelco.
Lakeside said at the time it wanted a court-ordered sale of Stelco, claiming
it wanted to repatriate a Canadian industrial icon, as well as to shore up its
own supplies of steel. Lakeside said it had institutional backers for a Stelco
purchase but never identified them.
The Canadian Press
Thousands turn out for London rally to support locked-out Caterpillar
January 21, 2012
The anti-government and anticorporate sentiment
was palpable throughout the London, Ont. rally Saturday, with many waving
signs that read, “Harper: stop corporate greed.”
Liam Casey/Toronto Star
LONDON, ONT — A crowd of more than 10,000 descended upon this city’s Victoria
Park to support local workers who have been locked out of their jobs since the
new year. They came from all over, from Timmins, Sudbury, and Pennsylvania in
scores of buses. They came to protest corporate greed and Stephen Harper.
The prime minister didn’t come, although he was invited.
“We need you down here to support Canadian workers,” yelled London Mayor Joe
Fontana. “Get your ass down here!”
At issue is a three-week-old lockout at Electro-Motive Canada, a subsidiary
of Caterpillar. The company locked out 425 Canadian Auto Workers Local 27
employees when the collective agreement expired on Jan. 1, citing the union’s
negotiating flip-flops as the reason for the labour stoppage.
Workers became outraged over the company’s last offer in late December, which
they said included wage reductions by as much as 50 per cent for some jobs, and
the elimination of pensions, benefits and holidays.
So the union voted to strike, but would work under their old agreement as
negotiations continued. The company said no.
Jeremy Beyea, who took a break from the picket line to join the rally, said
the workers’ resolve is strong.
“There is no going back now,” Beyea said. “We’re digging in, here for the
Beyea said the community has supported those locked out with food, drink and
clothing. His family has also provided support, both moral and financial. But
some of his co-workers are struggling.
“Some have lost their homes already and some relationships have already
broken down,” Beyea said. “It’s been tough.”
The anti-government and anticorporate sentiment was palpable throughout the
park, many waving signs that read, “Harper: stop corporate greed.” Bob Scott,
union chair in the negotiations with Electro-Motive, said the union will hold a
“Caterpillar, you want a fight, you got one,” Scott yelled. “You pissed off
the wrong membership here.”
The vitriol continued from the country’s union heavyweights.
“If the government doesn’t step in, Canada will become a low-paid workforce,”
Ken Lewenza, president of Canadian Auto Workers, told the Star before
the rally. “We need to protect the middle class if we want a more equal
Equality has been the klaxon call for the occupy movement, which mixed easily
with the workers in the crowd. Occupiers have set up tents on the picket line in
“Caterpillar is the poster child for corporate greed — we can now put a face
to the 1 per cent,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.
“Let’s link the occupy movement with the labour movement.”
Ryan focused on hallmarks of the occupy movement by comparing Caterpillar
executives with its workers. The crowd roared “Shame!” at every suggestion of
Meanwhile, at the back of the throng, where the speeches couldn’t be heard,
some workers wanted solutions, not just talk of it.
“We need governments that make proper trade agreements, especially now with
these large multinational companies,” said Angus MacDonald, with an Oakville
union. “Otherwise these companies can pit workers in places like Mexico against
workers in Canada.”
Labour leaders fear settling with Caterpillar would set a dangerous precedent
for workers around the world. That’s why Gene Elk came from Pittsburgh.
“I’m here because we’re worried that this is a race to the bottom of the wage
scale,” said Elk, who’s a member of United Electrical. “If Caterpillar is
successful, General Electric might do the same in the U.S.”
Ottawa favours foreign businesses over Canadian
Published On Mon Jan 16 2012
Locked-out workers at the Electro-Motive facility in London, Ont. U.S.-owned
Caterpillar, Electro-Motive's parent company, wants to cut wages in half.
DAVE CHIDLEY/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Hundreds of shivering factory workers locked out of their plant by
manufacturing giant Caterpillar in London, Ont., might well draw some warm
comfort from — of all things — the sayings of Newt Gingrich.
Of course, the conservative Republican presidential contender is no friend
of labour or social justice; he recently proposed that poor children be
schooled in the ways of free enterprise by being hired to clean school
Nonetheless, Gingrich, one of the stars of the Republican freak show, is
desperate to defeat front-runner Mitt Romney. With the mitts off, Gingrich is
denouncing Romney’s background as a Wall Street corporate raider, accusing him
of practising a form of capitalism where “you basically take out all the
money, leaving behind the workers.”
