Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

Picture by Franke James. Her artwork is fabulous; please visit her site to see more. Her arts funding was cut earlier this year by the Harper government because her work criticizes Canada's actions on climate change.

Hallowe’en is over; Christmas begins. Soon–much sooner than most of us are prepared to think–Canadians will be wrapped in blankets on the couch cradling cups of hot cocoa or eggnog, watching reruns of one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol. We will empathize with Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim (or at least I think so–have I been misreading it all along?), and drown in a pleasant soup of good feelings at Scrooge’s annual transformation.

I find it puzzling, then, that we are as a nation so determined to emulate Scrooge in every way.

Take, for instance, this recent Globe and Mail piece, In Harper’s Canada, Will We Give More of Ourselves to Get Lower Taxes?

Umm, what? Translation: In Harper’s Canada, will we give more so we don’t have to give so much? A more absurd question could hardly be posed. If we as Canadians insist on giving less, what are the chances we will use the extra money to give more? Have any previous tax reductions resulted in an increase in charitable giving? As the author of the piece himself acknowledges, no: previous tax breaks have shredded our social net and, if anything, decreased our charitable giving.

“As Stephen Harper moves toward rewriting this country’s social contract, he presents each of us with a moral question.

“If we want lower taxes, are we prepared to give more of ourselves to others?”

In fact, as the article later makes clear, we aren’t being presented with any sort of moral question; the social contract is being rewritten bit by bit without any input from Canadians on the entirely faulty assumption, which we already know is faulty, that private donations will pick up the slack.* But of course people give less when the social safety net disappears: if there is nothing there to catch you when you and your family fall, you will keep every bit of extra for yourself (or spend it on fancy toys while you can–consumer debt has skyrocketed in this same period). By slashing social programs, each one of us is made meaner through fear.

Oh, but it gets worse: “But in an era where fiscally restrained governments confront rising need created by economic turmoil, the private sector must do more. And the private sector is each of us.”

Excuse me? The government is fiscally restrained? Then why on earth is tax reduction even on the table? Which is it: are we being asked to give more so we can be rewarded with a pat on the head via tax break, or are we being asked to give more because the government is out of money? If the government is out of money, the last thing they should be contemplating is tax breaks. We need to raise taxes.

At the same time that Canada is rewriting the social contract (i.e. eliminating our supposedly-costly safety net) for citizens–the ones who vote for them–we continue to subsidize private industry to the tune of many billions of dollars annually. According to a 2008 Kairos study, the federal government gave $8 billion dollars in subsidies to the oil and gas industry alone between 1996 and 2002. That’s a million dollars a day, according to Kairos. Meanwhile, studies show that these subsidies create no jobs because the industry is so heavily mechanized–our tax money buys them machines so they don’t have to hire workers.

Isn’t this supposed to be a free market economy? Don’t companies survive or fail based on their merit? Why are our children’s educations and the health of our planet’s climate being sacrificed via slashing social programs to keep bad companies afloat?

Worse again? In 2011, the federal government cut $222 million from Environment Canada’s annual budget, mostly affecting climate science positions and programmes, although that funding creates jobs and costs less than one year’s worth of oil and gas subsidies.

Do we have a fiscal problem? No: we have a priority problem. Canadians pay taxes (moreso than corporations; corporate tax rates in Canada in 2000 were 28%, and as of January 1 2012 will be 15%. Yes, boys and girls, they’ve fallen by almost half) to the federal government, who distributes them to large international corporations while crying poor when it comes to supporting individual Canadians. We transfer money from the people saving the earth to the ones wrecking it. We transfer money from the budget for crayon for our kids’ kindergarten classes to Exxon’s budget for buying earth movers.

Between 1994 and 2007, Canada gave $203,000,000,000 to bail out corporations. Two hundred and three billion dollars!** Are we poor, or are we rolling in cash?

Canada used to be a socially progressive country with a healthy safety net; for the past 20 years we’ve coasted on this reputation, though no nations but our own fall for it any longer. We undermine international climate negotiations, push tar sands oil into as many countries as we can for our own gain and damn the consequences, slash social programs while raising corporate welfare–in effect forcing Canadians to subsidize private industry, block the Robin Hood tax, cut arts funding and funding to charitable organizations, eliminate public funding for political parties (thereby cutting off any parties without corporate sponsorship at the knees), and force students to carry an ever-larger load of their own education costs–turning them into debt slaves for decades. Oh, but we still have quasi-universal health care and some of our jurisdictions now allow gay marriage. That’s great, Canada. Very impressive.

Canada is well on its way to becoming Victorian London, complete with smog, extreme poverty, female subservience, eradication of job security & rights for workers, usurious interest and crippling debt, and a sentimental and totally ineffective reliance on private charity to provide for the needs of individuals and families fallen on hard times. I guess we’re still missing those prisons & workhouses….

No, wait: Harper’s taking care of those, too.


*An American stat, just to complement the Canadian stat and show that this is not a uniquely Canadian phenomenon. Lower tax rates do not result in greater charitable giving. Period. Bury the idea, and move on.

**This lovely figure comes from a right-wing think tank, no less, and represents total corporate subsidies between all three levels of government.

4 thoughts on “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

  1. Awesome piece. I just realized that I didn’t have a link to this blog in my blogroll, but that is fixed. It’s on my doorbellqueen blogroll.

  2. I am thinking of starting a web site to provide non-commercial information on nutrition and health. We will need to get back to taking care of our own health. Under hyper-capitalism, increasing levels of illness are good for corporations and boost the GDP. The phenomenon of degenerative disease (a very, very modern phenomenon) is a product of processed and refined foods, a toxic environment, and too much stress. Medical schools do not teach historical epidemiology so our doctors are flying blind without a historical context for today’s health problems. Our government’s official advice on nutrition in many repsects has created additional disease (e.g. eliminating saturated animal fat, and over-consuming highly processed vegetable seed oils). Why is soda pop legal or not heavily taxed when it causes more illness than cigarettes and is now considered a direct cause of type II diabetes? Cancer is now the number one cause of death in Canada. I doubt we will be able to afford to spend as much as we now do keeping an 82 year-old person alive for an extra 6 months by using over priced drugs and medical services while the elderly person fumbles around in a drugged stupor. Don’t think for a second the government is looking out for your health or well being. This was a ramble, but I think what I am driving at is that the modern day social safety-net has been pleasant, but it comes with a risk of turning people into sheep with unrealistic expecations of entitlements and of government as a benevolent force. Human responsiblities are just as crucial as human rights. As for the financial services industry – yes, it is rotten to the core.

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