Monday, November 9, 2009

Pay the Rent, or Feed the Kids. How Did we Let This Happen?

In part one of Mel Hurtig's lecture series, Who Killed Canada? based on his book The Truth about Canada, he gives an introduction to the infrastructure of the extreme right-wing movement; beginning with the hi-jacking of our media, to the many so-called think-tanks, that provide the 'facts' to that hi-jacked media.

In part two he discusses the reduction in federal revenue that weakened spending in important areas. We learned that we are 25th of the 30 OECD countries, in terms of spending on social programs.

Part three deals with our increasing poverty, that coincides with the increase in corporate profits. And though these 'free market' gurus try to convince us that we should throw in our lot with corporate Canada, they have done nothing to advance Canadian interests or protect this country's citizens.

Patriotism should be about more than war, but should also be about national identity. Sadly, our national identity is being erased. I don't even know who we are now, and as journalist Colin Horgan wrote recently; "With Barack Obama, anything seems like it might be possible. With Canada's Stephen Harper, barely anything does."

In his book Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids, Mr. Hurtig describes how many Canadian families must choose between the two. And yet successive governments have ignored this growing problem, listening to special interest groups like the National Citizens Coalition and the Canadian Taxpayers Association, who are funded by corporate Canada to keep their taxes low.

And while there are many advocacy groups that speak up for the most vulnerable Canadians, they are all but ignored. And how could we possibly expect Stephen Harper to do anything when he once boasted about the fact that he was often asked to speak on things like child poverty, because he didn't believe government should be putting money into eradicating it.

Under the Harper government these groups are now just deemed 'special interest' and have no voice.

We also learn from Mel Hurtig that Canada is the only G-8 country without a national housing strategy. Why is that?

Homelessness is increasing and people using food banks is on the rise. How did we let this happen?

We have a shortage of doctors and one of the highest infant mortality rates. This is Canada?

We have got to start paying attention. We deserve better than this. This beautiful country is being sold off piece by piece and we are lulled into complacency with a Beatles song.

Joining or starting advocacy groups is a step in the right direction. However, it is not enough. We must pick a team and stick with it. We must become involved in the political arena, and look for our Representatives based on who we think best represents our interests.

Mr. Hurtig gives some suggestions for our government, but since we know Harper would die before he would agree to any of them, we must demand that candidates in the next election make these things a priority:

1. Raise Minimum Wage - Canada should have a national minimum wage standard.

2. Provide an Earned Income Supplement - Instead of penalizing the working class as Jim Flaherty plans by increasing EI premiums, working families should be guaranteed a level of income that keeps them above the poverty level. This will decrease the need to tap into other social services.

3. Stop Taxing People With Low Income - There should be a standard of wage where income tax kicks in. Minimum wage employees should not pay income tax.

4. Revitalize the EI Program - The reforms initiated by the current government do not even come close to fixing the problem of unemployment insurance in this country. The Reform Conservatives lied and we allowed them to lie. They stated that the Liberal reforms would cost 4 billion dollars, despite the fact that the parliamentary budget officer claimed they would only cost about 1 billion. Allowing this government to lie and steal from us seems to the norm now.

5. Stop the provincial claw backs of child benefits - Ontario has already taken a step in that direction, but more needs to be done. No child should go hungry in this country when we have such vast and profitable natural resources. They should belong to everyone.

6. Create Affordable Rental Housing Programs - when Jim Flaherty was with the Ontario government he suggested that we throw the homeless in jail, so I guess we already know what his reaction would be to this.

7. Increase Social Assistance Benefits - Absolutely. The only 'welfare bums' in this country are corporations, always with their hand out for more subsidies or tax breaks.

8. Expand Job Training - This should be a no-brainer. As it states in the video, despite the fact that corporate profits have risen dramatically over the past four years, they have invested nothing in terms of upgrades or technological advances. A better trained population will benefit us all.

9. Develop a Workable Child Care Program - this is a must and I was so glad that Michael Ignatieff put that back on the table. I really like Jack Layton, but when we finally had a good plan presented, he voted with Harper, and it was scrapped.

10. Provide More Funds for University Education - We are falling behind other countries in this regard, and in turn are also falling behind in almost every other category.

We don't need less government, we just need a more responsible government. We can always find money for war, why can't we find money to wage war on poverty?

The libertarian or neo-conservative will tell us that if we prop up our corporations, we will all enjoy a trickle down effect. We know that this is not true, because they forgot to factor in greed. If a nation is healthy, well fed, and allowed to work there will be more of a trickle down effect than putting all of the country's wealth in the handful of only a few.

If we allow Stephen Harper to privatize everything as he plans, we won't get it back. Universal health care will be too expensive for the government to sustain. Scrapping Old Age Security will require creating a new system that could take years and will be devastating to seniors.

"If you ask what I want for Canada, it is this: that we surprise ourselves, astonish ourselves, and that we astonish the world!"--Michael Ignatieff

It's time to be astonishing.

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