Nova Scotia just approved burning tires for fuel at a rural cement plant. Lafarge-Holcim, the world's third-largest building supplies company, wants to burn 400,000 used tires a year at its cement plant just four kilometres away from the village of Brookfield, Nova Scotia.
The corporate behemoth argues that switching the plant's fuel source from coal to scrap tires would be a good thing, since it would reduce the plant's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 per cent and nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 15 per cent. As part of its global strategy to reduce costs and lower emissions, the company has already switched from coal to scrap tires at its plants across Europe, in 19 U.S. plants, and at one plant in Quebec. Their proposal for Nova Scotia, though, is anything but green.
Last Thursday, the province's environment minister approved a smaller, one-year project to test the idea of switching to used tires. If testing goes as planned, a giant conveyor belt will be built to carry tires up to the top of a kiln, into which they will be deposited and burned for fuel. The kiln would burn the tires whole at 1,600 degrees Celsius, a temperature so hot that tires would disappear instantly.
The switch, argues the company, would be good for the environment, and it would also help the province dispose of unwanted tires. The problem is, Nova Scotia doesn't have any unwanted tires.
All of the province's one million used tires per year already get recycled by Divert NS, a not-for-profit corporation that manages a province-wide network of enviro depots. It administers two core programs: one for beverage containers, and one for used tires, which are made into an aggregate used in the construction of buildings and roads. Tire-Derived Aggregate (TDA) replaces mineral aggregate, which has to be mined and processed.
It's true: burning tires would produce fewer emissions than burning coal. However, Lafarge-Holcim's plan would mean removing tires from recycling, which would, in turn, increase the demand for mining raw materials; any emissions reductions would be cancelled out.
Switching from coal to tires will not reduce GHG emissions, but there could be a financial benefit. Nova Scotia adds an environmental handling fee onto the sale of every tire in the province. For passenger tires, which are the kind Lafarge-Holcim is interested in, that's $4.50 per tire. If the company gets its way, that money could go right into its coffers. Along with a free fuel source, Lafarge-Holcim would receive a portion of the environmental fee, which could be as much as $1.8 million per year. Last year, 96.5 per cent of revenue from the handling fee went to support Divert NS's tire recycling.
As far as jobs go, Divert NS currently employs 28 people in full-time, permanent positions, plus one person on contract. Lafarge-Holcim estimates that diverting scrap tires to its plant could create approximately 10 jobs. Most of these jobs would be temporary, pay close to minimum wage, and presumably come at the cost of Divert NS's employees.
This is the second time that Lafarge has proposed using tires as fuel at its Brookfield plant. The province previously rejected the proposal in 2007, citing too many risks and unknowns. On top of emissions, burning tires produces a toxic array of by-products. Lafarge-Holcim claims that its plant will still meet air quality standards, but industry research shows that burning tires will mostly likely increase pollutants.
None of this accounts for the fact that kilns are complex systems with many variables; it's impossible to keep conditions constant. If the temperature falls below 1,600 C, tires might not completely combust, releasing more toxins and heavy metals. The company's own modelling for the switch indicates a 28 per cent increase in highly toxic dioxins and furans. Even in 2014, under normal operations, the plant affected air quality so much that nearby residents were forced indoors.
"The research hasn't changed," says Kate Ashwood, a former intern with the Ecology Action Centre, in Halifax. "There are no new findings. On top of [research findings] not having changed at all since 2007, there's no independent research. The only thing that's changed is that Lafarge has done more schmoozing."
Schmoozing, it seems, has done Lafarge-Holcim well in the past, as has the company's ability to seek profits wherever and however they can be made, with no regard for human cost. The company operates in 90 countries and, in 2015, recorded net profits of $1.9 billion. Recently, the company sparked a backlash in France when its CEO announced that Lafarge-Holcim was willing to supply the materials to build Trump's wall. Just weeks before, an investigation in Switzerland found Lafarge-Holcim guilty of paying off armed groups in Syria in order to keep their cement plants in operation.
Burning coal is bad, but in this case, burning tires is worse. By now, Nova Scotians should be wary of come-from-away corporations promising quick fixes. Instead of jeopardizing people's health and giving $1.8 million to an unscrupulous international corporation, Nova Scotia should invest in local people and local, publicly owned and not-for-profit solutions to climate change.
James Hutt is a labour and social activist, and Our Times magazine's climate justice columnist. He is the former director of the Nova Scotia Health Coalition, a past member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to the United Nations Climate Negotiations. Follow him on Twitter @JamesRHutt. A version of this article was previously published in Our Times.
Photo: Stephanus Riosetiawan/flickr
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The view from different planets: Connecting wildfires and climate change proscribed only on Planet Alberta
Apparently Alberta and British Columbia exist on different planets.
Literally, I mean. Not metaphorically.
How else are we to explain the political discourse among, essentially, the same people in geographically contiguous landmasses experiencing the same climatological phenomenon?
That is to wonder, why are you allowed to state one obvious conclusion when B.C. is afire, but not when Alberta is burning?
Let's call these two astronomical bodies Planet A (for Alberta) and Planet B (for B.C.).
This summer, as alert followers of the news are bound to have noticed even if they haven't been outside to sniff the air, much of Planet B is on fire. But commentators on that planet have no problem considering the possibility global climate change may have something to do with this unhappy situation.
No one screamed bloody murder or treason, for example, when the CBC asked if global climate change might mean that dangerous fires like those in B.C. have become "the new normal" and can be expected to threaten people and their homes every summer in Western Canada.
Mind you, departing B.C. Premier Christy Clark said the same thing in the same words about the same problem back in 2015, at the same time as fire experts from the University of British Columbia Forestry Faculty and the B.C. Forest Service were making similar observations. So there's really not much new or controversial about such conclusions -- which will presumably make it easier for B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan to say the same sort of thing when he's sworn in as premier next week.
Not everyone agrees with this proposition, of course, but apparently on Planet B it is a question that can be asked without anyone suggesting the questioner is attacking the residents affected by fire. Likewise, no one appears to be arguing vociferously on that planet that the middle of a fire crisis is no time to talk about the cause of the crisis. On the contrary, now is evidently seen as a fine time for everyone to be asking the same obvious questions.
By comparison, when Planet A was afire in May last year, this was precisely the line taken by that planet's "conservatives" -- many of whom are market-fundamentalist, extremists who view carbon extraction as not just a right, but a duty -- about any such line of discourse.
In short order, as a result, discussion of the conditions that caused the fire known last year as "The Beast," which threatened all of the oilsands service city of Fort McMurray and damaged a significant portion of it, was almost completely proscribed on Planet A.
In other words, discussion of climate change in the face of serious impacts that could easily be attributed to climate change was successfully declared to be politically incorrect by the political right, notwithstanding their ironically and loudly claimed opposition to political correctness. Anyone who dared to state the obvious was immediately declared to be politically persona non grata. "Anthropogenic" became a four-letter word.
Consider Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada and its sole member of Parliament. She was roundly excoriated for daring to connect these rather obvious dots. A drivelist for the National Post called her as a result an "excessive climate zealot," and that was one of the nicer things said about her. The tone of social media was considerably nastier. And the people at Rebel Media, who frequently scrape the bottom of the rhetorical barrel, called her a "drunken cat lady."
And yet -- and here's the thing -- in the alternative universe that is political discourse in Alberta, these same Planet A conservatives have had nothing at all to say about the discussion on Planet B openly including commentary this is forbidden here on Planet A, even among the planetary leadership led by NDP Premier Rachel Notley.
Two conclusions are possible from this.
Conclusion No. 1: that Alberta and British Columbia really are on different planets, and possibly in different universes as well.
Conclusion No. 2: that, never mind the casual evidence, the allegation discussion of the environmental impacts of climate change was somehow hurtful or inappropriate in the wake of the Fort McMurray wildfire was used to suppress needed discourse that went against the conservative narrative about the future of Alberta, the province's economic needs and wants, and the causes of the problems the province faces.
In particular, it is said here, it was used to silence people who might express doubts about the Alberta case for pipelines through British Columbia or other parts of Canada in light of practical evidence of the effect of climate change.
This strategy seems to have worked, at least with politicians from all the major parties that aren't overtly hostile or dismissive to environmental concerns. At any rate, they mostly cautiously refrained from making any links between climate change and the 2016 Alberta fire -- or even commenting on May's observation.
If this were not the case, one would think, these same conservatives from Planet A, that is to say Alberta, would now be making the same arguments against the discussion that is considered quite normal and respectable on the planet next door. Instead, we hear crickets, or at least something akin to the Music of the Spheres.
Likewise, this suggests the principal users of the political correctness weapon to disrupt political discourse on Planet A are conservatives.
You decide what's actually going on.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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Two years ago, I found myself fighting one of Canada's national banks to have a cheque reversed.
An organization with a mailbox close to my own had cashed a cheque in error that was intended for us. The $204 cheque was clearly made out to our organization, but the bank allowed the other to cash the cheque and keep the money. After a few attempts to have the money reversed, our organizations had to agree on a solution that didn't rely on the bank to help us out: we received a cheque from the organization who cashed our cheque in error.
Last summer, a similar thing happened, though rather than an error, it was straight-up theft. A cheque sent to a friend for $50 was stolen from her mailbox, and over the place of the decimal, a zero was drawn in. Words were scratched out and $50 was cashed as $500, illegally.
It took my partner hours on the phone with TD bank, multiple visits to TD and CIBC and about two months of work to get this $500 refunded. The cheque was clearly forged and it took a great effort on our part to get TD to care.
In both circumstances, I acutely felt a lack of front-line banking staff was exacerbating both issues. We never spoke to the same person twice, we were bounced from virtual department to virtual department and in the end, both solutions were the bare minimum we had hoped for in resolving the issues.
I bank with several banks. I also bank with several credit unions: Desjardins for our apartment, Vancity for my union, Alterna Savings for my work and Tandia for my savings. At each, I have a real-life human who I am in contact with to work through whatever issues arise. But, with my home Royal Bank branch, an account that was opened for me in 1986, I have no similar luck. Even when I call the branch number, I'm bounced to someone in a call centre in another part of Canada, or the world.
Our financial institutions have moved more and more online, and steady contact with individuals who work there is vanishing. For most day-to-day banking, that's fine, but when you need to actually talk to someone about your debt or your savings, or someone breaking into your community mailbox and cashing your cheques, going into the branch remains important.
The five big banks made a collective, record profit of $35 billion last year, and still bank branches are closing across Canada: TD and CIBC are closing branches in Atikokan, Ontario, TD is closing branches in Sarnia and South Porcupine, Ontario, CIBC is closing the only bank branch in Elkhorn, Manitoba, and RBC, TD and CIBC are closing 20 rural bank branches across Saskatchewan -- many in towns where the branch is the only local bank. Scotiabank plans to slash five per cent of their branches across Canada.
These bank closures mean job losses in small and rural communities, places that rely on these kinds of jobs to continue to exist. The jobs are moving online, where individuals, both customers and workers, lose real-life, human interaction, and worse, in many cases, are replaced with nothing so that the banks can continue to make record profits.
As bank executives and shareholders horde even greater profits, and as fewer small communities benefit from a few dozen jobs, an important redistributive mechanism vanishes: fewer jobs means less money in these smaller centres to circulate and stimulate their economies.
This climate makes your local credit union look more and more attractive. Banking with a credit union is all of the financial services that you need, and none of the multi-billion-dollar profits and job slashing of the big banks. The only other option is cash stashing in your mattress, which isn't a bad option, it just doesn't create any jobs either.
This is probably why the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions is cracking down on credit unions who use the word "bank" to describe their financial services. Credit unions will have to eliminate all references to "bank" or "banking" in all their materials, including "online banking," by 2019. No word on whether or not "screw the banks, place your money with us" would apply.
It's a slimy move that will cost the credit unions a lot of money in rebranding, and confuse Canadians who are unsure about using a credit union. If you've ever banked with a credit union, you'll know that the only difference is that you receive better service, but if you haven't, making the switch might feel daunting.
The banking industry will do whatever it can to protect itself; that's obvious. But Canadians need to move their money away from banks who are all too happy to abandon them to make even more money. Don't worry that your credit union's online banking feature will have to soon be called "online money putting location," front-line staff and community investment will always beat corporate greed.
Photo: Big City Signs/flickr
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One prominent Conservative leadership candidate famously dropped out because he lacked support in Quebec. Without Quebec, he said, he could not win a general election. Pundits point out that, in fact, Stephen Harper won a majority in 2011 with only five seats in Quebec. And so the lack-of-support-in-Quebec argument may have been more of an excuse than a rationale for U. S. reality TV star Kevin O'Leary.
The NDP does not have the luxury of even thinking about ignoring Quebec. Nobody knows that better than the NDP MP for Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, Guy Caron, the only Quebec candidate in the current leadership race.
Caron was first elected as part of the Jack Layton-led Orange Wave in 2011, and is one of the few who did even better, last time, in 2015. He had run for the NDP, in the same riding, three times prior to 2011, but never did better than a fourth-place finish.
Caron and the 15 other NDP MPs who won in Quebec last time are proof that the NDP's result in 2011 was not just a flash in the pan. Sixteen elected MPs is a long way down from the 59 seats the NDP won in 2011. But the party still won 25 per cent of the vote in 2015, and its share of the francophone vote was even higher. Were it not for that five-letter word worth 16 points in Scrabble, niqab, it is likely the NDP's results in Quebec in 2015 would have been considerably better.
Believes the 2015 campaign was off the mark
Caron still regrets the way the NDP conducted itself in his home province during the last campaign. He believes the party could have offered more to Quebecers, and should have more deftly handled the controversy over a person's right to wear a full veil while taking a citizenship oath.
Caron points out that the NDP's two main election platform proposals last time out were universal pharmacare and a national child-care program.
"Quebec," he says, "already has both."
But the platform was not the big stumbling block for the NDP. What most injured the NDP in Quebec in 2015 was the intrusion of what Caron calls the "question identitaire," the identity question. In Quebec, Caron points out, the issue of public display of religious symbols is not merely one of individual rights or religious freedom. It is also bound up with Quebec's evolving image of itself as a secular society, having only recently thrown off, in Caron's words, "the shackles of the Church."
In principle, Caron readily agrees that the NDP's position on the niqab controversy -- that the state should not dictate to people how they should dress -- was correct. However, the Quebec MP thinks his party did a terrible job of communicating -- and, perhaps, nuancing -- its position, and so fell victim to the Conservatives' opportunistic attacks and the Bloc Québécois' more unabashed appeals to anti-Islamic bigotry.
Caron argues that in 2015 the NDP needed to find a way to embrace both multiculturalism and secularism. It needed to uphold the basic religious rights of all, including Muslims, while at the same time recognizing the fundamentally non-religious nature of society as a whole.
Of course, the idea of a secular identity might apply more to Quebec than it does to English Canada. For Quebec, Caron believes the NDP needed to craft a message that showed a measure of, in his words, "empathy" for voters who felt that public display of religious symbols constituted a threat to their society's hard-won victory over the forces of theocracy. It was -- and is -- possible to express that empathy, Caron says, without kowtowing to racism or xenophobia. That is the lesson, the eastern Quebec MP asserts, the party must learn for the next election.
Finding his vocation as a progressive economist
Caron is not, of course, a one-trick pony. While he has a complex understanding of Quebec's political culture and psychology, his main preoccupation is with the intersection of economic and social policy. He relates how, as president of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) in the 1990s, he witnessed with great chagrin the deep cuts the Chrétien government inflicted on post-secondary education.
"It was my political awakening," he says.
After the CFS, Caron worked for a while with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and then decided to go back to school to study economics. He wanted, as he tells it, to add his voice to that of such progressive economists as Jim Stanford, because he believed conservatives of the Thatcher-Reagan school had come to dominate economic thinking. The Liberal Party, especially in power, has not been immune to the prevailing economic ideology, Caron argues, and the NDP must provide an alternative economic vision.
That vision should focus on two big challenges, Caron says: climate change and inequality. He promises, by the end of summer, to put out a detailed, and fully costed, platform that will address those twin challenges. For now Caron's main signature policy is the guaranteed annual income, an idea whose time might be coming, but which many on all parts of the political spectrum vigorously contest.
Caron points out that three-quarters of those living in poverty are actually working, and his plan would provide a neat and seamless way to lift the working poor to an acceptable standard of living. Caron's basic income would be merged with the existing Child Care Benefit for families and Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, with the intent of covering all Canadians, regardless of age or family status, who fall below the low-income cut-off line (LICO). Statistics Canada defines the LICO as the income threshold below which a family must devote the lion's share, if not all, of its income to the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter.
Caron's other main policy thrust, for now, is also economic, and focuses on taxes. Caron has three tax-related proposals: a new financial activities tax on the profits of banks and other financial institutions and on their executives' remuneration packages; elimination of the stock options loophole, whereby business executives receive shares in their companies in lieu of pay, and thus avoid income tax; and a new tax-crime division within the federal justice department, to help catch cheats and tax evaders.
The need for a 'just transition' from a carbon economy
On pipelines, Caron is slightly less categorical than a number of other leadership candidates.
He is unequivocally opposed to Energy East, which would run through his own neighbourhood. On the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline-twinning project, he repeats the NDP's official line that, for now, it should be a "no-go" because it has not been subject to a sufficiently "robust" environmental assessment -- an assessment, Caron says, which must include impact on climate change.
Caron worked with the union movement in the past and today talks about the fact that labour was an early adopter of the need for strategies to address climate change. But, he adds, the labour movement has also insisted on a "just transition" for workers. The Quebec MP insists that we have not seen anything resembling a plan for such a just transition and pledges that he would prod the NDP into elaborating one.
The practical and economic focus of Caron's campaign is, it seems, earning him some support.
Retired Hamilton area NDP MP Chris Charlton announced in mid June that she decided to support Caron because he "understands that social, economic and environmental justice must go hand in hand."
"As a labour economist," Charlton said, "I trust Guy to support workers and not throw them under the bus as he tackles climate change and builds an inclusive economy where no one is left behind."
Guy Caron's campaign has also attracted the support of well-liked MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who represents a largely rural riding east of Montreal. Brosseau emphasizes Caron's ability to connect with the people of Quebec's regions. The NDP won most of rural Quebec's seats in 2011 and then lost most of them the next time. Many still consider Quebec beyond the main urban areas to be potentially fertile ground for the party.
Caron's two distinct advantages are that he is the only Quebecer in the race and the only one who can lay claim to being a professional economist. He just might be able to ride those twin horses to a respectable showing, or even victory, in October.
This article is part of a series profiling candidates in the 2017 NDP leadership race. Read the full series here.
Image: Guy Caron
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Though physically wet, rain failed to dampen the spirits of those who participated in Stitch-by-Stitch's Unsettling Canada Day Sewing Circle -- held in solidarity with Unsettling Canada 150 National Day of Action by Idle No More and Defenders of the Land. With umbrellas and soggy red thread in hand, a group of 20 to 30 intrepid stitchers spent three hours in Queen's Park embroidering the text from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's 94 Calls to Action onto Canadian flags.
