FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

For Canadians the Time for Lowered Expectations is Over

Something is happening in Canada that seems, in the context of a majority Harper government, counter-intuitive. Harper continues implementing his right-wing revolution by fiat, and Preston Manning’s “democracy” institute says Canadians actually want “less” government and more individual responsibility. Yet a flurry of polls in the past few weeks and months suggest two dramatic counterpoints to this self-serving narrative.

 

First, in a development that is virtually unprecedented, inequality has become, by far, Canadians’ top concern displacing the perennial front-runner, Medicare. And closely related are a number of polls showing that Canadians in large majorities think wealthy people and corporations should pay more taxes. They are even willing to pay more themselves.

How these attitudes will play out over the longer term is hard to predict. Other trends are not so encouraging.

The trouble with normal, Bruce Cockburn told us, is it always gets worse. And that’s the danger in times like this when we sit and endure the ratcheting back of democratic government and the things that it has provided. The longer term threat to democracy is that we become inured to the systematic assaults on it. It is easy to get demoralized with what one US writer called “surplus powerlessness.” Without an obvious short-term solution to the quasi-dictatorship of the Harper government the easiest response is to deny it is happening – and then get used to it.

No opposition party has so far said that they are committed to reversing all the reactionary and destructive actions of this government. Yet this is what we should be demanding of them.

The myriad assaults on the nation being implemented by Harper are really just the latest chapter in what has been a revolution of lowered expectations: a deliberate and systematic culture war on ordinary Canadians deeply held values about the role of government. Starting in the late 1980s with the FTA campaign corporations and their propaganda agencies like the Fraser Institute, set out to reverse the so-called welfare state, and the belief system it rested on. The slogan for the free-traders was simple and repeated endlessly: there is no alternative. Of course there were alternatives, just none that the corporate state was going to allow.

Neo-liberals and the Christian right have been engaged in a thirty year process of trying to change the political culture into something more akin to the individualism of the US. To do that they had to demonize government – the institution of collective action which distinguished us from our southern neighbours.

The free trade battle was followed by the deficit hysteria campaign promoting the specter of hitting the (non-existent) debt wall, softening Canadians up for huge cuts to social spending (courtesy Paul Martin). Demonizing government and government workers (lazy, privileged, self-interested, overpaid) also prepared the ground for the laying off of 50,000 federal employees. And, of course, as programs were diminished so too was the average citizen’s trust in government.

Lastly was the whole question of taxes and tax cuts – the litmus test of a new political culture of smaller govt and individual responsibility. Framing taxes as a burden, and telling people they knew how to spend their money better than government, the Liberal and Conservative regimes handed out billions upon billions of tax cuts in their efforts to downsize democracy.

Yet the whole enterprise is turning out to be a failure. Canadians’ values have changed very little since the 1960s and ‘70s. What has changed are people’s expectations of what is possible from government. We cling stubbornly to our values but no longer expect to see them reflected in government policies. Until now. Thanks in large part to the wonderful activists in the occupy movement, suddenly Canadians are emerging from this war on democracy with the beginnings of what it will take to turn things around.

There is growing evidence that for a majority of Canadians personal experience is beginning to trump propaganda. As they see services decline, inequality rise, infrastructure crumble and democracy erode, what they have always known comes to the fore – that a civilized society is fair and that you have to pay for it.

For 31 per cent of Canadians to say (as they did in this Ekos poll) that inequality is their number one concern, placing fiscal issues at 9 per cent means this sentiment has been growing for sometime. It just took the catalyst of the occupy rebellion to bring it forward.

And the many polls revealing we are prepared to pay more taxes is an obvious extension of that moral imperative. The Ekos poll showed 59 per cent chose investing in social programs as the highest government priority, compared to 16 per cent who wanted to keep taxes as low as possible.

The Broadbent Institute’s recent polling was even more encouraging. Seventy-seven percent identified inequality as a major problem undermining Canadian values, were willing to do their part to address it and believed it should be a government priority to deal with it. While a large percentage supported fairer taxes (with the wealthy and corporations paying more) a significant majority, 64 per cent, were willing to pay more themselves to save social programs – 72 per cent of Liberal and NDP supporters and even 58 per cent of Conservative supporters agreed. The majority support held across regions, gender, age, education level, and family income.

When the provincial NDP in Ontario recently called for a modest 2 per cent tax hike for those earning half a million dollars or more the public response was overwhelmingly in favour – by a margin of 78 per cent to 17 per cent opposed. The Liberal government read the polls – and agreed to the tax increase to get the NDP’s support for its budget.

Even in Calgary – in the heart of anti-tax country – 55 per cent supported increasing municipal taxes while only 10 per cent called for a decrease.

The media seems completely caught off guard by these and other polls. The Globe and Mail did an interactive poll the day before federal budget and declared: “What stood out was the across the board call for higher taxes.” People were willing to see the GST restored to 7 per cent. A columnist for the National Post worried that the arguments against taxing the wealthy were not very convincing – especially when the mainstream is supportive.

When it comes to tax cuts the message is clear: enough is enough. At the same time as the polling is showing these remarkable results, there are now several organizations calling for fairer taxes: Doctors for Fair Taxation, Lawyers for Fair Taxation and Faith Leaders for Fair Taxation. There is also a national group, Canadians for Tax Fairness(which I am associated with) and groups beginning to form at the provincial level – such as Nova Scotians for Tax Fairness. There is the Canadian section of the international Uncut anti-austerity movement, with fourteen local chapters across the country. NUPGE, the federation of provincial government employee unions has been running an amazing tax campaign called All Together Now for a couple of years.

The movement for equality and tax fairness is barely off the ground and it already has majority support across the country. Now the opposition parties have to show that they have the courage and the principles to respond to this progressive sentiment. If the Liberals and the NDP ever manage to form a coalition government the first item on which they should agree is the need tax fairness and sufficient revenue to restore the Canada we once had and go beyond it. The Ekos poll revealed that 60 per cent of Canadians say they would be more likely to vote for a party that pledged to raise taxes on the rich.

For Canadians and opposition parties the time for lowered expectations is over. Expect more.

MURRAY DOBBIN lives in Powell River, BC. He  has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years. He now writes a bi-weekly column for the on-line journals the Tyee and rabble.ca. He can be reached at mdobbin@telus.net

More articles by:

MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years.  He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail