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