Monday, February 28, 2011


We take it for granted that we believe in a democracy.

Perhaps, we take it for granted that we do not live in a police state, where every action of ours is watched and punished when it moves against the state's ideology. Over the past year though, I begin to question that assumption as well.

But are taking all of this so much for granted that we do not see our democracy and freedoms diminish before our eyes? All around us, people in other countries, both democratic and autocratic are taking up arms against their states.

The power of the people at this stage will one day be written into our history books and be representative of change in our world history. I watched proudly as the people of Egypt took up peacefully against their own government dictatorship of 41 years demanding none other than Mubarek's resignation and a state where people worked, participated and moved freely within.

People around the world watched as Mubarek publicly resigned, left his office in Cairo and turned over power to the military that is now setting up a constitutional commission and is attempting to develop a new way of electing its leaders.

In Greece, people protested the new austerity crisis, where government is reacting to cut more and more and gut what represents to its people of its democratic and social institutions, as more and more Greeks live in poverty and can't find jobs. This angst has spread to Europe, where France has once again faced its own people pushing to moderate the austerity agenda and restore certain worker's rights.

In Ireland, where North American leaders have pointed to where corporate tax cuts have "worked", unemployment has recently hit a crisis point whereby many Irish companies are closing after being in business for generations. The concentration of wealth has never been so horrid worldwide as it is today, a mere repeat and exacerbation of our life just before the Great Depression.

In Great Britain, the new Conservative-Liberal Democratic Coalition led by David Cameron, promises to make deep cuts to almost everything that walks. Benefits for the poor have been decimated, health care for the elderly and persons with disabilities tightened up and housing councils are being sold to private interests. Voters seem to vote for leaders without agendas, without plans, other than to cut what is there, but not to hurt "the job creators" - or big business, despite the fact less and less jobs are actually being created.

This movement should concern us, and perhaps we should pick up pickets and do the same here. At the present time in the state of Wisconsin, newly elected Governor Scott Walker and his Republican dominated House have decided to press ahead by moving the clock backwards on worker's rights and even the right to collectively bargain as a union. One might think, "I'm not in a union, so this does not affect me", but this is only its most visible target. Health care and social benefits to the elderly and persons with disabilities have also been slashed.

What happens when a state gets this way? To me, this is not nation-bulding, and I would NEVER support any political party or leader that seems to go on this track. A governance plan of cuts and more cuts, means no nation building at all, no cohesion and no respect for the people that paid into developing it. These types of cuts invariably always wind up costing the public more money out of pocket for services we used to get for "free" or low cost, and in general - we tend to pay more out of pocket for these things than we get back in any reductions in taxes paid.

Taxes pay for civil society. Cutting the services that taxes pay for reduce this civility to much of what our society is becoming - rich against the poor, blacks against the whites, Christians against the Muslims, etc. The "other" groups become the ones responsible for the circumstances we find ourselves in. News outlets and call-in talk shows come out with allegations that people receiving income assistance from the state are pushing the whole nation into debt, when there is scant evidence to back any of this up.

A new poll that was published in Saturday's paper by Angus Reid indicated that the federal "Conservatives" hold a 13-point lead over its rival Liberals. When broken down by education, those with less education tend to support the "Conservatives", while those with more education tend to vote Liberal and somewhat NDP. Males tend to be more "Conservative" than females in all education groups and regions. I put quotes around the word "Conservative" because Stephen Harper's party is NOT the party of John A. McDonald or John Diefenbaker. It is an amalgam of Republican wannabes from Alberta, Preston Manning's Reform Party and Stockwell Day's attempt at pushing for an "Alliance" between the federal parties of the right. The former Progressive Conservative Party died the day Peter McKay agreed to the merger.

Canadians that support the "Conservatives" have no clue that the old Progressive Conservatives, even under the likes of Brian Mulroney, no longer exist. The party is now the party of the "slash and burn" variety, whereby Canada's historical ties to human rights abroad and within has diminished, its commitment to equality and ending poverty non-existent ... corporations will take care of us, if we only cut their taxes down to zero. Let the CEOs decide what social programs we need, they want to say. Stephen Harper said himself as the policy spokesperson for the Reform Party that Canadians would not recognize Canada once they would be done with it.

Canadians are either wilfully blind or are swallowing the hype from the increasingly Fox News like media in our own country that makes the Conservatives seem as moderate as their former counterparts. Yet, Canadians, when asked the right questions would understand why a majority government of this type might not be good for the majority of us. Most of us cannot afford to cover more of our health costs out of pocket, or pay into private health insurance for basics. We might have some problems with the idea of charter schools (where many of them are funded by private corporations), whereby wealthier families would be hands down able to provide a good education for their kids, while poorer kids will attend schools with diminishing and non-existent resources.

Yes, these things are provincial and Harper is federal. However, Harper has control over the purse strings, and can make decisions such as the "trial balloon" that he mysteriously allowed one of his favoured Cabinet Ministers to float over us this past fall to cut over $50 billion in transfer payments to the provinces and let the provinces have full autonomy over their own issues. (Normally, Harper is not fond of letting any of his Ministers speak out of turn, so this "trial balloon" seems to have been strategic). Then, with a fellow tax cutter like Tim Hudak, possibly forming the next provincial government in Ontario, it does not look good for Ontario.

