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EDITORIAL: You support me and I'll support you back

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
April 20th, 2011

 

Anyone who has had the chance to sit through something like this past Monday’s School Board meeting, could never, with any good conscience, vote for a political party that has a history of cutting school funding then gives tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations of the world. It’s painful to watch committed community members struggle to make the best of a less than desirable situation as they attempt to maintain as high quality education while attempting to cut just over a million dollars from the district’s budget. While the total amount granted to SD 20 did go up this year, the increased costs around implementing all day kindergarten means that increase in funding has not kept up with the pace of increasing costs. All the while oil and gas companies are making record profits in part thanks to billions of dollars in subsidies.   One overriding question kept reoccurring as I tried to make sense of it all: when did governance become about protecting the rich rather than working for the common good?

Enormous subsidies to oil and gas companies, tax cuts for the wealthy, and tax cuts for the corporate sector. We hear over and over that these measures are essential to propping up our economy. Yes, the great election buzz word ‘economy’ seems, particularly in recent years, to trump any and all common sense questions about how our country spends our hard earned money.  What is the economy, other than a buzzword representing a figure or figures that mean nothing in their vagueness to the average Canadian? Sure, we have it drilled into our head over and over again that above all else that a strong “economy” is essential, but what is meant when we use that word? More often than not it means several handfuls of the top grossing companies in the country. We may be in the early signs of economic recovery, but if that means hundreds or thousands of small-to-medium-sized businesses have been put out of business while the top 5% or so are now making all time profits, is that really a win for the country?  A Castlegar kid not learning Russian, a Rossland school closing down and killing a community from the inside out: that’s real, that’s tangible. Supporting the vague notion of “the economy” while funnelling money to the wealthy? That’s just bad policy.

Putting money into social services and education is akin to betting on ourselves. Such investments say,”I believe in the people of this country and this province so much that if I can just support them and make it easier for them to succeed, the people of the country will solve the problems themselves.” Properly equipping and supporting the people of a nation is an investment one would hope leadership can get behind.  When you bet money on yourself, you tend to work that much harder to not let yourself lose; there is an extra motivation there. If you notice JFK-like undertones running through this message, you’re right on the money. What can you do for your country? Well if you have to struggle to make ends meet while a large portion of your income goes to support subsidies for the biggest corporations in the country, your schools are closing and essential social services are drying up, the answer is probably, “not much” as you’re wrapped up in simply surviving.  On the other hand, putting big money behind (often foreign) corporations, big oil and cutting their taxes is like saying as a government that we need the big foreign business to support our country because people on their own can’t do it. It’s essentially betting against average Joe and Jill Canadian all the while stripping their quality of life to make sure that big business is happy doing its business here.  That naturally lead into a second question. Since when have we allowed the overriding beliefs, be they religious or otherwise, trump common sense–trump doing what is clearly in the best interest of the majority?    A case in point: the talk this week about the Harper government wanting to shut down Vancouver’s Insite safe injection site. Why? Because it doesn’t fit with the  beliefs of our leader. Sure reports have come back and said that the safe-injection site, a progressive social move of the sort Canada used to be known for, has saved lives, and reduced the spread of disease all the while saving money for the health care system. It seems like as perfect a scenario as you can get for such a project, no? Common sense be damned, however. If it doesn’t fit with the government’s seemingly narrow-minded beliefs, all the common sense in the world isn’t going to stop it.  Once again it’s a case of ‘support the people of our country and they’ll support you back’. The actions of our federal government, time and time again, seem to show their lack of support for the average Canadian.  If one single point makes that ultra-clear it’s the simple fact that the Conservatives plan to put more money into building new jails than they do new hospitals. Tough on crime? Hardly. Sounds to me more like ‘tough on those in need while providing fancy new jails to support those that erred on the wrong side of the law’.

Getting back to the economic picture that has loomed so large over federal and, indeed, world affairs in recent years: the backing argument for subsidizing the oil and gas industry and reducing corporate tax rates has been that we need the oil and gas industry to hold our economy together. Okay, but if that’s true and if these companies are truly prepared to pack up and leave the second we demand they pay their way, then that’s not the kind of economic backbone we want or need in this country anyway.  Let’s think about it for a moment together. Why do we really so desperately need big oil in Canada to be happy and singing our government’s praises? They threaten to fly south if they aren’t subsidized, they poison our environment and our people, and they suck much-needed funds out of our social system. So why do we support and take money from the poor and give it to the rich to maintain the industry? Quite simply, without it we’d have to learn to fend for ourselves, solve our own financial issues and dare I say it evolve our third world economy beyond simple resource extraction and export that currently supports the bulk of the nation.  Like it or not, the price of oil is the number one factor driving the Canadian economy that kept us somewhat afloat during tough times and what a primary factor in our dollar’s rise and fall. When Harper claims his government policies helped keep our economy afloat, well maybe, if  your policy consisted of a status quo approach. Without some major flop, anyone could have been prime minister over the last several years and ridden our oil and resource wealth through the troubled world economy.  Humans are ingenious creatures. When faced with crisis, thus far in our short time on the planet, we’ve evolved, improved ourselves and solved whatever issue lay in front of us that needs solving. We can do anything, be it a quick escape from a sabre-tooth tiger or solving our global environmental issues.  Our wealth of natural resources allows us to become lazy. Times are good, the oil is flowing and there’s still more resources yet to be discovered in the north. However, our hopes are riding on a finite resource. Whether it comes in the form of literally running out of supply or becoming obsolete as the rest of the world moves on to cleaner, progressive policies and energy plans, there will be an end to oil. We can ride it out to the end and, indeed, that’s the way industry is set up. The last dollar of oil sold will bring in the most profit. But then we’re hooped.  The longer we ride the resource wave and cut our social fabric of our country piece by piece to support our addiction, the more we will end up with a less educated workforce, less motivation and ability to change.  In short, we have become comfortable and comfort breeds inaction and de-evolution at its worst. When people are comfortable they have no motivation for change or improvement. When people live in fear of change they stop asking questions. Hmm, maybe we’re on to something here. Maybe we’re now dialing down to the real motivation of why certain leaders have no appetite for common sense. Perhaps, like an animal or a pet, once our spirit is broken we’ll simply obey our masters, stop asking questions, and stop demanding change.

Are we a nation that believes in itself? Do we believe that, given the proper support, we have the ability to solve any problem and become a greater nation by investing in the people that populate it? A country is not as much a geographical denomination on the globe but rather a group of people that share common goals as well as different opinions who work together for the greater benefit of all?  I believe one of those common goals we all share is that our nation’s greatest wealth lies not beneath the earth or in a corporate headquarters but in our schools, on the streets, outside, in our homes, living, working, playing and supporting one another as citizens of Canada.  So are we a country that elects people who believe they know better than us, who don’t live by common sense, who don’t believe in us and who hamper our ability to grow while destroying what makes living here worthwhile? Or do we believe that a government’s job is to support the people and let us flourish? When faced with the choice, it seems obvious who to vote for. I vote for us, the people and supporting us so that we may continue to succeed together. Whichever party puts people before the corporation–that’s who gets my vote.

 

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