Ted Talks: Fiscal Responsibility

In the past two weeks, Provencher MP Ted Falk has used his weekly newspaper column to talk about economic stability. In both columns, he points to the economic crisis in Greece as an example of unfettered spending leading to economic disaster, while pointing to the Conservative economic plan of cutting taxes as the recipe for sound fiscal policy. There are a few things that don’t sit right with me about the columns.

1) This Conservative government can’t say much about unfettered spending: Canada’s national debt has increased significantly under Stephen Harper, who inherited a $13.8 billion dollar surplus and turned it into a $25.9 billion dollar deficit over the past nine years. That’s a $40,000,000,000 swing. It’s easy to point at Greece and say that their government spending is irresponsible, but what do you call a government that increases spending and cuts taxes? This government has cut numerous science and social programs in the name of austerity, while at the same time funneling funds into infrastructure projects in the name of stimulus. Why play both cards at once? It’s hard to tell, but I can see a motive (and I sincerely hope it’s not true): While both infrastructure and social and science programs are important, infrastructure is a very visible way to spread government money around  in Conservative ridings and support the Conservative voter base (rural blue collar workers), while social and science programs tend to favour people who don’t vote Conservative (the urban poor, academic elites). I sincerely hope that this isn’t the reason behind the Conservative fiscal policy, but we know that the Conservatives, more than any other party, knows their voter base and knows how to leverage it. Their election strategy is to secure their own voter base and discourage anyone else from voting at all. So while I hope that Conservative fiscal policy is about economic strategy rather than election strategy, it works much better as election strategy.

2) Speaking of election strategy, the Conservatives have been in permanent campaign mode for years now. I was disappointed to see that Ted’s columns comment on what the “opposition parties” think about Greece’s debt situation. Not only were the statements vague on details but clearly negative, they don’t add anything to the column. I appreciate that the MP gets a column to update people in Provencher about what the government is doing and how it interacts on the world stage, but skewering your political opponents does neither of those things. I’ve been similarly disappointed to receive mail from Ted’s office, paid for by taxpayers, which featured half-page photos of Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair with disparaging remarks about both of them. These clearly partisan mailings from the MP’s office can hardly count as good use of government funds. I sincerely doubt that Ted is even aware of them, but this seems to be standard practice for the Conservative government.

3) In regard to cutting taxes, Conservative tax cuts are, again, aimed at specific demographics. In both columns Ted noted that Conservative tax cuts will save “working families” and “the average Canadian” $6,500/year. Personally, I don’t know anyone whose tax return has increased by that amount. It turns out that you’d need to be making more than $80,000/year to get a tax cut that large. I may not be the average Canadian, but I didn’t realize I was only half of one. Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer pointed out that only 1 in 6 families would benefit from the Conservative income splitting plan, and that it will cost the government (and therefore taxpayers) $2.2 billion in lost revenues this year.

Let’s be clear about something: we get very good value for our taxes. Our taxes pay for endless amounts of infrastructure and programs that we completely take for granted, but that we could never afford on an individual basis. What needs to change about taxes is not that we pay them, but how we pay them. We currently pay taxes on goods: income, goods, and services; the Green Party proposes that we pay taxes on bads: pollution, waste, risk. That way, rather than getting tax cuts as handouts in election years, Canadians can get tax cuts by improving their efficiency, reducing waste, and making healthier and less risky choices. Programs are supported directly by the problems they address, such as healthcare being paid for by tobacco taxes and garbage collection being paid for by bag tags and dumping fees. We have a tax plan that is fair to all Canadians, favours small businesses over large corporations, will keep us competitive in the G20, and will work with the polluter pays principle to promote greater efficiency and less waste.

The Green Party also has a plan to reduce the public debt without compromising infrastructure. Part of that plan is to reform the tax system, raising corporate taxes to what they were in 2008 before they fell to half of American corporate tax rates, and increase taxes on tobacco and alcohol. Part of the plan to reduce our deficit is to reduce the amount of corporate subsidies we give out (we currently subsidize the oil industry by billions of dollars per year). But the most important part of the plan is our commitment to live within our means and set goals we can actually achieve, which means a real commitment to fiscally conservative budgets rather than spending millions on giving the impression of sound fiscal management through ad campaigns.

The real problem with the Greek financial crisis is short-term thinking. Our financial world is focused on short-term earnings, which are measured in quarters. How can anyone responsibly run an economy three months at a time? All of the arguments about Greece’s payments are similarly short-sighted: even if they can delay or diminish their current payments, what’s the long-term strategy? They’ll have another payment next quarter, or next year. We need to spend less attention and money on short-term financial optics, and more attention and money on long-term strategies to ensure that our economy is both stable and resilient. While the Conservatives are blaming our shrinking economy (when they acknowledge it at all) on volatile oil prices, they continue to push for further investment in oil, while other sectors are moving jobs overseas. A resilient economy is diverse, and a stable economy is one designed with long-term goals in mind, not the next quarter. Any financial manager will tell you that a safe investment is a long-term investment.

We don’t need to point fingers at European countries to find issues with fiscal responsibility. Our current government is responsible for 24% of our accumulated national debt, and spends millions annually just to tell us how good they are with our money. We can do better. The Fall, vote for long-term planning and a sustainable and resilient economy. Vote Green.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff_Background1

Ted Talks: Supporting Families

Ted Falk recently stood up in the House of Commons to speak about the ways that the Conservative Government are supporting families. It’s a noble goal, and one that every party strives for. But one of the reasons that I’m proud to be a Green Party member and candidate is because we tend to look a little deeper, beyond easy solutions to the root of the issue.

Here is Ted’s speech:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today in support of the hard working Canadian families that form the corner stone of our society. As the basic unit of any successful nation, families drive our economy, build our communities and provide our children with moral, social and financial stability.

I firmly believe that when the family unit is healthy, when families prosper, all Canadians prosper. That is why I stand here today in support of our Government’s commitment to helping Canadian families.

In our most recent budget we introduced a number of initiatives that will help millions of Canadian families, including those who live in Southeastern Manitoba.

Since forming government, we have cut taxes over 160 times. This will result in a typical two-earner Canadian family receiving tax relief and increased benefits of up to $6,600 in 2015.

Some examples of these tax cuts include the Family Tax Cut, Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), Children’s Fitness Credit and the Adoption Expense Tax Credit.

I have received many supportive comments for our Government’s low-tax initiative from families all across my riding of Provencher. They have encouraged us to work hard and continue to deliver results for families.”

I’m not going to pick apart his speech, but the obvious point here is that the Conservatives support families by giving them more money. We all love having more money, myself included. But something that I could use a lot more of, even more than money, is time to spend with my family.

Here’s a section from Vision Green, pages 89-90:

Increasingly, national and international studies document significant stress on Canadian children and their parents. While it is true that an unacceptably large number of Canadian families live in poverty, many more are suffering from ‘time poverty.’ Statistics Canada tracks time stress of Canadians and reports a steady increase in Canadians who report not having enough time in their lives to accomplish all required tasks. Longer commutes rob Canadians of time at home. Longer working hours rob community members of time for volunteer activities. Poorly planned transit and the lack of convenient workplace child care spaces rob parents of time with their kids.

There is a real cost to society as citizens have less and less time to contribute to community and school activities. Not surprisingly, Statistics Canada also reports a steady decline in volunteer hours donated by Canadians. Lack of time to contribute to community also leads to feelings of loss and alienation. On the other hand, time spent in effort to better our society leads to positive feelings of affiliation (belonging) and of empowerment (knowing one’s actions make a difference). Greens will address this multi- layered problem in many policies: fiscal, labour, and social programs.

The tax policy pursued by Green Party MPs will increase the opportunity for Canadians to spend more time with family. More and more adults with full-time employment outside the home are stressed and stretched to care for elderly parents, children, partners or spouses with debilitating illness, and any family members with disabilities.

Greens are committed to nurturing families and communities through integrated policies that focus on the welfare of the child, starting with prenatal nutrition all the way to affordable housing and accessible post-secondary education. We believe we must stop designing our communities around the car and start designing them around families and children. There are no easy solutions. We have to address the multi-layered problems facing families through new, innovative fiscal, labour, and social policies.

Green Party MPs will:

  • Urge reforms to our tax and labour policies in ways that will increase the opportunity for Canadians to spend more time with family;
  • Promote an integrated program of supports, tax cuts, and awareness-raising emphasizing that time spent with children and/or in the community is essential for the continuation of our society.

Don’t get me wrong, the UCCB comes in handy when I’m paying bills; but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to how valuable my time is to my son Sam. $6,600 (the maximum benefit of the programs Ted is talking about; most will not receive all of it) may be enough for some families to avoid needing an extra job, but it won’t help change the underlying issue.

We have a cultural problem. We work more than most people in the world, and we’re relatively quite wealthy compared to the rest of the world – but we’re wealthy in measurements of money and things. When it comes to relationships, community, and perhaps especially families, we’re relatively poor. In Ted’s speech, the first thing he mentioned about the value of families is their economic value. But our economy values things more than people, and work outside the home (“official” or paid work) more than work inside the home (like caring for our children, preparing food, etc.), which leads to us trying to maximize our time “at work” to make money to pay other people to do these basic things for us. Our culture becomes oriented around work and money, rather than family and community. This culture comes from the structure of our economy, and the structure of our economy is supported by this culture. Changing a culture is difficult, and there are no easy answers, but if we can change the way our economy values unpaid work and the time it takes to do it we will be in a position to address the cultural problems that undermine our health, families, and communities. Which is something a government handout alone can’t do.

This Fall, vote for policies that go beneath the surface of the issues and offer integrated solutions that go beyond handouts. Vote Green!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

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