The multi-millionaire Romney showed his empathy for working people by
noting, in a discussion about private health care, that “I like being able to
fire people who provide services” and insisting that comments about the rich
having too much money should be confined to “quiet rooms.”
All this has unleashed an unexpected and fierce debate about the brutality
of unbridled capitalism — a debate the Republican establishment is scrambling
to sweep back into the quiet rooms as quickly as possible.
Here in Canada, Stephen Harper has tried to head off a similar debate,
dismissing the relevance of Occupy Wall Street on the grounds that “we have a
very different situation here than the United States.”
In fact, under the Harper government, the slightly milder Canadian version
of capitalism is rapidly giving way to a more virulent U.S.-style variant,
with even greater wealth concentration and fewer protections for working
Indeed, Gingrich’s depiction of a capitalism where “you basically take out
all the money, leaving behind the workers” seems like a perfect description of
what’s going on in London, where the highly profitable U.S.-owned Caterpillar
is demanding its Canadian workforce accept a 50-per-cent wage cut. When the
workers declined this take-it-or-leave-it offer, they were locked out on New
If this isn’t ruthless, heartless capitalism — enough to make even Newt’s
blood boil — it’s hard to imagine what is. Yet, as the 500 London workers have
bundled up in the cold, the Harper government refuses to get involved, sitting
silently on the sidelines as Caterpillar brings its notorious anti-union
fervour to Canada.
In fact, the Harper government is involved, having played a key role in
bringing about this disaster for the London workers by approving the sale of
the company, Electro-Motive Diesel, to foreign-owned Caterpillar in 2010,
after supposedly investigating whether the deal was in Canada’s interests.
The Canadian Auto Workers, which represents the locked out workers,
believes Caterpillar purchased the plant with the intention of gaining
technology and market share and then moving operations south.
The Harper government also approved a foreign takeover by another notorious
union-busting company, mining giant Rio Tinto, which has now locked out 800
workers in Alma, Que.
The Canadian Labour Congress is demanding that Ottawa strengthen its
foreign takeover laws to make the secretive review process more open, with
public hearings in affected communities and publication of the conditions
imposed — if any — on foreign owners.
Ironically, the Harper government has complained forcefully about “foreign”
interference from outside environmentalists protesting a proposed pipeline
across the Rockies. But when it comes to foreign companies stripping Canadian
workers of half their wages and then moving operations out of the country, the
government hasn’t a negative word to say.
Harper is of course staunchly pro-capitalist, and has aggressively lowered
corporate tax rates, while refusing to link lower taxes to investment or job
But his anti-union stance, evident in disputes at Air Canada and the post
office last summer, has been particularly provocative. He seems determined to
turn Canada into an anti-union paradise — prompting the Ontario Federation of
Labour to call for a mass rally at the Caterpillar plant in London this
As the PM gears up for his coming battle against federal public sector
unions, he will no doubt draw inspiration from Mitt Romney’s stirring words:
“I like to be able to fire people who provide services.”
Linda McQuaig’s column appears monthly.
$77.5 million takeover bid for Lakeside Steel
December 20, 2011
WELLAND, Ont. - Steel pipe and tubing maker Lakeside Steel
Inc. (TSXV:LS) says it has received a $77.5-million takeover bid from an
unnamed buyer, more than four times its market price before the offer was
The Welland, Ont.-based company said Tuesday it has a non-binding letter of
intent from the prospective buyer, but the deal won’t be finalized until the
unnamed company finishes its due diligence on Lakeside, which has to be
completed by Jan. 9.
Trading in Lakeside shares had been halted for several days and on
resumption they rocketed up more than 300 per cent, gaining 23 cents to 30
cents on the TSX Venture Exchange — though remaining well below the price of
the 40 cent per share offer.
Lakeside makes steel pipes and tubing used in the oil and gas industry. It
has factories in Welland, Texas and Alabama. Lakeside is headed by Vic Alboini,
a Hamilton native and investment banker, who bought into the company shortly
after the former Stelco hived off the tube mill.
If the prospective purchaser is not Canadian, and the deal goes through, it
will continue a years-long trend that has seen virtually all major Canadian
steel companies swept up by foreign firms: Hamilton-based Stelco was bought by
U.S. Steel in 2007, Dofasco was purchased by ArcelorMittal in 2006, Algoma
Steel was purchased by India’s Essar Group in 2007 and SSAB Swedish Steel AB
bought Ipsco in 2008.
Due to the emergence of the bid, Lakeside says it will cancel both a loan
and an associated private placement of its stock announced last month.
