A strong sustainable country is founded on some basic characteristics. Countries like companies must have a vision and decisions must be in line with those visions. In Canada the vision we have for our country is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the United States the Constitution outlines their belief in a society of ‘We the People’.
Canadians have often prided themselves in a belief that we are a kinder, gentler society. Recent data as outlined by the OECD, United Nations and the Conference Board of Canada is showing the Canada we think we are, may no longer be the Canada we are.
The self-image of Canada as kinder and gentler is based largely on a narrow Canada–U.S. comparison. Yes, Canada’s social safety net results in lower rates of child and elderly poverty and income inequality, along with higher rates of self-sufficiency of vulnerable populations than in the United States. But many Canadians would be surprised to learn that the U.S. burglary rate and suicide rate are not much higher than those in Canada, and that the gender income gap is the same in the two countries.
Conference Board of Canada
This self-satisfaction is also not justified when Canada’s social performance is compared with its peer countries. Six countries rank above Canada overall, and Canada’s “D” grade on working-age poverty and “C” grades on child poverty and income inequality, are troubling for a wealthy country.
- The child poverty rate increased from 12.8 per cent to 15.1 per cent.
- The working-age poverty rate rose from 9.4 per cent to 11.1 per cent.
- The elderly poverty rate increased from 2.9 per cent to 6.7 per cent.
The recent data from OECD and the Conference Board of Canada also indicates how far we have strayed from the foundations we as nations decided we wanted our societies built on. Both our countries are founded on the principles of a democracy. A society based on equality, fairness and justice. A society where individuals are not to be discriminated based on race, religion, or more specifically who they are. Our two countries seem to have fiscal and social policies that are clearly discriminatory based on income.
This is not a debate about what fear mongers try to make it about. This is not about Capitalism versus Communism. This is not a debate about political ideologies. This is about two societies whose current fiscal and social policies are no longer congruent with the visions we created as nations. This is about creating societies based on basic human rights. Societies that understand to be healthy we must ensure all people have a right to the freedoms that should be afforded everyone in any strong democracy. Current fiscal and social policies in both countries are widening the gap not only financially but also in regards to access of health, education and our very political system that should serve as a protection to our basic human rights as outlined in the U.S. Constitution or Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Conference Board of Canada indicates that child poverty, wage disparity between genders, and more specifically in the United States a Health Care System that is the most expensive and provides fewer services to many citizens than the other 17 peer countries. The United States scored 17th out of 17 and had high infant mortality rates, lower life expectancy than any of the 17 countries analyzed. Yet, in Canada we have many of our leaders talking of more privatization in health care to shorten wait times or a move towards a two tier system of service. Which of course means different service or level of care for those that can afford it? Another policy that would not be congruent on the beliefs our society is founded on.
Our society, like each of us individually, if we want to become healthy, we must undergo lifestyle changes. Our countries must undergo lifestyle changes, if we are to be healthy and sustainable. In Canada rather than worry about how to get our youth to purchase lottery tickets, we need to look at how to get them engaged in our political system. How do we get them to have a voice or feel they are a part of our society?
There is a reform agenda to reduce income disparities that makes sense whatever your attitude towards fairness. It is not about higher taxes and more handouts. Both in rich and emerging economies, it is about attacking cronyism and investing in the young. You could call it a “True Progressivism”.
If you ever ask for the research to show how current fiscal and social policies will improve the well-being of all citizens in our countries they will be unable to provide it. The research is clear and supported with historical evidence showing societies that create large gaps in equality as well as silence the voices of the majority are destined to decline. We need a society that understands and invests in our countries human capacity. A society needs to provide access to education both for the young as well as job training programs to improve opportunity for full participation of everyone in our society.
The rising inequality since the 1980s in Canada and its peer countries, however, is cause for some concern. The Economist article notes there is evidence that growing levels of income inequality can “translate into growing inequality of opportunity for the next generation and hence declining social mobility. . . . Bigger gaps in opportunity, in turn, mean fewer people with skills and hence slower growth in the future.
We do not need new visions for our countries. Those visions are outlined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and The U.S. constitution. What we need is for our citizens to have their voices heard. What we need is to have fiscal and social policies take us towards our vision of a society not away from it. We need to close the gap.
Michel Chossudovsky and Andrew Gavin Marshall (Editors)
Montreal, Global Research Publishers. Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), 2010