Monday, June 29, 2015

Excuse Me Mr. Mulcair, But What in the Hell are Middle Class Values?

I grew up in a family of the working poor, spending a good portion of my childhood in public housing.

My dad did his best to provide for his seven children, but money was tight, and we lived from payday to payday.

He supplemented his income by doing a bit of gardening for a couple of wealthy clients.  We never owned a car, so he would carry his little push mower on the bus.

One summer he decided to try something different. He made arrangements with a man who owned a bit of property close by, to lease a plot of land where he could plant a garden.  The idea was that he would grow vegetables and sell them in the neighborhood.

In lieu of rent, the landowner would receive a portion of the harvested crops.

My dad could grow anything anywhere, and the garden flourished, but when he sent us out to sell the produce, we found that while many people would love to buy, they simply did not have the money.

I would come home and say that Mrs. ---- 's husband didn't get paid until Friday, and she might buy something then.

Knowing what it meant to have to wait several days for much needed wages, my dad would take the vegetables to Mrs. ---- and give them to her, saying that he had pulled too many and didn't want them rotting and would she please take them off his hands. This soon became the norm and that garden kept many families going that summer.

He never made much money.  In fact, he probably lost, but what his children gained from this, was the knowledge that some things are worth more.  My dad already knew that.

Another memory from my childhood, took place when I was about eight.  My dad had received a cheque in the mail for $1.36; a rebate from an over payment on something.  He endorsed the cheque and sent me to the corner store to cash it and buy bread and milk.  Don't laugh.  At the time both items were nineteen cents each.

Anyway, the clerk at the store misread the figure and put the change in the envelope that my dad provided, from $13.60.

When I got home and he realized what had happened, he took out the appropriate amount and made me take the rest back, worried that the poor girl would lose her job for being short in the till.

In the latest NDP ad, Thomas Mulcair states that he was "raised with middle class values".  What in the hell does that mean?  The middle class refers only to an economic group, so if he means that he was raised to understand that money was important and that the "values" pertained to how much they had, then say that.

But if he means that only his class had values, while the rest of us did not, there is a problem.

Your true value comes from the kinds of things you value and not the size of your paycheque.

If he had said this in passing, I would have thought it a Freudian slip, but it's in an election ad.  "Raised on middle class" values sound more like something Republicans would say, assuming that if you're poor you're just lazy, and if you're affluent you've worked hard to get there.

All parties are courting the middle Class this election and with good reason.  When we had a strong middle Class we all prospered.

I recently thought about the families in that community, and with a few exceptions, at least one parent worked.  They might have gone through periods of being laid off and would have to tap into social programs, but only temporarily.  What kept them going was the determination to ensure that their children had a better life.  I know, or at least know of, many of those children, and indeed they do.

They became members of the middle class, but not because they worked harder than their parents, but because there were more opportunities available to them, primarily because we had strong unions.  Not everyone belonged to a union, however, those union wages kept the economy going, creating a snowball effect.

Then in the 1980s, things began to change.  Conservatives and Libertarians tried to convince us that if they implemented policies that made the rich richer, and large corporations stronger, there would be a trickle down affect, that could make us all rich.  It didn't happen.

Corporations started outsourcing jobs and hoarding their money, or using it to drive smaller companies out of business.  The corporate welfare state was born.

And the  wealthy took the position that the masses only wanted to take THEIR money and since they could afford to buy politicians to protect THEIR interests, all of those hard working people were hung out to dry.

Any hope of upward mobility was dwindling.  For many, you only worked to survive.

In an eleventh hour attempt to rectify the folly, politicians are trying to correct the mistakes made by people like Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Ronald Reagan in the U.S. and Brian Mulroney in Canada, but it's an uphill battle.  Those at the top don't want to part with their stockpiles unless it's to prevent the need to do so.

Mulcair only states that he will strengthen the middle class, but since he also promises not to raise taxes on the wealthy, or the corporate sector, it's anyone's guess how he'll do it.   He also does not have a great track record when it comes to unions.

Stephen Harper boasts that his tax policies have helped families, but like Mulcair's "middle class", they are an exclusive group, with gold plated halos.

Money Sense's Mark Brown recently did a breakdown of the tax policies of the Liberals and Conservatives and Stephen Harper's plan only starts to look better once your income hits $192,000.  That's almost $70.000 more than the top range of the upper middle class, so clearly they are not his priority.

Harper does boast of the increases to his Universal Child benefits, but since they're taxable, few in the middle class will gain anything.

Strengthening this important sector is a step in the right direction, but assuming that they have more non-financial value than the rest of the population, is absurd.

You can be middle class and steal, lie or cheat.  You can commit adultery, have substance abuse problems or even commit murder.  You can vote Liberal, Communist, NDP, Conservative, et al, or not vote at all.

And you can have strong core values whether you make $15,000 a year or $15,000,000.

I know this because I was raised with my parents' values and they, Mr Mulcair, HAD CLASS!


  1. Pushed to the right-of-center and mindlessly shilling it...

  2. Thank you Ms Dee for the clarity in this article. And you are so right...

  3. Emily, I am moved more than I can express. Just when I feared the Left had collapsed I read this piece that, while it pulled at the heartstrings, still spoke a truth essential to us all to remember. In an era when the political spectrum has been shrunk almost to insignificance you remind us that it needn't be so. Thank you.

  4. Rhetoric aside in our supposedly classless society, wouldn't supporting the NDP or Green Party's policy of restoring the corporate income tax rate (that historically puts limits on middle & upper income earners inordinate stock market returns) make more sense than settling for the Liberal party, which was instrumental in lowering them by 75% since 1960?