Begin by hiking tax credits for working poor

Last September, the Broadbent Institute issued a major discussion paper, Towards a More Equal Canada, on rising economic inequality. We followed up in April with a brief to the Commons finance committee on what income tax and transfer changes could promote a fairer Canada.

Extreme economic inequality undermines democracy and the common good. Very unequal societies do much worse in terms of social and economic performance, in health and life expectancy, social mobility (equality of opportunity for children), crime levels, the quality of democracy, and levels of social trust.

While it is true that rising inequality is due in significant part to economic factors such as globalization and technological change, it is equally true that some advanced countries have remained much more equal than others. In the final analysis, the level of inequality in a nation is a matter of political choice.

Research shows Canada used to do quite well at striking a balance between a growing market economy and a fair distribution of the fruits of growth. But cuts to social programs and public services as well as changes to income support programs and personal income tax since the mid-1990s have compounded inequality.

Recent income tax changes have disproportionately favoured the rich. Providing a basic income-tested guarantee to all citizens through a fairer personal income tax system — a negative income tax — would be a powerful force for greater equality.

Our brief to the finance committee argued we should start by significantly increasing the federal Working Income Tax Benefit, which provides a very modest tax credit to Canadians who work but still have very low incomes.

The greatest gap in Canadian income support programs is for workers and families who do not qualify for welfare but remain in poverty since they are employed in precarious and low-paid jobs.

More than one-third of working Canadians do not have permanent, full-time paid jobs. Many fall below the poverty line due to low hourly wages and/or not enough weeks of work in a year.

The working poor and near poor — who move in and out of low-paid jobs but often fail to attain a decent standard of living — is disproportionately made up of recent immigrants, especially those belonging to racial minorities, persons with disabilities, female single parents, the single near-elderly, aboriginal Canadians, and young people trying to get into secure employment.

Credit should be given to the present federal government for creating the Working Income Tax Benefit, a new form of benefit which in the U.S. and elsewhere has reduced poverty while promoting employment.

But the benefit is modest (less than $1,000 for a single person and less than $1,800 for a family) and is lost completely at low levels of employment income ($18,000 for a single person, $27,000 for a family).

The maximum benefit should be increased significantly and phased out more slowly as income rises so recipients are always better off if they find more work or better-paying jobs.

Increases to the Working Income Tax Benefit should be matched by incremental increases in minimum wages to ensure supplements for the working poor do not become subsidies to low-wage employers. Minimum wage levels should ensure a single person working full-time for a full year does not live in poverty.

Improving conditions for low-wage workers will also involve raising minimum employment standards for hours of work, rights of part-time workers, pay and employment equity, enforcing such standards, facilitating access to unionization, and greatly expanding training for unemployed and under-employed workers.

Hopefully, the Commons finance committee will be able to achieve all-party agreement to assist the working poor by expanding the Working Income Tax Benefit. This would be an incremental but real step towards a more comprehensive negative income tax system.

This article originally appeared in the Chronicle Herald as part of a series on inequality.

Photo: Just a Prairie Boy. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

It's World Environment Day and Canada's Not Doing so Hot

Today is World Environment Day, an appropriate moment to reflect on the state of our nation's journey towards sustainability.

In a nutshell, we're not doing so hot.

Measured against other OECD nations, Canada continues to rank near the bottom of the barrel for environmental protection. Once viewed as a constructive, conscientious partner, Canada is now a sort of pariah on the international stage, uninterested or downright unwilling to work with other countries to tackle major global environmental challenges from desertification to over-fishing, deforestation to climate change.

So singularly focused is our current federal government on oil-fuelled growth, for example, the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. referred to our Natural Resource Minister, Joe Oliver, as Canada's "Minister of Oil."

Our reputation in disrepute abroad, environmental degradation continues at home. We can't solve everything all at once, so if we were to really focus, what is the most important thing threatening the Canadian environment? Is it the destructive power of climate change? The cancer-causing effect of unregulated toxic chemicals? The downward spiral of water quality across the country?

