Canada-fullby David McLaren

Judging by how quickly the Harper Government's election budget disappeared from the pages and the airways of the media, you might think that the discussion is over. I'd argue it hasn't really begun. For budgets are more than a government's spending plans. They are more than re-election platforms. They are cultural documents about how we will be governed.

This is a budget for the vote-rich middle class. But, given the stats, you have to ask yourself how many of us are left in the "middle class."

Canada has the 3rd highest rate of working-age poverty among 17 similar countries. Inequality is rising more rapidly here than in most other G20 nations. We have lost over 300,000 good jobs in Ontario since The Recession and the economy has replaced them with poor-paying, part time, precarious work.

This is not a healthy situation, especially when you consider the crushing debt levels many families are under—about 162% of income the last time I checked. Here's hoping interest rates stay low.

Now that Mr Trudeau has given us a glimpse of how he would spend our hard-earned money, it is important to look beyond the tax cuts and benefits that both Liberals and Tories would bestow on the "middle class".

Don't get me wrong, I will benefit from this budget. But I'd give up all the bells and whistles in the budget we got for the budget we need.

An interesting study by the UN looked at what it was that enabled some countries not only to survive the Recession but to keep the lid on poverty and inequality. Their recipe has 3 ingredients:
1.Strong legislation and enforcement to discourage tax evasion. In contrast, Canada is owed some $80 billion, mostly by people stashing their cash off-shore. Instead of rounding up the evaders, our Revenue Agency goes after charities.
2.Certain key universal programs, such as early childhood education, health care, and post-secondary education. Canada has one of these: health care. The Harper Government's "Universal Child Care Benefit" is universal in name only and its turbo-charged $160 a month edition still doesn't cover the cost of child care. Neither does Mr Trudeau's version. And neither creates jobs—the very thing we need more of in Canada right now.
3.Targeted programs for those whose bootstraps are too short. This means, for example, homes for the homeless, low income housing for the precariously employed, better unemployment benefits and training for those of us who are falling out of the middle class, a minimum wage that will actually get people to the end of the month.

This budget has stood that formula on its head by ...
creating more tax loopholes with more inefficient and costly tax credits and handouts,
refusing to consider a truly universal child care program,
ignoring those who need help right now, thereby adding to the country's growing inequality.

What we need is not more for middle class people, but more people in the middle class. And that means good paying, full time, steady work.

I see nothing in the Harper budget that will give a substantial boost to the economy of Grey Bruce. Infrastructure money is largely going to the cities for public transit. Innovation money is mostly going to an auto industry seriously crippled from our previously high petro-dollar. Many of those jobs (in the US and CA) have flown south to Mexico and GM has just announced it will axe 1000 jobs in Oshawa.

It's time to start thinking about another way of doing business.

David McLaren is the NDP candidate for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound.  He is an award-winning writer living on the Bruce Peninsula.


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