Editorial (The Toronto Star):
Tanya is a PhD graduate who can’t get a job. John is a former IT manager who went from a middle-class lifestyle to living on less than $300 a month, once rent is paid, after losing his job. Their situations, sadly, are all too common in a country where the gap between Canada’s rich and poor is growing.
Despite that, their stories, and countless others like them, are not being heard in the din of an election campaign where all parties seem focused on winning over the much-coveted middle class.
That’s why a new “election platform” published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, with videos of people like Tanya and John telling their stories, is a welcome contribution. It should broaden the parameters of the election debate and focus voters’ attention on issues of inequality before they cast their ballots.
The Good for Canada platform is described as a series of measures, that if taken, could address income inequality. That would, it says, make the federal government a “force for good in everyone’s lives by creating a more resilient, healthier, safer, more equal Canada.”
It may sound too pie-in-the-sky to be true. But the centre’s recommendations seem achievable if any party wants to tackle them.
The platform focuses, smartly, on four pillars: creating good jobs, a strong social safety net, good public programs and progressive taxation.
Its solutions are drawn mainly from its alternative budget for 2015 that recommended such income inequality busters as universal child care, national pharmacare, affordable housing and affordable college and university tuition.
It would have paid for these priorities by cancelling the Harper government’s child-care benefit and income-splitting (which benefit the wealthy more than the middle class and poor), treating capital gains as regular income, reinstating corporate taxes at 2006 levels, taxing financial transactions and raising taxes on the wealthiest.
The basic premises of the four-point platform seem sensible:
- It points out that when Canadians have good jobs they pump more back into the economy. To achieve that goal it recommends retraining those who have been downsized, supporting literacy and essential skills training, instituting a federal minimum wage that is at least 60 per cent of the average industrial wage, and investing $500 million annually in First Nations skills training and employment.
- It argues that a strong social safety net would ensure no one, from veterans to families living with disabilities, is left behind. It proposes such measures as increasing the Canada Pension Plan by 200 per cent to keep more seniors out of poverty; canceling income splitting among seniors and redirecting that money to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income seniors; and doubling the National Child Benefit Supplement to reduce child poverty by 26 per cent.
- Good social programs, it points out, help all Canadians become contributing members of society. That would include an affordable housing strategy, a $10-a-day child care program, a national pharmacare program, dental care for all children under 15, investing in First Nations infrastructure and schools, and creating a national action plan to address violence against women.
- It recommends a more progressive tax system. That would include restoring the corporate tax rate to 22 per cent — generating an estimated $9.8 billion annually in additional revenue — and a new federal tax bracket of 35 per cent on incomes above $250,000.
None of the major parties has set out such a comprehensive plan to tackle income inequality. But it serves as a reminder that it’s a problem that can be addressed if the political will is there.