Tories shrug off income equality
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – Tory-dominated finance committee tables a vacuous report on income inequality as Parliament shuts down for Christmas.
Dec 12 2013. By: Carol Goar
A quick glance at the 69-page report shows why the Conservative MP waited until the last possible moment to release it, precluding parliamentary debate and minimizing public attention.
It is a pathetic piece of work. It heaps praise on Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his regressive policies. It says nothing about lifting low-income Canadians out of poverty, nothing about tackling the desperate shortage of affordable housing in the country, nothing about increasing the Canada Child Tax Benefit, nothing about improving public pensions and nothing about shoring up the country’s deteriorating social programs.
Here is recommendation No. 1: “That the federal government continue to create strong conditions for economic growth and job creation.”
It took the Tories 18 months to push one of the important issues facing the nation off the political agenda.
They seemed willing to grapple with the growing gap between rich and poor in June of 2012, when Liberal MP Scott Brison put forward a private member’s motion to “set aside partisan politics and work together to identify solutions to Canada’s growing problem of income inequality.” It passed 161 to 138. The Nova Scotia MP requested that the House of Commons finance committee study the issue and devise solutions.
For nine months, nothing happened. Finally, last March, Rajotte announcedto fellow parliamentarians: “I am pleased the committee will be undertaking this important study.”
Another seven months passed. In October, the committee at last got down to work. It held a mere three hearings. Fifty days later, Rajotte tabled its report.
“It’s evident that improving the well-being of Canada’s poor wasn’t a priority,” said Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice , one of the many groups waiting expectantly for the report.
The Conservative-dominated committee made 24 recommendations. Twenty-one of them urged the government to continue what it was already doing; keeping taxes low, encouraging young people to go into the skilled trades, maintaining Canada’s attractive investment climate, implementing its universally panned Canada Job Grant program, and removing disincentives (such as employment insurance payments) for all Canadians to work. In short, Rajotte and his seven Tory colleagues urged their political bosses to pursue the very policies under which the ultra-rich have acquired an ever-larger share of the nation’s income.
The report did contain two useful suggestions. The first was that government review the working income tax benefit , a six-year-old tax break targeted at the working poor, “to determine how it could be expanded or modified to further benefit Canadians.” The second — a long shot — was that Ottawa work with the provinces “to make early childhood education and child care more accessible and affordable.”
Both opposition parties issued dissenting reports, but they were disappointingly unambitious.
The Liberals called on the government to reduce the high marginal tax rates for low-income workers; make the disability tax credit and the family caregiver tax credit fully refundable (meaning that people with no taxable income get a cash payment); reverse its decision to increase the age of eligibility for old-age benefits and implement a federal poverty reduction plan. They echoed the proposals to expand the working tax benefit and invest in early childhood education.
The New Democrats, led by Toronto MP Peggy Nash , the only woman on the committee, were slightly more demanding. They wanted a review of all tax loopholes, an increase in public pension benefits, the removal of the 2 per cent cap on social funding for First Nations, the reversal of the Tory cutbacks to employment insurance, an immediate end to Ottawa’s attack on collective bargaining rights and a national housing strategy.
Neither party pledged to follow its own prescriptions, should it form Canada’s next government.
For low-income Canadians, it was thin gruel. For charities, church groups, anti-poverty activists and concerned citizens, it was a letdown. For disengaged young people, it was proof that politics is the wrong route to social change.
As Rajotte presented the uninspired report to Parliament, he requested a “comprehensive response” from the government.
That shouldn’t be hard. A simple “thanks, boys” from the Prime Minister will fill the bill.
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