In my view all of these challenges are symptoms of a larger problem: the unrelenting, aggressive hostility of our country's Conservative parties to environmental progress.

I once participated on a panel for the magazine Corporate Knights that voted Brian Mulroney "the greenest Prime Minister in Canadian history." That seems like a long time ago now. And many of Mulroney's signature environmental accomplishments -- such as the creation of the respected National Round Table on Environment and Economy -- have since been killed by Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

This is the same federal government that has recently questioned whether global warming is really as bad as everybody says it is, has used the Canada Revenue Agency to make life as difficult for Canada's environmental charities as possible, and presided over what is -- objectively -- the most significant rollback of environmental protections since Confederation.

At the provincial level, in a little-noticed speech during the last provincial election, Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak promised to abolish Conservation Authorities -- a creation of Tory governments dating back to the 1950s, and he has been uniformly hostile to environmental notions ever since. In Brad Wall's Saskatchewan, the David Suzuki Foundation has recently noted that "it is difficult to imagine any jurisdiction taking the threats of climate change less seriously."

And though some days it's hard to focus on his actual policies through the haze of circus-like shenanigans, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has targeted green initiatives with a laser-like precision, making it very clear that in his world "green" and "gravy" are synonymous and equally deserving of elimination.

There once was a proud Tory environmental record: Brian Mulroney's battles against Acid Rain, and Bill Davis's protection of the Niagara Escarpment come to mind. The Canadian Conservative circa 2013, however, has not only turned their back on this legacy, they are busily dismantling it.

Conservatives today are of a different ilk. They view the environment through a distorted and Manichean lens, one where environmental policy is inevitably at odds with sound economic policy.

Yes, there are voices -- like that of Preston Manning -- calling for a renewal of a Conservative green ethic. But these voices make little impact, drowned out as they are by the chorus of pro-industry voices, granted privileged access to lobby Conservative ministers for changes to environmental regulations. Meeting so often with oil and gas sector executives, it's little wonder "Environment" Minister Peter Kent focuses on promoting "Ethical Oil" rather than environmental stewardship.

A commitment to reconciling environmental and economic priorities is now without a doubt one of the single greatest differences between Conservatives and non-Conservatives in our country. For progressives, the task is to demonstrate to Canadians that there are alternatives to the ecologically destructive and economically uncertain path we are on.

This op-ed originally appeared in Huffington Post Canada.

Photo: itzafineday. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

Canadian demographics may not favour the Conservatives

Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star
Parliament Hill, May 24 2013

There are two ways to become a former Conservative in Canada these days.

You can get tossed out, like senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.

Or you can leave the party of your own volition, as voters in Labrador did earlier this month when they elected Liberal MP Yvonne Jones, handing Conservative Peter Penashue a resounding defeat in the federal byelection.

So is it time to revisit this idea — put forward not so long ago — that Conservatives stand to be the natural governing party of the 21st century?

Earlier this year, journalist John Ibbitson and pollster Darrell Bricker released a book called the Big Shift, in which they argued that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative party was best positioned to reap the gains of Canada’s changing demographics.

Conservatives, they said, had done a better job of shaping their party’s platform to meet the demands of new Canadians and all those people living in the rapidly expanding West.

This week, amid all kinds of other bad news for Conservatives, the Broadbent Institute released a reply to that Big Shift assertion.

“We decided that notion deserved some testing,” Rick Smith, director of the institute, said at a Wednesday lunch gathering at the Chateau Laurier.

Smith released the results of a comprehensive Environics poll showing that Canadians were actually more “progressive” than conservative and, more significantly, that newcomers to Canada were no more conservative than people who had lived in this country longer than 10 years.

On an array of large questions, such as whether people trusted government more than corporations and their willingness to pay more for social programs and government-run health care, Environics found no significant differences in opinion between new Canadians and “old” Canadians.

About 72 per cent of people born outside Canada believe their taxes should support a strong pension system, compared to 76 per cent of people born here, the poll found. About 69 per cent of new Canadians believe the best way to fight crime is by treating its “root causes” of poverty, racism and addiction, compared to 63 per cent of Canadian-born people.

“On issues ranging from taxation and trust in public institutions, to social values and views regarding Canada’s role on the world stage, progressive ideals are supported by strong majorities in the largest urban/suburban areas across the country, which are increasingly the hardest fought battlegrounds for federal elections,” the institute declared in the summary of the Environics results.

Smith was speaking to a room filled with New Democrats and a smattering of Liberals. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was at the head table, sitting with Neera Tanden, head of the U.S. Center for American Progress.

Tanden had just finished a speech that was also intended to buoy the spirits of non-Conservatives in Canada, explaining how progressives had captured American hearts and minds from the clutches of Republicans over the past decade.

Thanks to President Barack Obama and a determined, sustained outreach to minority communities in the U.S., she said, Democrats had built an enduring, progressive coalition.

“We’ve come a long way... the country’s come a long way,” she said.

Barely a week since the election in British Columbia, however, it may not be the right time to talk to New Democrats about polls. Many of them believed the polls predicting that B.C. would be swearing in a New Democrat premier, Adrian Dix, around about now.

Smith acknowledged that progressives in Canada face “challenges,” alluding to the B.C. election surprise. But he said the Environics poll still showed that Canadians were more open to progressive ideas than they were to conservative ones.

If nothing else, the Broadbent Institute poll and the Big Shift are evidence of where political minds are focused these days.

When the next election rolls around in 2015, Canada will have 30 new ridings, half of them in Ontario, filled with suburbanites and new Canadians. Every political party is scrambling, even now, to secure a foothold in those places.

This is why new Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau keeps talking about the middle class — 24 mentions of that phrase this year alone in the House of Commons.

It’s why Immigration Minister Jason Kenney keeps logging all those miles on the road and is not seen as likely to be among those who will change jobs in Harper’s big cabinet shuffle this summer.

Though it may be getting more dangerous to make predictions in Canadian politics these days, one forecast is safe: in the next two years, everyone will be vying for the votes of the newcomers — the new Canadians, young, first-time voters and the people in those 30 new ridings.

So while our attention is focused on who’s leaving various political parties, voluntarily or not-so-voluntarily, future fates will be shaped by the newcomers on the Canadian political landscape.

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Progressive values are on the rise in the U.S. and Canada

A luncheon speech by Center for American Progress (CAP) President Neera Tanden underscored that success for progressives depends on a strong, sustainable progressive movement, driven by idea generation and solid policy. Tanden was director of domestic policy for the Obama-Biden presidential campaign and served as Hilary Clinton’s policy director on her presidential campaign. 

“Our experience since creating CAP in 2003 has reinforced the lesson that gearing up for highly expensive elections every four years is wholly insufficient for achieving real progressive change,” said Tanden. “In the end, the money and energy spent winning elections will be for naught if it is not followed by the organizing, policy, and communications work necessary to keep the Obama coalition in permanent motion between elections.”

“The Center for American Progress has built an engine of progressive change in the United States and provided policy and communications support for an effective progressive movement,” said Broadbent Institute Executive Director Rick Smith. “I am delighted that today we were able to learn some lessons about how we can build the progressive movement in Canada.”

Following Tanden’s speech, Smith expanded on her conclusions with the release of exclusive new polling data. The Broadbent Institute-commissioned Environics Research Group poll reveals important trends in support for progressive values in eight of Canada’s largest urban and suburban areas – the battlegrounds where federal elections are won and lost. The national poll reveals that Canadians, both new immigrants and Canadian-born, overwhelmingly support progressive values such as reducing income inequality, better pensions, and stronger environmental regulations.

“These results provide an important contribution to our understanding of what socio-economic attitudes and values prevail in urban Canadian society, as well as the impact of the influx of new Canadians on our political climate,” explained Derek Leebosh, Vice-President, Public Affairs at Environics Research Group.

“When it comes to a number of important issues, we have found that there is no significant statistical difference between the attitudes of Canadian-born and non-Canadian-born Canadians,” said Smith. “This is contrary to recent reports that have portrayed the political trend lines of the country as moving in a small “c” conservative direction.  If anything, the opposite would seem to be the case.”

Download the new report.

Use the tax system to fight poverty

Canada has an inequality problem. Middle-class incomes have stagnated and poverty has risen as the income share of the top 1% has risen dramatically.

How much inequality we are prepared to tolerate is a matter of political choice. Some countries have done better than others, and Canada has not performed well.

Tuesday is the deadline for filing our personal income tax returns. As millions of Canadians sit at their computers and at their kitchen tables working to remit their paperwork, it’s an appropriate moment to consider how changes to our tax and income transfer system could move us to a more equal Canada.

The Broadbent Institute is presenting proposals Tuesday to the Finance Committee of the House of Commons. Our primary recommendation is that Canada establish as a goal the provision of a basic income-tested guarantee to all citizens through a fairer personal income tax system.

The tax/transfer system equalizes income in two important ways. First, progressive income taxes mean that the affluent pay a higher percentage of income than middle and low income earners. Second, these taxes help finance social programs that benefit those who have middle and low incomes more than the affluent.

Our tax/transfer system is modestly re-distributive, but we still have a very unequal distribution of income after the impact of taxes and transfers has been taken into account. And the re-distributive impact of has been declining since the mid-1990s. It’s now 20% below the advanced industrial country average.

Canada must promote greater tax fairness. First, we should act on the long-standing position of anti-child poverty groups that the maximum level of income-tested child benefits should be raised to cover the full cost of raising children. It is deplorable that one in seven Canadian children live in poverty.

Second, Canada should significantly increase the federal Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) to deal with the growing reality of low pay and precarious work. Increases to the WITB should be matched by incremental increases in minimum wages to raise incomes and also to ensure that income supplements for the working-poor do not become subsidies to low wage employers.

The biggest gap in Canadian income support programs is for the working poor and near poor. Many Canadians move in and out of low paid jobs but fail to obtain a decent standard of living for very long because they cannot find steady work at decent wages. Contributing to the problem is the rise of temporary and part-time jobs, the decline in union representation and major gaps in our Employment Insurance program. These issues must also be addressed.

Credit should be given to the present federal government for creating the WITB, a new form of benefit that has been shown in the U.S. and elsewhere to reduce poverty while promoting employment. However, the current benefit is extremely modest (less than $1,000 for a single person) and is lost completely at low levels of earnings ($18,000 for a single person). The maximum benefit should be increased significantly and phased out slowly as income rises, so that recipients are always better-off if they find more hours of work.

Third, as a long-term goal, we should abolish welfare as it currently exists. Our current system, paid for by the provinces, provides meagre and stigmatizing benefits that leave recipients well below the poverty line. It also creates a “welfare wall” since recipients lose their benefits almost entirely if they take a low paid and insecure job. A negative income tax has been broadly championed across the political spectrum, including by Senator Hugh Segal and the late Tom Kent, the prime architect of Canada’s social reforms of the 1960s. It should be given serious consideration.

Fourth, improvements to income support programs should be financed by making our income tax system fairer. Even as the income share of the top 1% has risen, their effective income tax rate has fallen, from 39.4% to 33.3% since 2000. We should consider changes to address this, scale back special tax breaks that deliver huge benefits primarily to the very well off, e.g. on capital gains, and crack down on tax cheaters. Corporations should be required to pay to clean up their own pollution. Making these changes would help stabilize government finances and restore public trust in the fairness of the tax system.

These concrete steps should be taken now to make our tax and income transfer system a much more effective vehicle for promoting greater equality.

This op-ed originally appeared in the National Post.

Photo: vancouverbcfoodbank. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

Reform the tax code to counter income inequality: Broadbent

This article originally appeared on iPolitics.

Income inequality is threatening Canada’s economic growth and is dragging the country’s standard of living down with it, says former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.

Appearing before the Commons finance committee Tuesday, eight experts — including some of the country’s top economists and policy specialists — took turns outlining why income disparity can no longer be ignored.

“There isn’t a sane adult in Canada who is against equal opportunity,” Broadbent told the committee.

“Income inequality is a subject of great concern for Canada, one that threatens to undermine democracy and the common good.”

The solution, he said, is greater tax fairness — higher income taxes and fewer tax exemptions for the country’s top earners, a policy pitch put forth in a 2012 report by The Broadbent Institute, a left-leaning think tank founded by Broadbent.

“Tax cuts have gone to upper income Canadians. We need to increase taxes on the top one per cent,” he told the committee, adding the government should consider restoring past tax levels.

When asked, Broadbent said he did not believe such tax increases would scare the wealthiest into leaving Canada.

“I don’t think they’re going anywhere. They’re not going to pack up and move,” he said.

But professor Stephen Richardson, an executive fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, argues the numbers tell a different story, one that suggests the idea of a growing income gap in Canada is a myth.

“If the rich are getting richer, which may be the case, something else must be at play because the numbers aren’t changing,” he told the committee.

There are two ways of measuring income discrepancy in Canada: through the Gini coefficient and by comparing the wealth of various income groups. The Gini method calculates inequality on a scale from one (total inequality) to zero (exact equality).

In both cases, the gap between Canada’s rich and poor appears to be stagnant. Since 1998, Canada’s Gini coefficient has remained unchanged at 0.43, Richardson said.

Income inequality in Canada, he told the committee, is “a relative concept” and entirely dependent on public perception.

“Canada could have a high level of income inequality and appear more well-off than a country that has lower inequality rates,” Richardson said.

While the numbers may not show direct income inequality, several committee members voiced concerns about unequal access to education, training and employment.

It’s this discrepancy that MPs say could be behind the decline in standards of living — particularly among aboriginal and young people — Canadians say is being felt across the country.

The challenge, said Conservative MP Mark Adler, is that most of the areas in question are provincial responsibilities. While they’re partly funded by transfer payments, he said, the federal government has no way of ensuring the money is spent properly.

Still, said Conservative MP Shelly Glover, the government is working toward improved access to these areas by creating programs like the Canada Jobs Grant, a proposed federal-provincial-industry partnership that would train Canadians in skills in short supply in today’s job market.

When questioned on this initiative, Broadbent admitted that he wasn’t familiar with the proposal but cautioned job training must also be supported by the creation of more unionized jobs.

Anti-Union Measures: Solution in Search of a Problem

Careful observers of Canadian politics will be forgiven a certain "déjà vu" feeling at the most recent target of Conservative i.e. trade unions.

Fresh from their bilious campaign against the charitable sector (recall the intemperate claims that environmental groups are "radicals", "terrorists" and "eco-vandals" emanating from federal Cabinet Ministers and Senators), the muzzling of federal government scientists, and sundry closings of important institutions with the continuing temerity to speak their mind, trade unions are clearly next in the Tory cross-hairs.

In Toronto, Leader of the Opposition Tim Hudak has proposed legislation to make payment of union dues voluntary -- even though non-dues paying free-riders would still receive the wages and benefits negotiated by their union, and would still have a legal right to union representation if they were fired or disciplined.

In Ottawa, Conservatives in the House of Commons have passed legislation that would require unions to publicly disclose in minute detail virtually all aspects of their spending, no matter how irrelevant. They propose no such requirements for business and professional associations that similarly represent their members.

And in Regina, the Wall government's Bill 85 interferes with the rights of employees to belong to the union of their choosing.

In every case, these anti-union measures are a solution in search of a problem. They are a transparent attempt to damage the financial viability of trade unions and they lay bare the hypocrisy of Conservative parties and governments who, while professing a commitment to streamline useless red tape for Canadian businesses, are ideologically driven to create a choking amount of red tape for trade unions.

