Carbon Pricing: You’ve Got it Wrong, Mr. Falk

It is with great disappointment that I note that your party has decided to oppose the Liberal Carbon tax by portraying it as a tax grab. The government is saying this tax will be revenue neutral – that is it will not be an increased tax [tax grab] but a tax shift. There is nothing inherently conservative about opposing a tax shift and my hope is that Canadians will see the shallowness of this approach, and reject it even as they rejected your party’s scare mongering about Justin Trudeau’s youth and Islamic immigration in the last election.

Justin Trudeau has said the tax is to revenue neutral. (Note that I am using the word ‘tax’ rather than the term ‘carbon pricing’, because I agree with you: Mr. Trudeau is proposing a tax on carbon.) According to the announcement, the provinces, not the Ottawa government will determine whether the this new tax will in fact be revenue neutral.

We know that BC has had a carbon tax since 2008. This tax has not been a tax grab. It has been revenue neutral. The BC government has reduced corporate and income taxes by an amount equivalent to its carbon tax. BC now has the lowest personal income tax rate in Canada, and one of the lowest corporate rates in North America. Your insistence that this new tax is a tax increase is scare mongering, and is not a service to the Canadian people nor to the conservative cause.

We also now know that the BC tax has affected behaviour (which was its intent). Since the tax came in, fossil fuel use has dropped in BC by 16 percent; in the rest of Canada it has risen by 3 per cent. And this has not been because the BC economy has been sluggish. In fact BC,s GDP has slightly outperformed the rest of Canada since 2008.

It is misleading and a disservice to both the Canadian people and to the conservative cause to assert, as you are, that the carbon tax will take money out of the pockets of Canadian people, thereby killing jobs. Yes, the carbon tax will take money out of the pockets of some Canadians: those Canadians and those Canadian companies using large amounts of fossil fuel, but it will put that same amount of money into the pockets of other Canadians and Canadian companies economizing on fossil fuel. You seem to be suggesting that in order for our country to continue to prosper, we need to continue subsidizing energy guzzlers and penalizing energy economizers. I hope Canadians, including conservative Canadians will see through the shallowness of that argument.

I have referred above to Mr. Trudeau’s carbon plan as a carbon tax. Mr. Trudeau calls it a ‘Price on Carbon’. I think he is also correct Anyone burning fossil fuel, simultaneously does two negative things: he is putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and he is making this valuable fuel unavailable to future generations. But he is not paying for this detrimental activity. Society in general pays and future generations will pay for this. Surely you, as a conservative, agree that this is neither right nor efficient. A price on carbon corrects this injustice, at least up to a point.

I see nothing conservative about the current norm where the primary source of government revenue is a tax on income and a tax on profit. On the other hand, a tax on the consumption of a scarce resource builds on sound conservative values. This is a call for you to return to your conservative roots and embrace a tax shift that would be good for the country now and even better for generations to come.

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On Representing You

I haven’t responded to Ted Falk’s column in a while; the election call has led to more canned messages than ever appearing there. Even so, I went to www.tedfalk.ca today to see what he’s been up to, and was redirected to tedfalk.conservative.ca – his campaign page. The first thing that struck me about this page is that it is dominated by a huge picture of Stephen Harper. You have to scroll down to find a picture of Ted.

What does it say when a local candidate’s website is dominated by his party leader? It says a lot, and none of it is very good for Ted. Harper dominates Ted’s website because Harper dominates Ted. Putting Harper first, with Ted nowhere to be seen without scrolling down, says that Harper is more important (despite the fact that people in Provencher do not get to vote for him), that Ted is interchangeable with any other Conservative candidate, and that Ted is only an extension of Harper. Unfortunately, at least as far as his role as a Conservative MP goes, that last part is actually true.

Much has been said about Stephen Harper’s unprecedented control over his caucus and the government in general. Scientists, MPs, and staffers are muzzled, requiring approval for any press release or statements. Conservative candidates across the country are avoiding debates and all-candidates forums – at the direction of their party. (Note: Ted Falk has agreed to one debate, and I look forward to him honouring that.) There have been a few Conservatives outraged at this state of affairs, notably Brent Rathgeber who quit the Conservative party to sit as an Independent, but for the most part the Conservative MPs are happy to submit to this level of control. Former Conservative and now Wildrose leader Brian Jean recently responded to a question about Harper’s level of control this way:

I do not believe it is a tightly controlled caucus. I believe it is a tightly self-disciplined caucus, and I think you should quote me on that because it’s a misperception of who Stephen Harper is. He has soldiers that are disciplined and admire him greatly and will follow him into the battlefield because they believe in what he does. They are not whipped. Take my word for it.

So what’s worse: MPs whose leader tightly controls what they say and their ability to speak to and for their constituents, or MPs who see themselves as soldiers and have willingly given up their ability to do their job and represent their constituents for the sake of a leader they believe in? I can appreciate the loyalty they show, but they’re supposed to be loyal to their constituents, and they’ve abdicated that loyalty and duty in favour of their admiration for one person. Ted Falk is a nice guy, and I don’t doubt that he’s working hard, but he openly admits that he believes his role is to support Stephen Harper. He’s wrong.

The role of an MP is to advocate on behalf of their constituents to ensure that legislation and government programs meet their needs as much as possible; to communicate the concerns, ideas, and ideals of their constituents to Parliament; and to communicate to the constituents regarding the actions being taken and issues being discussed in Parliament. Conservative MPs are very good at communicating what the government is doing – they have staffers who write canned messages branded with party logos to announce every newly funded project, and they tour their ridings handing out big cheques to distribute government funding (especially in the lead-up to an election). Even their speeches are choreographed to ensure that none of them go off message when telling us about all of the great things they’ve done for us. But when it comes to speaking up for their constituents in Parliament, they are nearly silent.

Since January 2014, Ted Falk has spoken 42 times in the House of Commons. That might sound like a lot, until you consider that Elizabeth May spoke 315 times over the same period. Elizabeth May gets no special privilege for being a party leader; as far as the House is concerned, she is an independent MP because the Greens only had 2 (now 3) MPs. She speaks as often as any MP is entitled to. While not all speeches are equal, that’s still a significant difference. If Ted Falk could have spoken 315 times, or even just 115 times, on behalf of Provencher, he should have (and probably would have); raising your riding’s profile in Parliament is crucial to advocating for your constituents. But even though the Conservative party gets extra speaking opportunities because they are the governing party, they limit their MPs ability to speak on behalf of their constituents and tend to focus MP speeches toward partisan matters.

Added to this is the ridiculous truth that the large parties tell their MPs how to vote on issues. They actually give their MPs info cards with the House’s agenda for the day, with notations on how their party will vote on each item. MPs who vote against their party on important issues have been stripped of any ability to speak in the House, and usually end up going Independent so that they can continue to represent their constituencies. The Conservatives definitely do this, but they are not alone: the Liberals and NDP have even tighter party discipline, at least recently. So I’m not just picking on Ted here; Terry Hayward is also a great guy who would make a good MP, if his party would let him, but I’m not confident that they would.

This is one of the reasons I chose to run with the Green Party. I take representing my constituents very seriously, and want to spend my time as an MP in the House making sure that your interests are being served. My loyalty is to my constituents, then to Canada as a whole, and then to my party. I will certainly bring a Green perspective to my work, but Elizabeth May will not be able to overrule my constituents when it comes to how I vote (not that she would – this is a central Green value), and I will work to follow her example as someone who speaks on behalf of my constituents at every available opportunity.

Ted Falk is not the problem, but he’s also not the solution; his party prevents him from giving you his full attention. The Conservative Party of Canada is all about Stephen Harper, and individual MPs are interchangeable mouthpieces for him. The Liberals and NDP may allow their members to speak, but they still control how they vote. If you want an MP who can actually represent you in Parliament, there’s only one choice.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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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

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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

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Ted Talks: Fishing for Hunters and Anglers

In a recent blog post, Provencher MP Ted Falk talks about all of the things that the Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus have done to stand up for hunters and anglers. I find it more than a little puzzling. From his blog:

This caucus helps to advance the issues surrounding conservation, habitat and enhancement of fish and game while engaging the millions of Canadians who enjoy the great outdoors.

This is the first ever group of its kind in Ottawa. The caucus meets with interested parties from across the country and the input received is brought back to Ottawa to help influence our policy development. Protecting Canada’s strong hunting and angling heritage is paramount to ensuring that we will continue to protect this Canadian tradition and pass it on to our children and grandchildren.

I very much appreciate that there’s a group devoted to preserving and promoting a traditional way of life, and I especially appreciate that this involves “conservation, habitat and enhancement of fish and game.” What I’m puzzled about is how this group can make any claim to protecting habitat when they report to the government that has done more to cut environmental protection than any government in Canadian history, single-handedly destroying protections over two terms that took a century to build up.

The Conservative omnibus budget bill of 2012 amended or repealed 70 other pieces of legislation, many of which were directly related to conservation of habitat. Elizabeth May wrote about it in May 2012, and noted some of the key environmental protections that were gutted by the supposed budget bill. This government has pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning our already modest goals for greenhouse gas reductions in favour of embarrassingly lax new goals, which we have since failed to meet. This government cut the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano to save money, which led to an embarrassing slow response to the recent oil spill in English Bay this year. This government continues to promote pipelines to facilitate the expansion of the Alberta oil sands, even though those pipelines would run through important habitat areas carrying diluted bitumen (dilbit), which is far more difficult to clean up than conventional oil; the proposed Energy East pipeline would run dilbit through Provencher, so this would directly affect us, including the land that Provencher hunters and anglers use.

I could go on about how the Conservative government has undermined the protection of species and habitat in Canada, but I think the point is clear. So what is the Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus actually doing? Ted gives us a list of things that the Conservative government has done to protect hunters and anglers and their way of life, and you can find another list on the Hunting and Angling Caucus’ website. From Ted’s blog:

– Scrapping the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry, a +$1 billion Liberal government boondoggle that criminalized Canada’s hunters and anglers.
– Reversing the decision made by RCMP bureaucrats to phase out their use of muskrat fur hats for an inferior alternative.
– Tabling the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, keeping our promise to make firearms regulations safe and sensible. The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act will reduce red tape while ensuring that Canada’s communities are safe.
– Establishing the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnerships Program to support projects aimed at improving the conservation of recreational fisheries habitat. The Program brings partners together and pools their resources to support the common goal of conserving and protecting Canada’s recreational fisheries.

Most of these things have to do with the long gun registry and streamlining the process of getting a gun license. The only thing related to fishing on this list is the last point, which is only even necessary because this government has already decimated the protections that Canada had in place to protect the habitat of fish.

It seems, then, that this caucus is a political tool to promote the issue of gun licensing and fix the problems caused by their previous legislation. Hunters and anglers care about the environment in ways that most people who spend less time in the wilderness cannot understand, so a government that destroys the environment needs to reach out to them in a special way in order to keep their votes, and getting their backs up about gun control is a good way to do it. There are few political issues that are as polarized as gun control: Green MP Bruce Hyer was elected as an NDP MP, but when the NDP required that he vote to keep the long gun registry in spite of the desires of his Thunder Bay constituents, he quit the party and sat as an independent before becoming Green (because the Green Party never tells its MPs to vote against their constituents). The language used in Ted’s blog post and the Hunting and Angling Caucus website is polarizing and misleading (e.g., suggesting that the Long Gun Registry “criminalized Canada’s hunters and anglers”), and designed to shore up support for the party with those groups.

So while I appreciate that the Conservatives have a group specifically for the purpose of protecting habitat and a way of life, I try to always remember that you can know a tree by its fruit. This government talks about protecting habitat, and then systematically undercuts existing programs that were already doing just that.

The Green Party of Canada has a thorough platform, but nowhere is our platform more thorough than in regard to the conservation and sustainable development of our environment. Our policies on fisheries, forests, ecotourism (which would include hunting and fishing), air and water quality, parks, species at risk, toxic chemicals, support for environmental science, waste management, Arctic strategy, Aboriginal policy, and more, are together the best protection for the Canadian way of life enjoyed by hunters and anglers. You can read about them in Vision Green.

The Green Party would also take seriously the responsibility of gun ownership, but work hard to ensure that lawful gun owners are not unnecessarily hassled or penalized. Gun registration, like vehicle registration, exists to help us maintain the security of our own guns, and in so doing protect our neighbours should a gun be lost or stolen; it doesn’t need to be a burden, and it certainly doesn’t need to be unfair, but it can be a great help to law enforcement agencies. From Vision Green’s statement on gun control and ownership rights:

[Green MPs would] work hard to create a registration system that is fair, free, and easy to use. Streamline the gun registry in consultation with First Nations, and with gun sports and hunter organizations. We support the elimination of registration fees for hunting rifles and will ensure law-abiding citizens do not have their firearms confiscated.

If I were your MP, I wouldn’t be a member of the Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus (I’m not a Conservative!). Instead, I would continue to work to protect the habitat of animals and fish in consultation with First Nations, hunters, and anglers, and fight for the rights of my constituents without membership in any special group. That’s simply the job of an MP, and I’d love to work for you. What I won’t do is create a special group to pay lip service to a special interest group while at the same time voting for partisan legislation that undermines our environment and the way of life of Canadians who love the outdoors. Ted Falk is a good guy, and wasn’t even around when those bills went through, but sadly those things don’t matter: as a Conservative MP, he has to vote the way his party leader tells him. This year, vote for someone who can actually represent your interests.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

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Ted Talks: A Budget for Buying Votes

Most of the political talk these days is about the late, 518-page federal budget, so it’s no surprise that Provencher MP Ted Falk used his column this week to extol its virtues. Those virtues are real, but they cover a multitude of failures and omissions. A budget is where a government really shows its priorities, and it’s clear that the Conservative government’s top priority this year is votes.

There’s plenty of analysis on the budget already, so I just want to briefly talk about a few key points.

1. What’s Missing.

Conservative Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said that no federal budget has ever done more for the environment than this one. That’s very odd, since the budget doesn’t mention climate change once, and gives only token mentions to carbon emissions and environmental protection. Meanwhile, it has over 100 mentions of oil resources and mining. Keep in mind that this is a budget bill – it’s not talking about regulating resource extraction industries, it’s talking about helping to get Canadian natural resources to outside markets. That means subsidies and spending public money to prop up industries that are already obscenely wealthy and incredibly environmentally destructive. Ted Falk says that over all this budget is very good for Manitobans, citing tax cuts and family programs; he fails to mention that Manitoban tax dollars are being used to subsidize private companies to help them get Albertan resources to China.

There’s also no mention of inequality in the budget, even though we know that inequality hurts the economy. In spite of all of the talk of a balanced budget, the tax cuts and expanded programs favour the rich. That doesn’t sound balanced to me.

I’m not surprised by these omissions, they’re perfectly in line with the Conservative ideology. This government doesn’t believe in climate change, and dismisses the social sciences except for their own brand of neo-liberal economics. This budget just puts our money where their mouth is.

2. Budget Priorities.

Ted Falk offers a list of reasons why he thinks this budget is great for the people of Provencher. It includes benefits for: families, seniors, industry, and the military. The measures he outlines include tax cuts, tax avoidance programs, offering more loans to students, and handouts to parents and industry. The things Ted mentioned are representative of the budget in general, which panders to specific groups to fulfill promises made in the last election. Yes, that’s right – the Harper Government waited until an election year to fulfill their promises from the last election, and now they’re bragging about it. The long-awaited promises play to their support base, with programs aimed at families and seniors (who have high voter turnout) and very little aimed at youth (who have low voter turnout).

But the biggest “fulfillment” in this budget, they say, is that it’s balanced. Sadly, this isn’t true.

3. Bogusly-balanced Budget.

A pet peeve of mine is that the government uses its own websites for PR purposes, and the budget website is no different even though it doesn’t use the phrase “Conservative Government”. Here’s an example from the top of the page:

The Government is fulfilling its promise to balance the budget in 2015, pursuant to its long-standing commitment to responsible fiscal management. Economic Action Plan 2015 will see the budget balanced and Canadians can rest assured that Canada’s fiscal house is in order.

This government inherited a surplus, and turned it into a massive deficit before the 2008 global financial crisis. Since then they’ve run our national debt to record highs, but continue to claim that our “fiscal house is in order” because they finally managed a balanced budget. The reality is, this budget is not balanced.

There’s technically a $1.4 billion dollar surplus on this budget, but that’s only after you include the proceeds from the sale of General Motors stock, the Canadian Wheat Board (which was sold to a Saudi Arabian company), and other assets, as well as reducing our national emergency fund from $3 billion to $1 billion. Selling off assets makes us poorer in the long-term.

Time for an alternative.

The Conservatives have been claiming for years that they’re the best with our money, and we’ve bought that line too many times. The type of economics they use is the same type that led to the 2008 global financial crisis: it drives inequality and short-term thinking by emphasizing quarterly profits, and undermines the long-term health and economy of Canada by pushing raw resources to foreign markets. This type of economics is relatively recent, and only popular in Canada and the US, but it has a huge impact on the global marketplace. There are other types of economic thinking that emphasize full employment, sustainable development, and long-term strategic planning instead of quarterly profits.

The Green Party of Canada began as The Small Party, a party that started based on economic principles that lead to us having enough, forever. That emphasis on sound economics hasn’t changed. When I asked Green Party leader Elizabeth May what I should be reading this year, she said without hesitation, “economics.” We take this very seriously, which is why we’re always the first to get our policies vetted by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. You can see the Green plan for the economy in the first  section of Vision Green, and I’d love to hear from you about how the Green Party and I can serve you better.

So Provencher, don’t buy the line that the Conservatives are best with your money. And don’t get sucked in by their hand-outs and their bogus “balanced” budget this year. We can do better.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

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Ted Talks: The Cost of a Complicated Tax System

In his latest column, Provencher MP Ted Falk promotes a program in which able volunteers help people with “a modest income and a simple tax situation” file their tax returns. Volunteer initiatives are a wonderful thing, but let’s look at why this one is even necessary.

Complicated Tax System

We all need to file our taxes each year to ensure that the government has taken the correct amount off of our paycheques over the past year. This is a good thing, because it means that the government is accountable and can’t take more than the current rates allow. It’s also our chance to claim all of our tax deductions. Deductions are there to encourage people to spend their own money on things that the government would otherwise have to provide, and most of us have quite a few deductible expenses – things like rent, charitable donations, and tuition costs. Adding up all of these deductibles means that most people with “a modest income” will get most of the taxes they paid over the past year back in a tax return. But adding up all of the deductibles according to the rules of the tax system is so complicated that most of us are willing to pay an expert to make sure it’s done right.

Ted also talks about the Conservative “Family Tax Credits and Benefits Plan.” This introduces more tax deductible expenses, and while that means that many of us are able to get more of our taxes back, it also makes filing taxes just a little bit more complicated. Conservative governments are well known for providing “tax relief”, but if you need to hire an expert to make sure you get that relief, is it really a fair system?

The Tax Industry and the Cost of Taxes

There are currently 190,000 members of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, and many accountants deal mostly with tax returns (H&R Block boasts that they alone have over 10,000 accountants, and they only deal with tax returns). There are also many online and software options, some free and some not. My family paid $200 for an accountant to file our taxes this year. Every year I suggest filing for free using some software option, but I don’t feel confident enough in my knowledge of the tax  system to think that I could possibly do as good of a job as an accountant, and my wife agrees: she calls that $200 our annual marriage-saver. Taxes are stressful, and we’re able to pay for the peace of mind that comes with having a professional look after our taxes. But not everyone has $200 to spare, and the cost is actually much bigger than that.

Accountants are smart people, yet many of them spend most of their time helping us deal with an unnecessarily complicated system. Their time could be much better spent in ways that contribute to the economy, rather than helping the rest of us make sure the government isn’t taking too much of our money. Accounting is a very valuable service, but it doesn’t actually produce anything; it largely belongs in the same category as police, ambulance attendants, and disaster relief workers, the people we pay to help us escape from terrible things. The thing of it is, we invented taxes, and we have total control over how they work. They don’t need to be terrible things, and we don’t need to divert almost 200,000 Canadians away from more profitable work that would benefit our whole economy.

We also shouldn’t have to spend money to make sure we can keep our money. I’m pleased to see that the government notices that not everyone can afford an accountant, and that they support a volunteer program to help, but they’re also going to spend a million dollars ($1,000,000.00!) to support that program.

So, the government is spending tax money to help people pay less taxes because their own system is so complicated that people can’t handle it themselves and can’t afford to hire an expert do it for them. It doesn’t get much more convoluted or inefficient than that, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Simplifying the Tax System

The Conservative approach to taxes is to simply cut the tax rate for corporations (a simple move), while giving individuals and families many small tax deductions full of conditions that make it hard even for Senators to understand.

The Green Party’s approach to taxes is to tax things that are bad: things that hurt our health and environment, things that cost us all money in the long run. We recognize that while most of us don’t understand the complicated income tax system, we all understand the cigarette tax: smokers raise healthcare costs, so we make cigarettes more expensive to recoup those costs. We want to review the entire tax system, phasing out the complicated income tax system and replacing it (over time) with taxes that target harmful things like pollution that drives healthcare costs, market speculation that destabilizes our economy, and other things. Taxes that are designed so that we can control the amount we pay based on the type of things, and the volume of things, that we consume.

So while I’m pleased that the government is trying to help people get their tax returns, and that they’re trying to make income tax less of a burden for families, I think they’re using hundreds of tiny bandaids to hold together a broken system, and it’s getting to a point where it’s hurting more than it helps. Let’s fix it instead.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

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Ted Talks: Cyberbullying and C-13

In his latest column, Ted Falk promotes the recently passed Bill C-13, the “Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act.” There’s a lot of good stuff in this law, which is aimed at criminalizing cyberbullying by requiring that all “intimate” pictures posted on the internet have the approval of the people in them, and giving the government the means to track and remove offending pictures. This would give the victims of revenge porn, voyeurism, and even human trafficking some means of protection and recourse. That’s fantastic.

However, many people were concerned about some of the implications of the bill for the privacy of Canadians, including Carol Todd, mother of Amanda Todd, a BC teen who killed herself after being bullied online. Here’s an excerpt that brings up issues for me:

Glen Canning, the father of Rehtaeh Parsons , lent his support to the bill. He feels the privacy concerns are moot, given the extent of data given over to authorities already. Canning told the committee that he also trusts law enforcement agencies to use the increased powers judiciously.

“If we’re going to shoot this down out of concerns about privacy, let’s talk about the whole issue of privacy. Who really has privacy in Canada anymore?” Canning told reporters.

“We’re talking about privacy and our children are using social media to torment each other to death for likes and thumbs-up on Facebook.”

Despite her misgivings about the privacy implications, Todd said she wants a law passed soon. Asked if she’d support the bill even if the Conservatives ignore her plea, Todd doesn’t hesitate: “I want it passed. I don’t want to wait any longer.”

“I think we’ve waited too long already. It’s been a year and a half . . . since my daughter’s death. That’s too long even for me. I don’t want to wait another two years.

“I want it done now.”

I have incredible respect for Carol Todd and Glen Canning, who have suffered so much but also who have done so much to advocate for other victims of bullying, but I can see that they’ve been placed in a position to compromise. Every day that people are being bullied is one day too long, but rushed decisions and rushed bills can cause many other problems. This government makes a valiant effort to act quickly to protect victims, but whether intentionally or not, they use the urgency of the situation as a tool to help rush bills through, silence debate, and criticize anyone who opposes them. This was not the Conservatives’ first shot at this issue: former Provencher MP and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews introduced its predecessor, and when people complained about the implications for personal privacy he famously said “you can either stand with us, or with the child pornographers.”

Polarizing rhetoric usually doesn’t go over too well, and in the case of C-13 the Conservatives (including Ted Falk in his column) have been careful to talk about having “struck the right balance” between privacy and protection, and to highlight the requirement of a warrant for access to people’s private internet records. While this is true in many cases, the bill is 53 pages long and still gives privacy commissioners (and even Carol Todd) cause for concern about the potential violation of privacy. The NDP asked for the bill to be divided so that they could happily pass the parts of the bill they agreed with and have more time for debate regarding the portions of the bill that were more controversial; this would have satisfied the urgent demand for protection of the victims of cyberbullying, and it would have allowed time for proper debate. The government rejected the NDP’s appeal to divide the bill, and also put a time limit on debate for the bill, prompting NDP MP Charmaine Borg to say the following in the House:

Mr. Speaker, it is very disappointing that we are once again being forced to debate a very important bill under a time allocation motion. I have lost track somewhat, but I think this is the 80th time allocation motion. It has happened so many times under this government that there have been many complex, important bills that we have not had a chance to debate.

This government has a track record of using omnibus bills (that is, drafting bills that cover a multitude of issues but present them as one issue) for just about everything, and for limiting debate on them by using the time allocation motion mentioned above. Using an omnibus bill allows them to include things that would be very unpopular (such as giving the government easy access to private information) with things that are very necessary and important, such as protecting victims of cyberbullying or child pornography; this allows them to characterize opposition to the bill in nefarious ways such as suggesting that those who oppose them are standing with child pornographers, or as Ted Falk says it in his column, “Indeed, for too long the justice system has been about protecting the rights of criminals, not the victims of the crimes.” Putting a time allocation motion on the bill shortens the time available to debate, and in some cases even read, complicated omnibus bills: the omnibus budget bill that passed a few years ago was 420 pages long, contained hundreds of issues, and MPs were given a very limited time to read and debate it. Often government ministers won’t even bother to read a whole bill, because they’re told how to vote on it anyway (but that’s another issue for another day).

So Bill C-13 has passed into law, and while I’m thankful for the anti-bullying provisions within it, I’m frustrated at the way it was handled and the still unresolved privacy issues it presents us with (because the government defeated the proposed amendments to the bill and refused to debate the privacy issues separately from the bullying issues).

The Green Party wants to address issues like this without infringing on the privacy and civil liberties of Canadians. Here is an excerpt from Vision Green, page 120:

  • [Green Party MPs will] Dedicate resources to computer crimes specialists combating the online sexual exploitation of children through child pornography and Internet luring. The RCMP must have the necessary resources and tools to tackle this problem on a national scale. The Harper era legislation fails to provide tools, while intruding excessively on privacy rights of law-abiding Canadians;

Or as Carol Todd put it in the article above:

“We should not have to choose between our privacy and our safety. We should not have to sacrifice our children’s privacy rights to make them safe from cyberbullying, sextortion, and revenge pornography.”

I would add to these statements that the Green Party is not in favour of the abuse of omnibus bills and the time allocation motion that, when combined, whether intentionally or not, have the effect of holding us ransom to bills we would not otherwise support for the sake of protecting victims.

If you have any concerns about cyberbullying, your privacy, the use of omnibus bills, or anything else, let Ted Falk know. Also, let me know so that I can bring it up. It’s Ted’s job to hear from you, and it’s my job as an opposing candidate to help make sure that happens; government works for you, not the other way around!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

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Ted Talks: Niqab, and the Great Honour of Canadian Citizenship

In his most recent column, Provencher MP Ted Falk applauds Prime Minister Stephen Harper for “taking a strong stance” on the issue of whether or not a Muslim woman who wears a niqab should be required to reveal her face during a citizenship ceremony. The title of his column is “No place for the niqab at citizenship ceremonies.”

I met Mr. Falk recently, and he struck me as being a nice man with good intentions and a genuine concern for his constituents, including a concern for religious freedom. As Ted and I are both Christians, we were able to discuss our faith and how it relates to our desire to serve the people of Provencher. Also, Falk is a Mennonite surname, so Ted should be more familiar than most Canadians about the experience of religious immigrants (I’ll talk more about that below). So I trust that Ted is simply unaware of the incredible hypocrisy of his column.

If you live in this area and haven’t yet visited the Mennonite Heritage Museum in Steinbach, I highly recommend it. I visited there on Canada Day last year (and I saw Ted there, so I know he’s been there too), and learned a lot about how Mennonites had been persecuted in Europe for the past four hundred years because of their religion. Anabaptists (the larger group of which Mennonites are a part, including Amish and Hutterites) believe in a separation from the world and staunch pacifism, which historically led them to refuse military service, oath taking, and any outside interference in their lifestyle. Whenever their communities were pressed into military service or other disruptions, rather than fighting back they would move on in order to maintain their pacifism. So while they were originally largely from Germany and mostly still speak low German, there are different strands of the Mennonite heritage from Ukraine and Russia. They moved to Canada when the Russian government went back on their word to respect the separation of Mennonites from their society, including the refusal of military service. When they moved to Canada, they made prior arrangements with the Canadian government to ensure that their religious requirements would be respected: they were exempt from military service, public schools, and taking oaths (they were allowed to give an affirmation rather than take an oath).

I taught a theology class of undergrads about the Anabaptists a few weeks ago, and I asked them how many were from Mennonite heritage; more than half of the class raised their hands. Of those, about half are currently attending Mennonite churches; most attend evangelical churches. Of the entire class, only two were pacifists, and both of them were from Paraguay (where Mennonites settled after Canada began to require that their children attend public schools in English). So I get that Mennonites in this area are often very far from their heritage. I even had a friend of Mennonite heritage tell me, regarding this issue of the niqab, that he found it frustrating when immigrants come to Canada and try to demand special treatment, saying “the Mennonites didn’t do that.” I had to gently remind him that, yes, Mennonites more than any immigrant group in Canada’s national history have received special privileges which were guaranteed to them before they became Canadian citizens. My friend immediately and a bit sheepishly withdrew his statement, realizing his mistake. It appears that many Mennonites now identify so strongly with Canadian evangelicalism that they’ve forgotten their religious immigrant roots. I don’t in any way mean that as a judgment on them, it’s just an observation of an unconscious psychological phenomenon called in-group bias. But that doesn’t change the fact that they, and perhaps especially Ted Falk (because he’s an MP), should know better.

Pacifism and refusal to take oaths are often referred to as matters of conscience, and our law generally respects matters of conscience unless they endanger others. For many Muslim women, wearing a niqab is a religious duty, and therefore a matter of conscience; to reveal their face to a man, much less in public, would be shameful and degrading, comparable to stripping someone else naked in front of others but with more profound religious implications. So when Ted Falk says “We believe that everyone, out of respect for their new home country, must show their face during a public citizenship ceremony,” he’s revealing either a complete ignorance of what a niqab is to those who wear it, or a complete disregard for their conscience and their religious rights. He’s effectively saying that Canada disrespects new immigrants in the very act of demanding respect from them; and as a Mennonite, he’s saying it from the privileged position of someone whose immigrant ancestors were exempt from swearing at that same ceremony. And as someone whose ancestors were exempt from military service, he’s implying that wearing the niqab is a threat to public safety (“in matters of public safety”).

Mr. Falk, I urge you to reconsider your statement. There are already existing procedures and mechanisms in practice in Canada to allow women who wear the niqab as a symbol and requirement of their faith and conscience to reveal their faces in private to a woman in order to verify their identities. There are places where verification of identity while still respecting a woman wearing a niqab might be a problem (a traffic stop, for example), but the citizenship ceremony is not one of them.

I would also like to affirm your last two paragraphs:

Although Canada is a country built on immigration, I believe that all Canadians, including new citizens, have a duty to protect and adopt the values and freedoms that make our country great. The freedoms that we enjoy are what make Canada so attractive to people from countries across the globe.

We live in the best country in the world, and while we must continue to work hard to respect the diversity of all Canadians, including our newest citizens, we must also always strive to uphold our common values, identity and way of life.

Canada is a country built on immigration, and the respect for religious freedom is one of those common values that makes this country great. Fairness is another. You cannot defend the right of Mennonites to religious education and expression while denying the same to Muslims and still claim to uphold those values of freedom and fairness.

Provencher, let’s keep Canada great by keeping it fair and free.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon

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Ted Talks: Seniors

In his latest column, Provencher MP Ted Falk talks about the increased support the Conservative government has given to seniors. I applaud this, and am quite pleased about it. I don’t have much to add except what is in the Green Party platform, Vision Green, about seniors:

4.4 Seniors

 

Canada is an aging society. Baby boomers are now swelling the ranks of the senior population that is growing in both number and as a proportion of Canada’s total population. Canada’s seniors are also a diverse population, with varying levels of activity and health, living in urban, rural, and First Nations communities. The majority of these older Canadians are women.

Although it is frequently asserted that the aging population is responsible for rising health care costs, this is not the case. Still it is true that seniors will be demanding more health care. Life expectancy is increasing and chronic diseases increase with age. Within 25 years, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia could reach 1.3 million and will have the highest economic, social, and health costs of all diseases in Canada. Although many anticipate that this will precipitate a crisis for health care and social services, the Green challenge and opportunity is to provide our seniors with independence, well-being, and dignity.

Seniors have a wealth of experience and have contributed immeasurably to the development of the nation we currently celebrate. Seniors are a resource who can contribute to the economic and social life of their communities and country.

Older Canadians are also a vital and vibrant population, embracing healthy life-style choices and an active retirement. Many social policies impact the ability of aging boomers to stay active. Access to preventative and complementary medicine (see Health care section); access to convenient mass transit as driving may be limited (see climate policy); safe communities (see restorative justice); secure pensions and fairer taxes are all significant Green party policies with real benefits for older Canadians.

Recent debates about pension reform have pitted the Harper Administration, with its refusal to enhance the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), against many premiers and Opposition parties. Pension reforms must be built upon the system that will best create decent pensions that will keep the elderly out of poverty, require minimum additional contributions, and have low administrative and investment costs.

The only system that is capable of meeting these goals is the CPP – a proven system that is the envy of many countries. Its systems can be modified to offer enhanced benefits. Everyone is familiar with the CPP, which is in sound financial health with the latest actuarial report noting that it is sound for at least the next 70 years.

Greens are concerned that the pension funds of the CPP have been, since 1997, under management of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). In 2007, Stephen Harper legislated a far more aggressive approach to the management of those funds. The assets of the CPPIB were over $200 billion at the end of 2013, placing it in the top ten of pension plans anywhere in the world. These dollars in the CPP are now being played in the global casino of mergers and acquisitions, wheeling and dealing in take-overs and other higher risk behaviours. Failures in the market could undermine the security of CPP. Greens believe that CPP funds must not be gambled in the market.

Approximately 35% of older citizens are still dependent upon Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to keep them out of poverty. This is partly because the current CPP objective of just replacing 25% of the average industrial wage is too low. A 50% income replacement ratio would dramatically reduce the reliance on GIS to keep the elderly out of poverty and reduce the cost of GIS to the federal government by billions annually.

The Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings (YMPE) should be raised to at least $90,000 and consideration given to raising it to the full Income Tax Act limit for Registered Pension Plans (RPP) ($122,222 in 2009) pending an evaluation/review in a decade. Subject to an actuarial evaluation, it is expected that these benefits could be achieved with a phased-in increase of CPP contribution rates, although not through increased contributions by employers or deductions from employee wages. Some of the increase could be covered by redirected reductions in workplace pensions for those with workplace pensions. Redirected GIS savings could be used to offset some of the required contribution increase.

An honest evaluation of the effectiveness of current tax policy will illustrate how inefficient it is for most retirement savings. Net federal RPP’s tax expenditures (concessions) were worth $17.6 and $11.3 billion in 2007 and 2009. RRSP’s cost $12.1 and $8.5 billion in the same years. The loss of provincial revenues adds another 35-40%.

Defined Benefit (DB) plans are much more efficient than Defined Contribution (DC) plans in that they produce significantly higher pensions for the same contributions, yet DC plans get the same tax support.

RRSP’s are terribly tax inefficient in that for the $8.5 – $12.1 billion in annual net tax expenditures (around 30% of total contributions), the median value of RRSP assets by Canadians under age 65 is a woeful $40,000 and those over 65 have less than $55,000 – not enough to rely on to supplement to one’s pension, especially at today’s annuity rates. Only 25% of working Canadians contribute to RRSP’s, only 6% with incomes under $20,000. Prorating tax expenditures to the value of projected pension would bring fairness and equity back into the system.

Phasing in doubling the target income replacement rate to 50% and doubling the YMPE over the next 47 years is the most efficient way to ensure that future retirees will be able to retire with dignity without intergenerational subsidies.

Green Party policies will create age-friendly communities, where active living and well- being are promoted, where seniors have financial security, and where housing and transportation needs are met. In accordance with a Canadian Senate report in April 2009, the Green Party recognizes the need for improved support for mental health, and palliative care, and the need to combat ageism, abuse, and neglect.

Long-term care should not be the only housing and care choice. In a Balance of Care model, more care can be provided in a cost-effective manner by home and community support services.

We believe that the government must take the lead in educating the public about end of life issues, including the limits to artificial life support systems, surgical operations, and chemical therapies to extend life and postpone the inevitable transition from life.

Green Party MPs will:

  • Review workplace policies to end mandatory retirement and provide for flexible retirement benefits for those seniors who want to continue working;
  • Review federal and provincial laws regulating the administration of pension plans, laws which now allow failure of pension trusts, and the loss of pension benefits which workers have earned, with the view to enacting legislation to protect the pension benefits and recommend that the provincial governments prohibit any business from taking possession of a pension trust fund which it administers, or the earnings thereof;
  • Explore risk-sharing for pension plans, including the CPP, to ensure sustainability;
  • Resist the shift to voluntary defined contribution plans with inefficient and expensive

    fees for a myriad of market driven plans;

  • Develop, in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, a set of national home care objectives in a National Home Care Policy, that incorporates and improves upon existing policies affecting eldercare, including but not restricted to ensuring couples needing support and care can continue to live together, economic allowances (such as tax rebates), living choices, transportation, and respite care;
  • Require that all corporate pension plans be audited to ensure that they are adequately funded and properly managed and set a policy directive to take corrective action when they are not;
  • Work to enhance CPP by phasing in the doubling of the target income replacement rate from 25% to 50% of income received during working years;
  • Ensure all seniors who qualify are made aware of available federal income supplements and instructed on how to apply for them;
  • Review, in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, the current social and legal policies to ensure that citizens and law enforcement officials recognize elder abuse, prevent it where possible, and proceed with appropriate charges and consequences when elder abuse has occurred;
  • Help develop national guidelines for care of the frail elderly who have special needs and require care by geriatric specialists;
  • Establish and fund a special program to provide grants to non-profit societies setting up palliative care hospices;
  • Guarantee the right to draw up a ‘living will’ that gives the power to limit or refuse medical intervention and treatment so the person has the choice of dying with dignity.

You can find Vision Green here.

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