What happened to Trudeau’s plan to fight income inequality?

TheStar.com – Politics/Political Opinion
Oct. 24, 2018.   By

It’s turning into a season of setbacks in the great Canadian fight against income inequality.

Just kidding. There actually is no great Canadian fight against income inequality, as recent developments are illustrating.

Premier Doug Ford didn’t come to office with any promises to narrow the gap between rich and poor in Ontario, and that’s probably just as well, since most of the previous policy efforts on that score are being systematically dismantled.

On Tuesday, while MPPs at Queen’s Park were cheering legislation to halt an increase in the minimum wage, a report from the country’s parliamentary budget officer showed that these very increases were making a real impact in reducing income inequality in Canada.

“Increases to the minimum wages have contributed significantly to reducing wage inequality and it’s helped particularly those at the low end of the income spectrum,” budget officer Yves Giroux told the Star. Oh well; too late to fix that now in Ontario.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s basic income project has also been scrapped by the Ford government, and the federal Liberals appear to be ruling out multiple requests to step in and save the experiment in lifting people out of poverty.

The save-the-program requests, incidentally, are coming from the left and the right — from 100 CEOs, who recently wrote a letter in favour of the project, to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who urged this week that Ottawa provide the funds to keep the project going.

A spokesperson for the federal minister of families, children and social development has thrown cold water on that idea, saying that basic-income projects were a provincial matter.

Ultimately the design of provincial social programs, such as a basic income, is up to provincial governments,” Valérie Glazer told the Star.

It certainly does seem like Justin Trudeau’s government has lost its enthusiasm for narrowing the income gap in Canada during its past three years in power.

This was the issue, we’ll remember, that lured Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland into public life five years ago. Trudeau read Freeland’s book, Plutocrats, and persuaded her that she could do more to end income unfairness inside politics than outside of it.

At the beginning of this year, Freeland was still writing in The Economist about how a “progressive trade” agenda would go a long way to narrowing the income gap and fighting the surge of “nativism” around the globe.

“In most places where nativism has appeared as a political force, income inequality was there first,” Freeland wrote in a special issue of The Economist.

As we know, Freeland’s attention subsequently strayed after she wrote that article, forced to slay other giants than income inequality. It would be interesting to see the minister do a follow-up article soon, laying out how the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement lines up with her aspirations at the outset of 2018 to fight nativism and the wealth gap.

The very phrase “income inequality” has fallen out of fashion in the past few years too — certainly since the Liberals came to power, oddly enough. A search on the openparliament.ca website shows that “income inequality” was mentioned at least 100 times a year in parliamentary discussions from 2012 to 2014 but then, just 30 times last year and only about a dozen times so far in 2018.

In many ways, the waning interest for this issue — at least on the federal Liberal front — is politically understandable, if disappointing. Trying to address populism with social policy, whether it was basic income, minimum wage or pharmacare, didn’t save Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals in Ontario from massive defeat in June. Can anyone blame Trudeau’s Liberals for being wary of a similar fate?

Speaking of pharmacare, when’s the last time we heard the Trudeau Liberals talking up that idea? Despite its potential to level the playing field on drug costs — which can be ruinous to those less advantaged in Canada — it’s looking like Ottawa is curbing its enthusiasm on pharmacare too.

Eric Hoskins, the former Ontario health minister tasked earlier this year with looking into the introduction of a national pharmacare program, recently told the Star’s Alex Ballingall that we may end up with more of a “voluntary” system — certainly far less ambitious than many might have envisioned.

“It would probably need to be more of an opt-in approach,” Hoskins told the Star a month ago.

All the parties are busily getting their platforms in shape for next year’s election and the federal Liberals are currently lining up their priorities for the fall economic statement and the 2019, pre-election budget. Don’t expect to see much about the great Canadian fight against income inequality — that fight, as we’re seeing these days, doesn’t really exist right now.

Susan Delacourt is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics.

https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2018/10/24/what-happened-to-trudeaus-plan-to-fight-income-inequality.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *