We need sys­temic change and a green tran­si­tion to reach the Canada we want

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - JOE SAL­TER

Some­times I grow hope­ful for a green, eq­ui­table, just, and demo­cratic fu­ture, but then I tune into Cana­dian pol­i­tics — as un­re­mark­able as bath­room breaks and weekold Cheese Whiz stains.

Po­lit­i­cal choices are typ­i­cally pre­sented as bi­nary: ei­ther higher taxes on the work­ing class ac­com­pa­nied by an ex­pan­sion of es­sen­tial ser­vices, or lower taxes plus dev­as­tat­ing ser­vice cuts.

Do al­ter­na­tives to these lose-lose sce­nar­ios ex­ist? Is it pos­si­ble to si­mul­ta­ne­ously strengthen vi­tal pub­lic ser­vices and re­duce the fi­nan­cial bur­den on the 10 mil­lion Cana­di­ans who strug­gle to pay for ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties?

Yup! Cana­di­ans are of­fered a very lim­ited vi­sion of all that is pos­si­ble, and with some courage, fore­sight, and imag­i­na­tion we can re­al­ize a bet­ter fu­ture.

Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada, more than 67 per cent of Canada’s wealth is con­cen­trated in the hands of only 20 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, yet the lower classes are squeezed. Since 1952, per­sonal in­come tax con­tri­bu­tions to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment dou­bled from 30 to 63 per cent while cor­po­rate con­tri­bu­tions were cut from 30 to 18 per cent, sav­ing them around $1 tril­lion. The money never trick­led down.

The next gov­ern­ment could quickly re­cover tens of bil­lions of dol­lars by clos­ing tax loop­holes (re­mem­ber, re­mem­ber the Panama Pa­pers), by in­creas­ing wealth taxes, and by hold­ing com­pa­nies that vi­o­late the law to full ac­count.

Some might ar­gue that re­dis­tribut­ing wealth, up­hold­ing hu­man rights, and honour­ing Treaties will re­sult in cap­i­tal flight to na­tions with weaker labour and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards. How­ever, this mis­lead­ing claim over­sim­pli­fies glob­al­iza­tion and serves to re­in­force in­equal­ity. Ar­gu­ments about “com­pet­i­tive­ness” are sim­i­larly bunk, con­sid­er­ing less than 1 per cent of cor­po­ra­tions in Canada own two-thirds of all do­mes­tic as­sets. The word you are ac­tu­ally look­ing for is “hege­mony”.

De­cent jobs are se­cured through worker sol­i­dar­ity, pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion, and global co-op­er­a­tion. A race to the bot­tom ac­com­plishes did­dly-squat.

For over four decades, we have been fed a neo-lib­eral nar­ra­tive that en­cour­ages Cana­di­ans to vote against their best in­ter­ests, to act in­di­vid­u­ally in­stead of col­lec­tively, to have faith in un­car­ing fi­nan­cial mar­kets, to trust that em­ploy­ers will never abuse their power over work­ers. Over time, the pub­lic has been made Pub­lic En­emy No. 1, lead­ing to de­bil­i­tat­ing in­fight­ing. Mean­while, the rich get richer.

Face it, the sta­tus quo ain’t gonna hack it. The world is chang­ing and we are not chang­ing with it.

Hu­man­ity is fac­ing the full-frontal, ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis that is cli­mate change. Canada lacks the in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion. Hu­man mi­gra­tion is at his­tor­i­cally high lev­els be­cause of con­flict, ex­treme weather events, and busi­ness-suit colo­nial­ism.

Right-wing ex­trem­ism and ne­o­fas­cism are on the rise and threaten global se­cu­rity. So­cial me­dia is a thing. A re­ally big, freaky thing. Job au­to­ma­tion, opi­oid cri­sis, you name it!

Canada can­not ex­pect to heal in­sults like poverty with fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives and tax breaks. They ben­e­fit many Cana­di­ans in the short­run, but these band-aid so­lu­tions only hide the dam­age while the wounds fes­ter.

We need to treat the un­der­ly­ing prob­lems of coked-up cap­i­tal­ism, not its symp­toms. We need sys­temic change.

Take Canada’s food sys­tem, for ex­am­ple. Su­per­mar­ket food is wasted. Food is un­nec­es­sar­ily stored in sin­gle-use plas­tics. Taxes, sub­si­dies, and tar­iffs are care­fully de­signed so that transna­tional cor­po­ra­tions are pri­or­i­tized over lo­cal farm­ers and small busi­nesses. Pro­cessed foods are cheaper than nu­tri­tious foods. Food deserts are com­mon in im­pov­er­ished and re­mote com­mu­ni­ties. Mi­grant work­ers are ex­ploited. Health, jus­tice, and sus­tain­abil­ity are sim­ply not val­ued.

Al­though mod­ern­iz­ing our econ­omy will be ex­pen­sive, the cost of liv­ing will con­tinue to rise with­out re­form.

Cana­di­ans must first de­mand a demo­cratic econ­omy. Trans­parency and pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity mech­a­nisms have been dis­man­tled by gov­ern­ments that put profit over peo­ple. Elec­toral re­form, rig­or­ous pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion, cit­i­zen over­sight com­mit­tees, and greater worker con­trol over the work­place will re­vi­tal­ize our democ­racy.

At times, it can be hard to feel any ur­gency to mo­bi­lize in our over­stim­u­lat­ing world, where the knock­ing of cri­sis fails to cut through the com­mo­tion. No su­per­hu­man is go­ing to save us, though. Nos­tal­gia only pro­vides so much com­fort. Re­sis­tance is fu­tile.

Whether you are mad as hell for good rea­son (e.g. mil­len­ni­als), not mad as hell, or just PO’d by na­ture, find mean­ing­ful change in your com­mu­nity and vote for it.

Chances are, the sta­tus quo does not care about you.

Joe Sal­ter, M.Sc., lives in St. Catharines

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