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Dear Editor
In a June 25th opinion piece published in Grey-Bruce This Week, Jim Merriam was kind enough to tell us "how the 2015 election is going to play out." According to Merriam the decisive moment will come when Harper announces that, if re-elected, he will shave yet another 1% off of the GST. Nothing else "will matter when the GST cut is announced," if Merriam is to be believed, Canadians will "look forward to the same old, same old." Presumably manna will also rain from the heavens, babies will kiss politicians, and Senators will sing hymns with the voices of angels.

Perhaps the most astonishing part of Merriam's piece is that after nearly a decade in government, Harper's team has shown that their vision actually doesn't reach much further than tax cuts. More than any other government in recent memory the Conservative Party under Harper has relied on tax cuts as a cynical way to ensure votes. This has been reasonably effective because, as Merriam identifies, it "hits close to home" and the "benefits are immediate." Immediacy - that's the key to Harper's economic platform and electoral success. The Conservatives provide the financially stressed public with quick gratification, hoping that it is felt the very next day at the grocery store.

But after a decade (or more, if we were to scrutinize seriously previous governments) of this sort of policy we should pause and consider its effectsThe first thing that we might notice is the massive inequality in Canada. The Broadbent Institute has noted that in 2012 the wealthiest 20% of Canadians control 70% of the nation's wealth, while the poorest 50% of Canadians own less than 6%. Moreover, the wealthiest 1% control 20% of the wealth, while the poorest 10% actually have more debt than they do assets. All that is to say that in Canada 86 families own more than 11 million Canadians. Since 2012 these figures have only been further exacerbated. Such inequality is not inevitable, however, from the 1940's to the 1970's inequality in Canada actually declined. The spike in inequality has largely developed from the 1980's until present.

This deep inequality, which is likely a shock to most of us, is the direct result of a series of political decisions - the Harper tax program amongst them. Policies enacted by Prime Ministers Mulroney (PC), Campbell (PC), Chretien (L), Martin (L), and Harper (C) have acted primarily as a form of welfare for corporations and the wealthiest Canadians. Consider Merriam's lauded GST cut: because the GST is a consumption based tax (it's impact is dependent on how much you spend) those who consume more will necessarily benefit more. Thus, the Centre for Policy Alternatives suggests that low income families can expect to save about $100-$200 from a 1% GST cut, whereas a high income family would save about $900-$1000 - but, the sky is really the limit on the higher end. When one considers the huge expenditure of large corporations these figures can be truly staggering.

Now, I know first-hand that for those of us on the lower end of the economic ladder $200 is certainly nothing to snub our noses at: it's food on the table, gas in the tank, and clothes on our backs. But we shouldn't be so cynical as to think that we must take this pittance and smile. The answer to the economic precarity that so many Canadians feel is not in tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest amongst us. Instead, we ought to consider seriously progressive tax reform and social programs that will alleviate poverty and ensure that a handful of families don't control our nation's wealth, while the rest of us live paycheque to paycheque. Programs like universal child-care, post-secondary tuition subsidization, and food relief will do more than put a few dollars into the pockets of the poorest Canadians. They will raise the standard of living and increase the dignity of those who live on the economic margins. Tax cuts are not our only option, and they are certainly not the best option. Luckily some platforms can see beyond such a narrow horizon.

To conclude, while Merriam's columns provide us with wonderful allusions to the yokels of the "Beverly Hillbillies" and to the "certainty" of a Harper victory, he does absolutely nothing to engender a serious discussion of public policy. Given the gravity of this particular election, I warmly encourage Merriam to stop patronizing his readers, recognize their intelligence and capacity to engage policy in a mature way, and to help move the public discussion into the realm of important issues.

Phil Henderson,


Phil Henderson is working on his Master's degree at the University of Victoria.  He is working for the summer cutting grass for the City of Owen Sound and assisting with David McLaren's campaign for the upcoming federal election.


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