Lakeside has struggled in recent months, in November posting a $7.6-million
second-quarter loss — reversing a $1.2-million profit in the year-earlier
period — as it suffered from low margins due to numerous factors, including
foreign imports and higher costs. Revenue was down 28.1 per cent to $47.8
The company, which counts the U.S. oil and gas industry as a major
customer, has been expanding in the southern United States to bring down its
costs and deal with the impact of volatility in the value of the two
Lakeside had also previously expressed some interest in buying some of U.S.
Steel’s former Stelco assets in Hamilton, if the U.S. firm had been forced to
sell them by a lawsuit launched by the federal government.
Ottawa alleged that U.S. Steel broke promises it made to keep jobs and
maintain production levels when it bought Hamilton-based Stelco in 2007.
The two sides settled the matter earlier this month, with U.S. Steel Corp.
promising to keep making steel in Canada for at least another four years and
to make major capital investments at its Canadian mills.
The Canadian Press and the Hamilton Spectator
Ottawa settles lawsuit with U.S.
US Steel Hamilton. U.S. Steel's Hamilton plant will
continue operating until at least 2015 under a new deal struck between the
American company and the federal government. Hamilton Spectator file
photoSource: Hamilton Spectator file photo
December 13, 2011
Canada has settled its bitter three-year lawsuit against U.S. Steel
for new investment of $50 million in its Hamilton and Lake Erie plants.
Opposition politicians and workers were outraged by a deal they say contains
no specifics on employment or production in Canada and offers nothing to workers
harmed by the company’s failure to keep its original promises.
In a surprise announcement Monday afternoon, Industry Minister Christian
Paradis said he was dropping the suit.
“Recently U.S. Steel approached me with a proposal for new and enhanced
undertakings. After extensive negotiations a settlement has been reached that
demonstrates U.S. Steel’s sustained commitment to operating in Canada,” Paradis
said in a news release. “U.S. Steel’s new commitments, many of which run to
2015, will provide benefits that in all likelihood would not have been obtained
through the court process.”
Those new promises include making capital investments of “at least” $50
million in Canadian operations by December 2015. That’s in addition to earlier
promises of $200 million by Oct. 31, 2012. The company also agreed to donate $3
million to “community and educational programs” in Hamilton and Nanticoke.
In an emailed statement, the company said it is pleased with the settlement.
“We are pleased to have resolved amicably this unfortunate dispute with the
Government of Canada. The resolution reflects our ongoing and long-term interest
in doing business in Canada. We now turn our full attention to producing and
selling steel products in Canada consistently with our core values of workplace
safety and environmental stewardship.
“We intend to be valued corporate citizens in Canada.”
Leaders of the United Steel Workers say they were “blindsided” by the deal,
even though they have intervener status in the action to seek back wages its
members would have earned under the company’s original promise to employ an
average of 3,105 workers for three years after purchasing Stelco.
“We didn’t know any of this was going to happen and yet we’re the ones
affected by their failure to live up to their promises,” said Rolf Gerstenberger,
president of Local 1005, which represents workers in Hamilton. “Where’s our
redress now? Our members were unjustly laid off and they should be made whole.”
In an emailed statement, Bill Ferguson, president of Nanticoke’s Local 8782,
said it was “incomprehensible” for the government to drop the case without
ensuring workers got some kind of compensation.
“We are shocked that our government has cut this secret deal, without even
the decency of consulting those who are most affected,” he added. “Our
communities and our working families — particularly those whose jobs have
disappeared — have been abandoned by U.S. Steel, and now our own government.”
Ken Neumann, Canadian director of USW, was also angry the government settled
for so little.
“This is a complete abdication of the government’s responsibility to Canadian
workers,” he said. “It’s just outrageous that we have no commitment to jobs
Local MPs Wayne Marston and Chris Charlton, both of the NDP, said they were
troubled by utter lack of detail in the settlement announcement.
“The government is dropping this lawsuit in exchange for more promises after
taking the company to court for not keeping its promises in the first place,”
Charlton said. “For all we know this just allows the company to fatten the calf
for three years and then sell it.”
Marston noted that after idling its Canadian plants, the company continued to
service customers here from American factories, and there’s nothing in this
settlement to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
“If we see another downturn, then we could see that work transferred to the
U.S. again,” he said. “The Hamilton and Lake Erie plants are still very
vulnerable. This sounds like a very raw deal that raises more questions than it
David Sweet, Hamilton’s lone voice on the government benches, defended the
deal as an “extraordinary” achievement that ensures steel production in Hamilton
through the next three years.
“By agreeing to this (U.S. Steel) has indicated that they are here for the
long term,” he said. “Agreeing to invest that kind of money sends a very
positive signal that they are here for the long term.”
Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina also welcomed the settlement as a positive sign
for the city’s industrial core.
“It’s a reaffirmation that the industrial sector of Hamilton is alive and
well,” he said. “It shows the company sees its Hamilton plant as something to be
invested in instead of dismantled and sold for scrap.”
Canada launched its suit in 2009 after the company broke employment and
production promises given in 2007 when it bought Stelco. Within a year of that
purchase, the plants were effectively shut down in response to the worldwide
recession that destroyed demand for steel. It was the first time the government
took legal action against a company for breaking promises under the Investment
U.S. Steel defeated again
The Hamilton Spectator
November 25, 2011
U.S. Steel has suffered another legal defeat in its ongoing battle with the
The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed the company's application for leave
to appeal lower court verdicts declaring the Investment Canada Act
constitutional. As usual, the court gave no reasons for its decision.
Thursday's ruling is just the latest chapter in an almost three-year dispute
over the company's failure to keep employment and production promises it made to
Canada in 2007 in exchange for approval to buy Stelco.
The decision was released the same day a Hamilton MP tabled a private
member's bill in the House of Commons asking that the veil of secrecy around the
government-company deal be torn away.
Paula Turtle, a lawyer acting for the United Steelworkers union, said the
high court's decision may finally clear the path for a hearing on the real issue
in the case.
“We're hoping to get a hearing on substantive issue early in the New Year,”
“This decision pretty much puts to an end the preliminary issues that have
been thrown up by the company.”
Holding that hearing, she said, is long overdue.
“The union has been encouraging the government to move this case along since
it started,” she said. “The union celebrates every decision that moves us closer
to a hearing on the real issue.”
While the court action was started by then-industry minister Tony Clement in
2009, the case has not dealt with the main issue — hearings so far have dealt
with company efforts to have the Investment Canada Act declared unconstitutional
and to oppose intervener applications by the United Steelworkers and Welland-based
When U.S. Steel was allowed to buy Stelco, it agreed to employ an average of
3,105 workers and produce more than 13 million tons of steel for three years.
That period ended Oct. 31, 2010. Starting in March 2009, however, the company
shut down most of its Canadian operations, claiming demand for steel had
collapsed. It also locked out workers in Hamilton and Nanticoke to enforce its
demands for radical changes in its pension plans. During those months, it
continued to serve its Canadian customers with steel from its American plants.
The company has never denied breaking its promises, but says the agreement
allowed it to make cuts to meet changes in market conditions. U.S. Steel has
argued instead that the Investment Canada Act infringed on its Charter rights by
exposing executives to the threat of jail terms if court-ordered fines were not
paid. It also argued Clement hadn't given a reason for rejecting claims it
couldn't meet its promises.
Those arguments have been rejected by the Federal Court of Canada and the
Federal Court of Appeal. They ruled the threat of jail wasn't part of the
Investment Canada action — that penalty would result from contempt of court
charges if the company were to refuse to pay fines.
The government is seeking financial penalties of $10,000 a day, retroactive
to Nov. 1, 2008, in addition to forcing the company to meet its jobs and
production promises for three years from whenever a final verdict is issued.
Lakeside Steel wants a forced sale of the former Stelco plants while the union
wants $44 million in back wages.
In a related development Thursday, Hamilton Mountain MP Chris Charlton tabled
a private member's bill in Parliament calling on the federal government to
publish the complete details of the deal in which U.S. Steel was allowed to buy
“I hope that, with this, we can get access to this agreement that was so
significant for Hamilton,” she said in an interview. “I also hope it will mean
we don't have any more such agreements signed behind closed doors.”
While some details of the deal have become public through court records,
Charlton said the public deserves to know much more about how the Harper
government decided letting Stelco be sold to an American firm provided a “net
benefit” for Canada.
She also wants the government to make available all of the correspondence
between Clement and the company about enforcement of the agreement.
“Even the government is acknowledging now that this deal hasn't worked,” she
said. “This sale has had a significant negative impact not just on Hamilton
steelworkers but also on retirees and the entire community.”
The real issue, she said, is the ability of voters to hold government
accountable for decisions — accountability the company has tried to avoid by
tying the case up with endless appeals for more than two years.
“If they can tie this up in the courts for years, then they can avoid these
questions of accountability,” Charlton said. “We are not going to let up on this
because our community deserves better.”
Private member bills very rarely become law, but they can be used to sign
public attention on particular issues.