I worked and made very good money by mid-1990's standards when Mike Harris was in government. Mike Harris cut our provincial portion of taxes by 30%, and basically to be honest, I did not spend more money in the community. I just paid down debts and put into investments like RRSPs and so forth. This is the same thing that 99.9% of other well off taxpayers did. Very little of this influenced job creation.

At the same time, the community around us became a war zone. People on welfare lost their homes, frequently moving from one place to the next, and children changing schools multiple times per year. I counted over a dozen suicides that were directly connected to Harris' cuts in his first year alone in my community. As I changed careers and moved on into my current legal practice, I still note a large number of my families undergoing foreclosure, people losing their teeth to various health conditions and not being assisted with dentures, social housing falling apart, gun shots in my neighbourhood, a substantial percentage of young people hooked on crack cocaine and working the streets, and people stopping us asking for loose change.

More and more of my clients are being screened for jail terms for non-violent offences, all in the name of public deterrance. I fail to see how a jail sentence is going to help many of these people, except keep them out of the legitimate labour force for a few years until we can secure a pardon for them. Of course, people don't want to go to jail, but the whole punitive thinking has been proven by peer-reviewed research to be ineffective in stopping crime, or even rehabilitating offenders. Harper is building more federal facilities to store people in, until they are released and have no choice but to commit another crime, when they find nobody will hire them, their families have disappeared and they have no money to rent or lease an apartment.

Cutting the taxes paid by businesses or by wealthy citizens is not going to create jobs. Jobs are created because a company needs a worker to do a certain job, not because it pays less taxes. It is the very nature of business to try to cut corners by hiring fewer people if it can get away with it to produce more. Businesses are not accountable to our government or to its employees, but only to its shareholders. If a corporation can show it can cut costs and reap a major profit, then the CEO gets a huge bonus, and the shareholders walk away with bigger dividends.

Tax cuts do not spur spending by these businesses, particularly on jobs or increasing the salaries of workers they already have. If you work at Wal-Mart, know that the corporate taxes they have been paying have been sloping downward for the past decade or more, but have your wages gone up any? I thought so. There is only a certain amount of spending that better off people will do; it quickly declines at its maximum marginal value. Businesses, as with families, only spend up to the point of its maximum marginal output. You will not purchase more gas, more groceries, more clothes, etc. than what you and your family need, even if you had a ton of disposable income left over after these necessary items are purchased. Once this slope is crossed, the future is considered and that is where investments and other non-economic drivers come in, e.g. retirement planning, paying off debt.

A better approach is not to bail out the banks, the automakers and other companies that probably caused themselves to go insolvent, but to provide assistance to those at the lower end to either obtain better jobs (e.g. infrastructure investments), increased income supports (e.g. employment insurance, social programs, pensions), and reducing or eliminating punitive rules in social programs that prevent incentive. If I were unfortunate enough to rely on social assistance, and was only able to purchase a roof over my head, the only "stimulation" I am providing is to my landlord, and not to the grocery store, the bookstore, the movie theatre, the Swiss Chalet, ther neighbourhood bar, etc. because I have no more money to spend at these other places ... the consequences of not eating well are well known, and I suppose it creates more jobs for the doctors and hospitals and pharmaceuticals, but given that much of this is publicly funded ... this is why health care is eating up more and more of our budget.

All I know is there might be a federal election around the corner, and I hear so many people tell me they trust Harper with the country's future. I don't. I have seen what he has done to the Senate, with the census, with political financing, with corporate tax cuts (while increasing some taxes on lower and middle incomes), increasing spending by the billions on fighter jets, planning G20's in the midst of Toronto and then falsely arresting over 1,000 people in it, etc.

I would be willing to hear what good Harper has done, but that is so miniscule compared to the harm. This is not a government that is based on a plan, a strategy, with the interests of all Canadians but instead it is a government of ideology. If Harper got a majority in the next election, I would love to be the one that does the polling, except this time I will ask the correct questions, and I am sure people will be very sorry they have voted this majority in.

Who to vote for? I think this is part of why some are moving to Harper, because the Liberal leader does not present well, and the NDP does curry favour with the public, as they do have ideology of their own. What we need is a better voting system, one that allows us to vote for a candidate of our choice, separate from the leader or the party of our choice. One can still vote for a local Conservative candidate, as there are many smart men and women in this party that are running, just like in any other party, but vote for a different leadership.

Unfortunately, none of the big parties will go for it, as they see this as eroding their base, and preventing majorities. My question would be then: What is the benefit to our country of majority governments that run roughshod over the rights of all Canadians, do whatever they like, regardless of what they campaigned on, and then destroy the country or province, and then leave a huge deficit for the next government?

I tend to prefer minority governments myself, with the power and movement for coalitions, both temporary and long-term, depending on the issues. That is how many western European countries operate, but why not ours?

Your thoughts?