Ted Talks: Family Tax Cuts

Ted Falk began his column this past week by commending the people in Provencher for being the most generous in Canada. I couldn’t agree more, and was not at all surprised to see Steinbach at the top of the list of generous cities in McLean’s rankings. And I know that the people in Provencher aren’t generous for the sake of recognition or rankings – it’s just in their nature. So I was pleased to see Ted’s congratulations, but I was concerned: what if I agreed with Ted about everything in his column, and had nothing to write about this week?

Thankfully, Ted quickly used the generosity of the people of Provencher as a segue to discuss the generosity of the Conservative government in regard to tax cuts. But even there, I have little to argue with (except the fact that he argues that two thirds of the tax cuts go to lower and middle income families as if that’s a good thing, when by most measures – it’s complicated – the lower and middle class make up as much as 80% of Canadians, making these tax cuts still lean in favour of the richest Canadians). My son Sam is six months old, and I very much appreciate the Universal Child Care Benefit; combined with parental leave, it’s currently affording me the opportunity to spend more time with my family without worrying too much about income. I can’t say that I see an increase in UCCB as a bad thing.

What I would like to say about the Conservative tax cuts is simply that they’re further complicating an already extremely complicated system. The Green Party also believes in leaving more money in the hands of Canadians, but we propose to do it by changing the system to something far simpler. Instead of taxing a good thing, like your income, we propose to tax bad things, like pollution. While the Conservative plan will lead to higher tax rebates for Canadians in the Spring, the Green tax plan would allow Canadians to take home their whole paycheck, taxing them on their consumption instead of on their output. This would give Canadians the ability to direct more of their money to where they think it best used, and give them more control over the actual amount that they’re taxed. (Plus, they’d have less need to hire an accountant every tax season.)

Finally, I take exception to Ted’s claim that “our Conservative Government is the only party who believes parents are the ones who know what is best for their children.” That’s a low blow, Ted, and obviously false. Ask any parent, including any Liberal and NDP members, and they’ll all tell you that they know what is best for their children. Nobody is saying otherwise. The Liberals and NDP are merely proposing other systems of helping Canadians pay for child care, because they believe those systems to be more efficient. It’s unfair and deceptive to say otherwise. The real difference is that the Liberal and NDP plans are aimed at making it easier for families to afford child care and thus maintain work outside the home, while the Conservative plan strikes a middle path of giving families a subsidy for having children and optional child-care subsidies so that they can choose to stay home or not. Ted neglected to mention the Green Party at all, but for the record our tax reforms are designed to not only increase the amount of take-home pay Canadians receive, but to also help Canadians spend more time with their families; we will also encourage Canadians to do so, as we value the family and recognize that healthy families make for a healthy society. (See pages 89-90 of Vision Green.) So no, Ted, the Conservatives are NOT the only party that thinks that parents know what is best for their children, nor are the Conservatives the only party that values families.

Provencher, your families (and your generosity) are too important to be used as a tool for partisan politics. I encourage you to ask all of the candidates in the upcoming election about their party’s plans are for child care and taxation. As always, I’d love to hear from you.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

Ted Talks: Repeat Violent Offenders

MP Ted Falk’s recent column “Protecting Canadian Families from Repeat Violent Offenders” brings up the issue of parole and recidivism (or the rate at which released offenders re-offend). These are important issues, and the Green Party recognizes the need to do better for Canadians in regard to the way that prisoners are rehabilitated and reintroduced to society. Let’s start by unpacking Ted’s column a bit.

Ted provides some context for his column by describing the situation the Conservatives are hoping to correct: “Under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, federal offenders serving fixed-term sentences are allowed to serve the final third of their sentence in the community under supervision and subject to conditions.” This is true. I’ve done a bit of research and found out what “under supervision” and “subject to conditions” actually means. You can read the full text of the existing law, with the relevant page here, but I’ll unpack the terms.

“Under supervision” refers to the fact that prisoners are only released to serve the last third of their sentence in the community after being reviewed to determine that they are not a safety risk. This includes the opportunity for victims of the offender to offer a statement of their loss or concerns about the offender’s release. When this happens, the releasing authority can impose any conditions on the release of the offender that the authority deems necessary to protect that person. If the authority is concerned about the possibility for re-offending, they can instead release the offender to a community-based residential facility or psychiatric facility. This is what is meant by “subject to conditions.”

What all of that means is that these offenders are not being “automatically” put out onto the street. They’re being reviewed, including consultation with their victims, and when appropriate they are released to a less restrictive, less degrading, and less expensive form of control. By reversing this system, then, the Conservatives are not stopping a revolving door out of prison, they’re simply imposing mandatory sentencing in another form. They’re electing to treat every prisoner exactly the same, regardless of their personal level of rehabilitation.

To put this into perspective, let’s look at two hypothetical prisoners, both of whom have committed a violent crime. One may have been a crime of passion or self-defense, the other a cold and calculated murder (Ted didn’t define violent crime, so the description fits either), but for the purposes of this example it doesn’t even matter. Let’s just say that they both have nine years to serve.

Prisoner A has applied himself during his sentence, taken the rehabilitative programming seriously, perhaps even earned a college degree online; his warden and chaplain are both willing to vouch for his transformation even halfway through his sentence. Prisoner A is a model prisoner, exactly what our prison is supposed to strive for in all prisoners. He writes letters to his family, talking about all of the things he’ll do with them when he gets out.

Prisoner B, on the other hand, doesn’t participate in any rehabilitative programming unless forced to. While in prison he has joined a gang, and been involved in several violent altercations with other inmates from rival gangs. He threatens others regularly about all of the things he’ll do to them when he gets out.

This example is a bit extreme, but it’s meant to be: it shows the best-case scenario for a prisoner being rehabilitated, and the worst-case scenario that we see in movies and on television, in which a hardened criminal gets harder and more dangerous in prison. Under our current system, Prisoner A has the opportunity to serve the last three years of his sentence in the community. This means that he can potentially go home to his family, or at least be in closer contact with them. He can live in more humane conditions, and is able to continue to better himself through greater access to education or work, both of which are essential to keeping offenders from re-offending. He has all of this offered to him, provided he can apply himself and show progress; that’s what drove him to work so hard to better himself on the inside.

What Ted is suggesting is that this program be cancelled, and that Prisoner A and Prisoner B be treated exactly the same, both required to serve every minute of their sentence under the tightest control. Doing so would replace the judgment of our corrections officers with an across-the-board judgment that anyone who commits a crime will do so again, which effectively tells our corrections officers that they need not bother trying to rehabilitate anyone. “Corrections” will be even less about rehabilitation, and even more about arbitrary forms of punishment with little sense of fairness or proportionality.

What Ted also didn’t mention is that violent crime is at an all-time low in Canada, and that our recidivism (re-offending) rate is already lower than similar nations such as the US and the UK (according to a 2003 study). A study in 1993 shows that, of the criminals who re-offended after release, for half of them the re-offence was a breach of parole conditions and not a new offense; and prisoners who are fully paroled have an even lower long-term recidivism rate than those who are released conditionally. So the stats tell us that full parole is actually potentially more effective than even conditional release, and that the chances of being harmed by a violent offender, first time or otherwise, is the lowest it’s ever been. The policy Ted’s suggesting is actually going against what our own Corrections Canada research tells us about how prisoners are rehabilitated, and would cost us considerably more long-term (each prisoner costs taxpayers roughly $100,000 per year). And I found all of this in the first few hits on a Google search.

The Green Party of Canada recommends a greater use of Restorative Justice in Canada. For some great facts about Restorative Justice and prison in general, I recommend checking out the website of Prison Fellowship Canada. We can have safer communities, but this goal isn’t in conflict with treating prisoners fairly or rehabilitating and restoring offenders to society.

Your candidate,

 

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

Ted Talks: Responding to Ted Falk about Carbon Tax

Ted Falk has a column in the Carillon that’s supposed to be about keeping the people in Provencher informed about what’s going on in Ottawa and how it will affect us. Unfortunately, it reads like a political ad campaign. These days, that means an attack ad.

Ted’s latest column is titled “Carbon Tax?“, but it contains no actual information about any proposed carbon taxes; instead, he brings up the subject as a pretext for talking about Justin Trudeau. He attacks Trudeau for saying “Canada needs to have a price on carbon,” but neglects to mention that Trudeau is late to the party: scientists, economists, and politicians from around the world have been proposing carbon taxes for years, even decades, and it was a major part of the Green Party of Canada’s platform long before the rise of Trudeau. It was even part of the Liberal platform long before Trudeau became leader. So let’s get past the political mudslinging and actually talk about a carbon tax and the effects it could have.

First, what is a carbon tax? Simply put, a carbon tax recognizes that carbon emissions actually cost us – in environmental damage and climate change (and all of the dangers associated with them), and in health care (which is the biggest government cost), just to name a few. Currently, we’re not paying for carbon emissions; this is what economists call an “externality”, which is when we’re able to push costs out of the equation (or “externalize” them), leaving them to be paid later or by someone else. To put it differently, we’re letting our children or our grandchildren pay for what we’re doing now. Trudeau’s statement, then, that we need to have a price on carbon, is true. It’s the same thing as saying that we need to clean up our own messes, that we need to pull our own weight, or that we need to be accountable for the real costs of our lifestyles and economic choices. This is not complicated economics, it’s a straightforward question of taking responsibility for ourselves. A carbon tax gives us the ability to do that by taxing carbon emissions, usually by taxing fossil fuels (which is where carbon emissions come from).

So gas prices will go up with the addition of a carbon tax. The province of British Columbia has had a carbon tax for several years now, and they haven’t noticed a big hit to their economy as Ted suggests we all would. What they have noticed is that people drive less. That’s good news, and exactly the kind of change that a carbon tax aims to bring: people think twice about driving, and get more efficient with their trips. People carpool more, or choose to tele-commute, or work closer to home (or live closer to work). These changes are good for us socially and environmentally, and the revenues raised can be dedicated to dealing with the damage we’ve already done and working against the developing climate crisis.

Of course, a carbon tax would also raise the costs of most consumer goods. Ted mentioned that it would make farming more expensive, and that’s true; farming is one of our biggest sources of carbon emissions in Provevncher. It would also affect other industries. I’m a second-generation truck driver, and my grandfather worked in rail transport; I know that everything you own came to you on a truck or a train, or both. An increase in the cost of transport will lead to higher prices on virtually everything. But once again, this will have an effect on our behaviour as consumers: things that have traveled further will have a higher price, reflective of their higher carbon footprint. This will encourage us to buy locally and bolster the local economy, while at the same time making us less dependent on oil-intensive transport industries whose costs go up and down with oil prices.

Even so, a carbon tax would cost people more. Ted’s right about that. But what Ted failed to mention is that a carbon tax like the one that the Green Party has been proposing for years would replace income tax. So while our goods would cost more and our gas would cost more, we’d have our entire paycheck each month to pay for it, not just our after-tax earnings. With more income to work with, Canadians have more choices that allow them to keep more of their earnings. Want to avoid gas taxes? With the extra money you have from not paying income tax, you can either a) afford to pay those taxes at the pump, or b) afford a new electric or hybrid car that requires less gas altogether! A carbon tax actually allows Canadians to make more responsible and progressive decisions that will make us all better off immediately, and especially over the long run.

Ted also said that a carbon tax would make us less competitive on the global market, and drive businesses to other countries, “killing jobs.” That’s the same logic that has led this current government to repeatedly cut corporate taxes, so that Canada has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the developed world. Our cuts in corporate taxes have not led to corporations re-investing their savings into our economy and creating more jobs; rather, they’ve been sitting on that money for years, or awarding it as bonuses or as part of ever-increasing CEO salaries. Lowering business taxes has not led to more jobs, and adding a new tax will not change the fact that Canada has a market of over 30 million customers and one of the most stable economies in the world, making it a great place to do business.

I think, and I’m far from alone on this, that a carbon tax makes a lot of sense and would be good for us individually and good for our economy. I’d be happy to be proved wrong, if there are better alternatives. Ted Falk has missed a great opportunity to actually talk about a carbon tax and its potential to change the way Canadians are taxed, and change the way we spend our money, for better or worse. Instead, he’s chosen to use it as a platform to try to make us scared of Justin Trudeau. We should expect better from someone elected to represent us and make decisions on our behalf.

What do you think about the way that we’re taxed? Should we tax goods (income, goods and services), or bads (pollution, cigarettes and alcohol, garbage, etc.)? I’d love to hear from you!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon