In a news report last week about the US Supreme Court’s upholding of Obamacare, a man said, “This is too much socialism. I want to move to Canada.”
At first I chuckled, thinking, that’s a switch. Usually Americans, especially conservative ones, see Canada as the evil socialist empire to the north. This guy is obviously confused.
But, then, I paused. What if he’s right? What if he perceives what’s happening in Canada more accurately than we Canadians do?
Canada Day always leads us to contemplate our country and what we stand for, as we wave our little red-and-white flags.
In my lifetime, we have been proud of what I would call our progressive values — looking after each other through social programs and volunteerism; protecting our environment; ensuring economic justice and prosperity; enabling democratic discourse and participation; being peacemakers on the world stage. And the subtext was that we counted on our governments to uphold and advance those values.
The Harper government is quietly and inexorably changing all that. The much-criticized omnibus bill will have impacts that we may not see immediately. But some day, we’ll ask — how did that happen? What happened to food inspectors or protection for fish habitat or a decent income level for seniors? Well, remember the “budget bill” back in 2012?
Remember how we didn’t really know all the collateral, yet fundamental, legislative changes that were included? The weakening of government and its relationship with citizens — lower taxes means fewer services means less relevant government. The increased power of the corporate sector, especially in the energy field, increasingly the main source of government revenues. The race to exploit and export our finite natural resources. The weakening of civil society, all those charities that are under attack and tiptoeing around instead of freely bringing forward alternative ideas to those of the prevailing culture.
I know, the Conservatives hold a majority in parliament, and can do what they want. But are their actions and decisions really what Canadians want? Did we fully understand their agenda; did they tell us the devilish details of their grand plan?
Apparently not. Recent polls have shown that Canadians have quite different priorities than Mr. Harper. In an EKOS poll, social inequality was chosen three times as often as fiscal issues as people’s main concern. Fifty-nine per cent of people chose investing in social programs as the highest government priority, compared to 16 per cent who wanted to keep taxes as low as possible.
In polling by the Broadbent Institute, even 58 per cent of Conservative supporters agreed that they were willing to pay more taxes to save social programs (72 per cent of Liberal and NDP supporters agreed).
The Globe and Mail did an interactive poll before the federal budget and concluded that what stood out was the across-the-board call for higher taxes.
So I think those progressive values that I hold very dear, and that are brought to life by wise use of our tax dollars, are still held by many Canadians. We need to speak out, not just answer phone polls. We have to remind not only the government, but also each other that these values still matter, that we reject the prevailing narratives that try to persuade us otherwise, that tell us a different story about being Canadian.
This all matters as we sit around the council table, making decisions for our community. Because it all trickles down. The federal government’s inaction on climate change, for one, means some day Nelson, like Kaslo and Sicamous this year, will face tremendous costs to protect our citizens. Policing costs increase with the law-and-order agenda. And under the current unfair tax regime, local governments only get eight cents of every tax dollar, and are expected to do more and more as senior governments withdraw.
Oh Canada, we will stand on guard for you. And our American friend? He should perhaps review his options.
Councillor Donna Macdonald shares the Wednesday council column with the rest of his colleagues around the table.