I first began embroidering the Calls to Action onto Canadian flags on June 2, 2016 -- the one-year anniversary of their release. After about eight months of embroidering alone, I put out a call to friends and community groups in Winnipeg to see if anyone wanted to join me in embroidering or to host a TRC Sewing Circle and Reading Group that would combine the task of embroidering the Calls to Action onto flags with reading aloud from the TRC's 388-page Summary Report. The response has been enthusiastic. To date I've held sewing circles at the University of Winnipeg's greenhouse artlab, ArtsJunktion, the Tallest Poppy Restaurant, Artfest, New Directions, in private homes, and now, in a public park. With each circle I learn something new and am always touched by the sharing of skills, care and knowledge.
Though I originally titled the project, "Reconciliation: A Call to Action," over time I became concerned with the overuse -- or misuse -- of the term "reconciliation" as a feel-good concept detached from grounded acts of redress. With "Stitch-by-Stitch" I hope to emphasize the necessarily care-filled and time-demanding labours that both embroidery and critical reflection demand. The project is a work in progress. To date, the embroidery on 22 of the project's 58 (44 of the calls) flags is complete and the remaining flags are in various stages of process. Like its task-based labour aesthetic, Stitch-by-Stitch's unfinished status is a reminder that as a praxis of redress, reconciliation is an ongoing process that requires collective and sustained labour.
Big thanks to everyone who came to the Stitch-by-Stitch Unsettling Canada 150 Sewing Circle. I'm immensely impressed by all the dauntless stitchers who continued through several downpours! Embroidering with sopping wet threads and prune fingers is a new one for me.
Text by Helene Vosters. Photos by Elizabeth Littlejohn.
The trouble with demonizing the leader of an unpopular government is that it gives the next leader way too much slack. I remember writing a column years ago comparing the hated Brian Mulroney with Paul Martin (who more or less ran Jean Chretien's government). Who was more destructive to the public interest and progressive government? Conventional wisdom would say Mulroney. But, while Mulroney's "free trade" agreement set the stage for the remaking of Canada, it was nice-guy Paul Martin who did the deed. He slashed federal social spending by 40 per cent, eliminated any strings attached to federal transfers (setting up huge cuts to welfare programs), and implemented the largest tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations in Canadian history.
And now we have Justin "sunny ways" Trudeau who presents as great a personality contrast as one can imagine to the grim and heartless Stephen Harper. And there is no doubt that on many symbolic issues the Liberal prime minister has provided welcome relief from the ravages of the right-wing libertarian Mr. Harper.
But when it comes to the ideological commitment to trade and investment liberalization, Mr. Trudeau is easily a match for his predecessor, cementing the history of the Liberal party as the party of "free trade." This week he was in Ireland pushing CETA -- the Canada-EU deal.
Key changes to procurement
Throughout the Harper era, notwithstanding Harper's dogged commitment to these deals, the Conservative government managed to actually take a very good position on one enormously important aspect of the neoliberal agenda: government procurement. The ability of the federal, provincial and municipal governments to favour Canadian suppliers of goods and services was protected in NAFTA and all of the many bilateral agreements signed by Canada under Harper. Until CETA.
This was important not just because of the opportunities for local job creation but also for local businesses. B.C., for example, under the NDP, had a program called "First Contract" by which provincial procurement departments could give a first contract to a local company specifically to give it a chance to build its experience and capacity -- waiving the normal low-bid rules.
Under CETA that would be explicitly prohibited because for the first time, provincial procurement and that of the so-called MASH sector -- municipal, academic, schools and hospitals -- will be completely open to procurement competition from companies in 28 EU countries.
What are the implications? According to trade lawyer Roy Nieuwenburg:
"Procurements by MASH entities would become more scrutinized and more susceptible to challenge. MASH entities would have to comply with stringent measures designed to ensure transparency and compliance. Disappointed bidders would have enforceable recourse. Remedies could include monetary awards and re-opening the outcome of bidding processes."
One example from federal jurisdiction saw Corel successfully challenge the winning government contract bid of Microsoft in a Canadian International Trade Tribunal. It won a $9.9-million award.
Not only would local suppliers of goods and services be disadvantaged in bidding against giant EU companies -- and municipal governments disempowered -- the administrative burden on small to medium municipalities in dealing seriously with potentially dozens of bids from two dozen countries will be nightmarish.
Another potential victim: a relatively new but rapidly growing sector that is focussed on building up food security through the purchase of local food production. Four provinces -- Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Nova Scotia -- are promoting the production and purchase of local food. Cities -- and MASH sector institutions -- are also pioneering efforts to support the public procurement of local food. CETA could seriously undermine these initiatives, which openly favour local producers.
What does Canadian business gain? Not much.
As with virtually all these so-called trade agreements, their zealous proponents in the trade department of the federal government sing the praises of the billions of dollars in opportunities for Canadian companies -- billions calculated through economic models with no relationship to reality. Business itself does not share the enthusiasm of this free trade priesthood. According to Matthew Wilson, vice president of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, very few Canadian companies are anywhere near ready to take advantage of access to the $16.5-trillion EU market. The numbers tell the story: of approximately one million small and medium businesses in Canada just 10,000 currently export outside the U.S.
But the kicker in the whole procurement part of CETA is that Canada already has complete and open access to the EU's MASH sector. Unbelievably -- and inexcusably -- Canada gave unfettered access to this sector and got absolutely nothing in return. In fact, the Europeans were so dumbfounded by their good fortune they were almost giddy. In an EU document analyzing CETA, the authors all but called Canada a complete sucker -- stating they had won concessions far beyond their expectations:
"As regard market access the Canadian offer is the most ambitious and comprehensive Canada has yet made to a third party. For the first time Canadian provinces and municipalities will open their procurement to a foreign partner going well beyond what Canada has offered before."
Municipal representatives should be shouting from their rooftops about this assault on their economic and social development authority. Where is the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on this issue -- and where have they been all along? Do the mayors of Canada -- especially those of the large cities where the first challenges are likely to arise -- have any idea of the implications of CETA? If they do, they seem inexplicably quiescent.
The Trudeau government could have nixed the procurement chapter but chose not to. Is there a chance that the new kid on the block, B.C. NDP premier-designate John Horgan, might throw a last-minute monkey wrench into this destructive machinery?
I know you're busy, Mr. Horgan, but this act alone could establish your legacy.
Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble's State of the Nation column.Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)CETACanada-EU trademunicipal procurement policycorporate rights dealsCanadian trade dealsTrudeau governmentMurray DobbinJuly 7, 2017Welcome to CETA and the Liberals' faith-based realityWhen it comes to trade and investment deals, the facts mean nothing. The federal government makes its own "reality" by crafting "facts" to fit its policy objectives.Signing trade deals does not amount to promoting tradeIf trade deals are the key to trade success, why is it that the more of them we implement, the worse our trade becomes? Perhaps the deals are doing more harm than good.Why is Trudeau following Harper's lead and giving special protections to powerful corporations?Rather than accepting half-hearted revisions of Harper's corporate-embracing policies, the Trudeau government should refuse to sign any trade deal with sweeping privileges for foreign investors.
Get out the lawn chairs: 100th anniversary of income tax is worth celebrating as much as Vimy, Canada Day
Given the exhausting recent round of celebrating significant national anniversaries -- Vimy's 100th, Canada's 150th -- some Canadians may feel partied-out when family and friends gather again in a few months to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Canada's income tax.
Of course, many will feel there's nothing to celebrate. After decades of tax phobia, incited by business commentators and right-wing think-tanks like the Fraser Institute, some Canadians may well regard the 100th anniversary of the income tax -- September 20 -- as a day of infamy. The Fraser Institute is already planning to use the occasion to stir up fresh tax rage in the land.
That's why it's worth pointing out that, in any thoughtful assessment, the establishment of an income tax would be regarded as a nation-building event -- ultimately as important as what was achieved on the battlefield at Vimy or the conference room in Charlottetown.
The income tax made it possible for Canada to develop into the advanced society that we are today, enabling us to raise the revenue to fight the Second World War and then create strong public programs in health care, education and social insurance that have pushed us toward the top of every global index of human development.
While the Fraser Institute crowd always tries to convince us we can't afford the things we want, we actually can -- thanks to the income tax.
Individually, we may struggle to provide for our needs, but when we pool our resources, we're fabulously rich. This explains why collectively we can create an excellent public health-care system for all, while the U.S., abandoning its citizens to the marketplace, ends up with a far more costly system that leaves tens of millions uninsured.
In addition to raising revenue, the income tax is designed to ensure the burden of supporting government is shared fairly among citizens. So, unlike other taxes, its rates are "progressive" -- imposing a heavier burden on those with bigger incomes.
Its role as a "make-the-rich-pay" tax goes all the way back to the beginning. Pressure for the tax arose among working people who were risking their lives in the trenches of the First World War, while back home Canada's elite grew wildly rich in the revved-up war economy. As the Conservative government considered imposing conscription, a rallying cry arose from labour and farm organizations: "No conscription of men without conscription of wealth!"
The day after Parliament passed the contentious conscription bill, the government announced plans for an income tax.
In recent decades, however, the Fraser Institute and much of the business community have conducted a relentless -- and fairly successful -- campaign aimed at vilifying taxes in general, and taxes on the rich in particular.
They've succeeded in whittling down the progressivity in the income tax. In 1966, the top marginal rate was 80 per cent on income above $400,000 ($3 million in today's dollars). Today, the top rate (which varies between provinces) is typically just above 50 per cent.
They've also won deep cuts to corporate taxes and taxes on capital. Along with sales tax reductions, these cuts have left a gaping hole in government finances.
If Canadian governments (at all levels) collected the same percentage of tax as they did in 2000, they would have had an additional $78 billion in revenue every year -- enough to fund new programs like national childcare and pharmacare.
Instead, we watch as health care, education and other vital programs face ever more cuts, leaving us believing the narrative that government must partner with the private sector if we want these services -- even though that will ultimately drive up costs.
Canadian politicians have largely capitulated to the anti-tax demands of the business elite, apparently fearful of threats that otherwise the rich will leave the country.
Such threats will no doubt continue.
A better response to them may be the one delivered many years ago by William Jennings Bryan, the fiery American Populist Party leader in the 1890s, when populists truly championed the people.
In an impassioned 1894 speech that's worth recalling as we celebrate our income tax's centennial, Bryan urged the U.S. Congress not to be intimidated by the hundreds of wealthy Americans who signed a petition threatening to leave the country if an income tax were introduced:
"We can better afford to lose them and their fortunes than risk the contaminating influence of their presence," he roared. "Let them depart! And as they leave without regret the land of their birth, let them go with the poet's curse ringing in their ears!"
Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author. Her book Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths was among the books selected by the Literary Review of Canada as the "25 most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years." This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.
Income taxtax systemprogressive taxationeconomic inequalitypublic serviceswealth distributionLinda McQuaigJuly 6, 2017With new bank, Canadians will pay for infrastructure but investors will own itWith the help of heavy hitters from Wall Street, Bill Morneau has been designing a radical new bank that will deliver some of Canada's infrastructure into the hands of private investors.Using our taxes to build the Canada we wantThe tax system can be a powerful tool for redistributing wealth and reducing inequality and poverty. We all benefit from a more equal society with better health, reduced crime, and better education.In attacking the public sector, corporations miss the inextricable link between public and privateAs long as this ignorance of public and private sector interdependence prevails, so will social and economic deprivation, inequality, poverty, deregulation, crumbling infrastructure and environment.
Colourful posters, banners, and flags line the streets around Hamburg's exhibition grounds.
"Planet Earth First!"
Thousands of protesters from around the world have descended onto Germany's second-largest city to make one thing clear: things have got to change.
Unless you've slept through the last decade, you can't be surprised at this outrage. Economic inequality is getting more and more out of hand -- just eight men now own as much wealth as half of the world. The world is on track for a brutal 3 degrees Celsius of warming. Millions are at risk of starvation, as conflicts in Yemen and South Sudan go unabated.
The response from the world's richest nations to all of this has so far been maddeningly underwhelming.
Far from strengthening the Paris Agreement, the American president, Donald Trump, took an axe to it. His stubbornness has now opened the door for other nations to look for ways to back out of their own commitments. The G20 has to hold the line and refuse to give any ground for member states to wiggle out. If that happened, the results would likely be disastrous for the world's poorest.
Millions are already feeling the effect of climate change. In Somalia, brutal droughts have killed the crops and livestock that so many depend on. Combined with the effect of conflict, the fingerprints of climate change can be found on this disaster. Somalia is now one of the so-called "four famines." Together with the hunger crises in Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan, these four countries add up to one of the world's toughest humanitarian challenges.
These are the kinds of issues that the G20 should be prioritizing. They have the resources to put forward the assistance needed to save millions and millions of lives.
Will they come through? Sadly, past experience tells us we shouldn't get our hopes up too much.
What we will get is a lot of talk about economic growth. But who will this growth really benefit? In the past, the G20 has recognized that growing inequality presents a risk, and that growth must be sustainable and work for all.
While this sounds great in a communique, the G20 have been reluctant to adopt policies that are proven to reduce inequality, like stricter tax rules to make sure corporations pay their fair share.
Instead, the G20 are likely to endorse a blacklist of tax havens recently published by the OECD. That is, if you can call a document which names just one country a "list." Instead of endorsing it, the G20 should rip it up and demand the OECD start over.
This is a time for seriousness and substantial answers to huge problems. Can the G20 come up with any of them?
Steve Price-Thomas is Oxfam International's Advocacy and Campaigns Director.
Photo: Mike Auerbach/Oxfam
If you have ever wondered if the Canadian Taxpayers Federation isn't really what it purports to be -- to wit, a "tax watchdog" -- but is in reality a partisan organization that acts in knee-jerk support of the electoral and policy objectives of Conservative Party of Canada, yesterday's press release by the group provides compelling evidence.
In the release, the CTF added its not inconsequential voice to the barking chain of denunciations emanating from Conservative Party circles for the Trudeau government's decision to compensate former child soldier Omar Khadr for Canada's role in the gross violation of his human rights during his imprisonment at the U.S. torture camp in occupied Guantanamo, Cuba, and afterward.
Now, the pros and cons of this case have been debated pretty well without respite since word of the compensation package became public on Monday, so I don't intend to dwell on that part at length here. Suffice it to say it's pretty clear Canadians fall into basic two camps on this issue: those who believe in due process, and those who do not.
Even conservative-leaning commentators who still have some faith in the idea of due process before the law recognize that the oft-cited "conviction" by an American drumhead tribunal of a 15-year-old child packed off to Afghanistan by his irresponsible father and caught in a firefight where something happened was the work of a legal tribunal that would have embarrassed a kangaroo. Many of them, like the National Post's Colby Cosh, have said as much, to their great credit.
Conservative partisans like Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney -- possibly feeling some angst about his own role in the long torment of Khadr by a long line of Canadian politicians, including some prominent Liberal ones -- was quick to attack Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the decision. In Kenney's judgment, I suppose, this is preferable to actually talking about the policies he would enact if he got the job he is running for.
Soon after the Alberta PC leader began to tweet, the CTF was Johnny on the spot with its press release, wherein Federal Director Aaron Wudrick called the payment "highly offensive" and directed readers to a petition ginned up by the organization to call on Ottawa to rescind the package.
Now, Wudrick is trained in the law, as are two of the CTF's six-member board of directors -- which also comprises, as has been pointed out on more than one occasion in this space, the CTF's only legal membership.
But really, all of the CTF board members are sophisticated people who certainly understand that Khadr's case before the courts stands a significant chance of success and, since his lawyers have been seeking $20 million in compensation, that without a deal like the one that appears have been worked out behind the scenes, might very well receive it.
So it is quite likely the Government of Canada does not have the option of simply rescinding the compensation package -- at least not without invoking the Notwithstanding Clause of the Constitution, an action that would stir up some opposition, one imagines, among those who still think the rule of law has a role in a civilized society.
Moreover, legal challenges like the sort that would be required to carry out the policies demanded by Wudrick and the CTF cost money too, if only to pay the lawyers who conduct them.
I've not seen a recent report of the cost of the serial efforts by the Government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (in which Kenney served in several important cabinet posts) to keep Khadr out of the country and in jail, but it is bound to be significant.
In the fall of 2009, the Toronto Star reported that Ottawa had spent $1.3 million fighting the cases brought by Khadr's lawyers. More than seven years have passed since then, and I am prepared to bet quite a bit more money has been spent on this.
Now, I have never met Khadr, but I have met his lawyer, Dennis Edney, and Edney does not strike me as a man who gives up easily -- especially when he thinks he has the wind of righteousness at his back, as he believes in this case.
So if the government of Canada were to take the advice of the CTF -- the supposed "tax watchdog" -- the result almost inevitably would be to cost Canadian taxpayers an awful lot more money, both in the cost of the compensation package we would ultimately have to pay to Khadr, and in the cost of the government's response to his legal case -- significant parts of which would end up in the pockets of lawyers.
Never mind the cause. What kind of a "tax watchdog" starts a petition demanding that a government, which is acting prudently with our money, hose more of it away?
A "tax watchdog," of course, that is in reality a partisan organization acting in support of the Conservative Party -- which used Khadr's tragic case as a cynical wedge issue when Harper was prime minister and continues to do the same thing now that Andrew Scheer is its national leader and Kenney is the aspiring leader of its Alberta auxiliary.
If you ask me, that is indeed strong evidence the CTF is not what it says it is, but is a partisan political organization whose pronouncements ought not to be treated so reverentially by the media.
As for the Conservative Party, it seems clear it is an organization that has very little regard for the rule of law.
This post also appears on david Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation. Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!
Charlie Angus was for many years an activist punk rocker with the bands "L'Étranger" (which took its name from the Camus novel) and the "Grievous Angels." As a musician, he was focused on social justice issues, such as South African apartheid and homelessness. In his own words, however, he was "peripheral to politics."
That changed in 1989 when Angus got involved in what he calls the Adams Mine War. (He wrote a book about it.) The nub of the dispute was the fact that the city of Toronto wanted to dump its garbage into an abandoned mine in Kirkland Lake, in northern Ontario.
"The project," he says, "would have had serious implications for the groundwater of our region and the people whose job it was to protect the public interest failed us."
Those "people" were elected officials. In response, Angus decided to get involved in party politics himself and took out an NDP membership. He remembers well the day he decided to take the next step and run for office.
"It was Thanksgiving night, 2000, when the police were storming on the road to come and arrest my neighbours who were farmers, First Nations people and miners," he recounts. "I made the decision that night that I would never, ever, be in a position again where a community would have to take the risk of forming a blockade to have their voice heard in a public process."
Angus says it was a wake-up call for him to see how lobbyists and corporate interests undermined the Adams Mine process. Jack Layton, then a member of the Toronto City Council, was a major ally of the northern Ontario protesters.
"That was not easy for a councillor from downtown Toronto," Angus says today, and it was Layton who convinced the northern Ontario activist to run for office in 2004. Angus won that election, in Timmins-James Bay, and the four elections since then.
A northerner who made a name for himself in Toronto
Charlie Angus is originally from northern Ontario -- his parents were both the children of gold miners -- but moved south when he was young. His dad taught at a community college in Toronto and took the family with him. Angus spent a good part of his youth in the Queen City, where he met Andrew Cash to form his first band.
It was his wife, Brit Griffin, who precipitated the move back north.
"She was from Alberta and did not want to live in Toronto," he says, "so in 1990 we moved to Cobalt just as all the mines were closing down."
Even the grocery store had just shut down. "It was not a town with a future," he laughs.
But there they were, and Charlie went to work as a chimney sweep and carpenter; and then became a journalist, founding a magazine, Highgrader, and working freelance for the CBC and others.
Angus did not run for the leadership last time, in the wake of Jack Layton's death, because he felt the NDP caucus, then the Official Opposition, needed some of its more experienced voices to stay focused on the work in the House. This time, he says, it was the election of Trump that prompted him to run.
"It shook us all," he explains, "that the progressive movement in the U.S could lose blue collar votes because they just did not bother talking to them. They felt they could speak for these communities without talking to them."
He sees the potential danger in Canada of the same, or at least a similar, phenomenon.
"Canadians are disconnecting from politics," he says frequently, "because they don't see politicians connecting to their reality."
When asked about concrete policies that would appeal to working-class voters, Angus tends to resort to general notions of establishing equilibrium in the economic order. As do other leadership candidates, he worries about the impact of the gig economy and precarious work, and points out that the working class, these days, includes white-collar professionals as well as blue-collar miners and factory workers.
Angus's main selling point to NDP members is mostly a matter of style, the fact that he comes from the working class and "can speak to people in their own language."
His specific policies include a tax break for the working poor and higher taxes, beyond the level to which the Trudeau government has raised them, on those who earn more than $250,000 per year. He also wants the federal government, as an employer, to set an example and hire more people full-time, rather than on term contracts. And he proposes extending employment insurance to "self-employed people in the gig economy."
In the course of the leadership campaign, Angus promises to unveil other tax policies, including a hike to the capital gains rate. The original intent of taxing capital gains at a rate lower than earned income, he argues, was to encourage industry to invest, especially in research and innovation. But industry is not doing that these days, Angus complains.
"There needs to be recognition that a great many corporations are not investing in research and have walked away from the benefits, such as health and defined benefit pensions, they used to provide to their workers. And so we're going to have to work on a revision of the tax code."
That's Angus's pledge, but we will have to wait for the details.
Ending a colonial system
Charlie Angus is perhaps best known as a passionate and articulate advocate in Parliament for Indigenous people. His number 1 Indigenous policy priority is for the federal government to accept the ruling of the human rights tribunal that said child services for First Nations were dangerously and woefully inadequate.
He points out that this is a life and death situation, and evokes the case of the Wapekeka Reserve where two young girls, Chantel Fox and Jolynn Winter, took their own lives this past winter. They were both only 12 years old. When, in the wake of those deaths and fearing more, the community asked Health Canada for emergency funds to hire and train mental health workers, a federal official actually answered that it was an "awkward time" in the federal funding cycle.
The official was underscoring the absurd, archaic and unworkable contribution agreement system for funding basic services in First Nations communities. It is a system the Auditor General's office has condemned repeatedly, for more than a decade, and about which we have written much in this space.
The solution, Angus says, is that the federal government must provide assured, long-term block funding rather than grants. Further, he says, we must move away from the control of First Nations lives by the federal departments of Indigenous Affairs and Health. He characterizes the two as "colonial institutions." However, the northern Ontario MP recognizes that it would be wrong and foolish to simply transfer what are now the federal government's roles in education, health and other services to small, poorly resourced and isolated First Nations bands.
"You're going to have to work on economies of scale, whether by treaty or nation area," he explains. "How we will get there will come through negotiations. In my region, Treaty 9, it would be fairly straightforward to transfer education, health, housing and social services to the Treaty 9 Council. Enormous amounts of money are spent by Indigenous Affairs -- on consultants and bureaucracy, for example -- they are just spent on all kinds of things that do not reach the communities."
Despite much rhetoric about reconciliation with First Nations and other Indigenous peoples in Canada, the Trudeau government has made little progress on the funding, management and, ultimately, self-government issues that are at the heart of the dreadful conditions among Indigenous peoples. There is a natural opening there for the NDP.
Appealing to diverse audiences
Of all the NDP leadership candidates, Angus is likely the one who has devoted the most time and energy to working, and fighting for, Indigenous Peoples. Just as going out on a limb in support of the Adams Mine protesters might not have been the best way for Toronto city councillor Jack Layton to curry favour with his urban constituents, one wonders how favourably non-Indigenous Canadians view Angus's preoccupation with Indigenous issues.
When asked what Canadians tell him about his preoccupation with Indigenous issues, Angus admits, a bit ominously: "I have heard it all."
He then adds, more hopefully, "I believe Canadians have moved dramatically forward. Canadians don't understand all the ins and outs of what went wrong on the treaties, for example. But they do understand that we need to move ahead and fix this. I think both blue-collar and middle-class Canadians want Canada to step up and do the right thing."
And that is the key to Charlie Angus's appeal.
He wants to plumb his own biography and grassroots experience to create a discourse that will appeal to people across the many natural and unavoidable lines of division in this country.
Can he succeed?
Well, this is a candidate who started his professional life plying the electric bass and performing politically aware punk rock on a stage. Whatever else you can say about Charlie Angus, he is almost certainly the only leadership candidate who knows what it mean to put his political message to music.
This article is part of a series profiling candidates in the 2017 NDP leadership race. Read the full series here.
Image: Facebook/Charlie Angus
The summer months are providing little reprieve for staff and representatives at the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) who work with college instructors.
The union recently filed to represent contract academic staff at the province's 24 colleges.
It's a "historic event of really incredible proportion," said RM Kennedy, the union's representative for college faculty. There are tens of thousands of contract academic staff at Ontario's colleges.
While each college is an independent body, they are considered one entity for the purposes of bargaining under the law, said Kennedy. This means the union has to organize all colleges at the same time.
OPSEU has been unsuccessful in organizing contract academic staff in the past. But Kennedy is hopeful this drive will work. Unionization, he said, is essential for contract staff.
"We really are at a tipping point," the professor at Centennial College in Toronto said. The vast majority of academic staff at colleges -- about 70 per cent, Kennedy said -- are on contracts. That means only 30 per cent of academic staff have full-time jobs.
This reliance on part-time, contract work threatens an already underfunded college system. Instructors can't give students their best when they're working from contract to contract. They often may not know they're teaching until days before classes start. In Toronto and the GTA, instructors may teach at several schools in the same semester. Students may not be able to find their instructors to ask for help. Professors may not know students well enough to provide reference letters.
Instructors may not have dedicated office space, or a working telephone. Kennedy, who said he is lucky to have never been a part-time instructor, said he shares his desk with part-time colleagues who can use the space when he isn't there. For many instructors, he said, their most stable office is their car -- if they can afford one. While the union has hired many organizers for this drive, Kennedy said a lot of work has been done by full-time faculty, who know where the part-time staff are and how to reach them.
Contract academic staff are grossly underpaid. They don't have access to benefits or pensions, even though they may have the same teaching load as their full-time colleagues. While rates of pay vary across schools, what is consistent is that staff are only paid for the hours they spend teaching -- not time spent marking or meeting with students.
"If you were to actually calculate it, it falls well below the minimum wage," said Kennedy, noting educators enter the profession because they love it, not to make money.
The financial stresses cause some to leave it.
JP Hornick had contract positions at George Brown College for years. Constantly reapplying for the same position, despite having won awards for teaching excellence was "demoralizing."
"My investment in the college actually wasn't returned," the labour studies professor said.
She got a full-time position at George Brown in 2002, but after she'd decided to leave teaching because of the uncertainty.
College administrations, and governments, like to say part-time staff are necessary for creating innovative education. Because instructors work in the industries they're preparing students to enter, the thinking goes, they provide industry insight.
This is a "myth," said Kennedy. Instructors who teach on top of their full-time industry jobs are the exception. "The vast majority of contract staff need jobs," he said. He's told students they could earn more after they graduate than their instructors, even though these people are preparing them for the industry.
"Education is not a business. It's a process," said Hornick. A quality education "can't run on a strict business model … on the backs of precarious, contract workers with no rights and low pay."
Contracts also limit academic freedom. Instructors work in "fear," not knowing if criticizing the school's administration could jeopardize their chances of being re-hired, said Kennedy.
"If you don't have a secure job," he said, "academic freedom is meaningless."
Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.
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The tax system can be a powerful tool for redistributing wealth and reducing inequality and poverty. We all benefit (including the rich) from a more equal society with better population health, reduced crime, and better education. Recent research also now shows that lower inequality also means better employment opportunities and a more vigorous economy, again, from which we all benefit.
There are a number of ways that the tax system can be changed to address inequality and poverty in Canada. Key, however, is that inequality needs to be tackled at both ends of the income scale.
At the top end, while the federal government and several provincial governments have made the income tax system more progressive by taxing the very rich more, these reforms do not work very well because the tax system is riddled with unfair and ineffective tax loopholes and there is no federal or provincial tax on wealth (as opposed to income).
The loopholes often allow corporations and the wealthy to pay far less than their actual tax rate on much of their income, bleeding the government of revenue that could otherwise be used to fund government programs. A recently published study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, found that 59 of 64 loopholes benefit mostly the wealthy at a cost of over $100 billion.
Some key changes needed include:
Closing the most egregious tax loopholes. Canadians for Tax Fairness has identified over $16 billion in revenue that could be raised by closing these loopholes. The worst offenders include the Stock Options Deduction, the Capital Gains Deduction and the Business Entertainment Tax Deduction.
An inheritance tax for large estates. The federal government needs to get started on taxing wealth by introducing a progressive inheritance tax with a minimum of 45 per cent on estates valued above $5 million, similar to the estate tax in the U.S., which would net an estimated $2 billion annually in new revenues (see the Alternative Federal Budget 2017).
At the lower end of the income scale, it is possible to achieve ambitious poverty reduction targets by significantly augmenting many of the efficient and cost-effective delivery mechanisms that already exist in the federal and provincial tax and social transfer systems. These have been relatively successful in reducing poverty for seniors and more recently for families with children. But current inequality and poverty rates clearly indicate that much more needs to be done to bolster distribution of income at this end of the scale.
Some key changes needed include:
Child and family poverty: The federal government has taken a very positive step in reducing child poverty by introducing a new and improved Canada Child Benefit. However, Campaign 2000 estimates that even after recent improvements in the child benefit, it would still leave a million children living in poverty.
While a combination of measures including a national housing strategy and a national child-care program could contribute, annual increases of $1 billion to the CCB could do a lot of the heavy lifting and help us achieve the goal of ending child poverty.
Seniors poverty: Canada has had some success in reducing poverty among Canadian seniors to a low of 3.9 per cent in 1995. However, since then we have been losing ground and poverty rates have risen to about 11 per cent as more Canadians are retiring without adequate company pensions or retirement savings.
The government did increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement top-up benefit by 10 per cent in 2016. But we shouldn’t stop there when we have over 600,000 seniors still living in poverty. There should be annual increases of $670 million with the goal of eliminating poverty among seniors in the next 5 years.
Working-age poverty: More than 12 per cent of working-age Canadians live in poverty. Provincial minimum wages and social assistance rates fall far below the poverty line in most cases. While child and senior poverty has been the focus of government anti-poverty initiatives in recent years, very little attention has been given to addressing working-age poverty.
A very cost effective and efficient way to deliver benefits to many low-income Canadians would be to boost the GST/HST credit. The GST/HST benefit now costs about $4 billion. We recommend doubling this amount.
Another tax system-based program, called the Working Income Tax Benefit, was introduced in 2007 with the aim of helping low-income people on social assistance enter the work force. The benefit levels at $1,015 a year for single persons and about $1,844 per couple, depending on the province, are too low to do an effective job.
The maximum benefits should be doubled over four years, and the program should extend its reach higher up the income ladder so that it becomes a major income support for Canadians who work but remain poor. This would cost an additional $250 million a year.
Raising minimum wages so that a single person working full time would have an income above the poverty line would be an important complement to this program -- one that would not require any government expenditure and that could actually increase tax revenue. While the federal minimum wage covers less than 10 per cent of the workforce, reinstating a federal minimum wage at $15 an hour -- the rate recently targetted by the leading provinces -- could help to establish a national benchmark.
How to pay for boosting poverty-reduction measures
The enhancements described above would cost about $6 billion a year. The steps above could easily be funded by closing the $16 billion of unfair and ineffective tax loopholes that were identified by Canadians for Tax Fairness. And there would be funds left over to invest in a national child-care program and a national social housing program that would also help reduce poverty while boosting employment and the economy as a whole.
The priorities identified in this article would effectively begin the process of tackling inequality simultaneously at both ends of the income scale. Canada cannot afford to leave inequality unchecked. It can act now.