Why should Canadians care, particularly the majority of us who don't below to trade unions? The reason is simple. As the Broadbent Institute outlines in a report released today, unions have made and continue to make Canada a much more equal and democratic society than would otherwise be the case. Because of this, the sort of radical US-style anti-union legislation being proposed by conservatives is a threat not just to unionized workers, but to all Canadians.

International human rights laws ratified by Canada and Supreme Court decisions have stressed that unions are democratic institutions that should be accountable to their members, and have a legitimate role to play in our society above and beyond workplace activities such as collective bargaining. Unions have a record to be proud of in terms of fighting for government policies that benefit all people, union members and non-members alike. Public pensions, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, and affordable and accessible post secondary education were all promoted by the labour movement working with other movements for social reform.

To take one recent example, the labour movement has recently worked with seniors and anti-poverty organizations to greatly increase benefits provided by the Canada Pension Plan so that all workers, not just union workers, can have a decent pension in retirement.

Unions have also promoted laws and regulations that protect the rights of all workers in the workplace: health and safety laws, minimum wages and other minimum employment standards that help protect low paid workers in insecure jobs, and pay and employment equity laws that protect women and racial minorities from discrimination.

Numerous studies by experts with no ideological axe to grind show that, when unions are strong, the gains that they make for their members in terms of decent wages and benefits spill over into non-union workplaces. In the face of Canadian conservatives trying to portray unions as some kind of impediment to economic growth and productivity, actually examining this empirical evidence is instructive. 

Economists agree that the rapidly rising share of all income going to the top 1% in the US and Canada since the early 1980s is explained in significant part by declining unionization. US-style de-unionization would clearly make Canada a much more unequal society than is already the case.

And calculations by respected international organizations such as the OECD and the World Bank also show that countries with strong labour movements are more equal and inclusive, and often have very successful economies. Unions recognize that high productivity is the key to decent wages and good jobs, and many successful companies recognize that good labour relations benefit both parties to the agreement.

Since 1980, the total Canadian economic pie (real GDP per person) has grown by 50 per cent, but the real wage of an average worker has increased by just 10 per cent, and union workers have done no better than non-union workers. Over the entire period from 2000 to 2011, the wages of unionized workers rose by just 5 per cent on top of inflation.

Canada's real economic and social problem is stagnant living standards for the broad middle class as a whole, a steady increase in very low paid and insecure jobs, and rapidly growing inequality of income and wealth as the gains from economic growth go to top income earners.

Seen from this perspective, a strong labour movement is not the problem, but rather an important part of the solution. Unions helped create the Canadian middle class, and we need strong unions to help return us to broadly-shared prosperity.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post Canada.

Attack on unions is a threat to shared prosperity in Canada

Broadbent Institute releases new report: “Union Communities, Healthy Communities”

OTTAWA--The right-wing’s regressive anti-union rhetoric and U.S. styled attacks on the labour movement threatens Canada’s prosperity, says a new report by the Broadbent Institute. The report, Union Communities, Healthy Communities debunks the conservative movement’s attacks on labour and makes the case that unions are vital to stable economic growth.

"The current right-wing attack on the labour movement is part of an attack on all progressives in Canada,” explained Executive Director Rick Smith. “Unions have been a major force for a more democratic, inclusive and sustainable Canada, and the progressive movement as a whole must strongly defend labour rights."

The report builds on the Broadbent Institute’s Equality Project in highlighting how unions have contributed an equalizing effect and helped to create broad-based prosperity.  Unions successfully promoted fair wages, decent working conditions, social programs, and public services which benefit all citizens – not just unionized works.  

"Economic research shows that unions are a major force for greater equality, and that a strong labour movement benefits all Canadians,” said Senior Policy Advisor Andrew Jackson.   “Unions have been a force for progressive community change.”

In the coming days, the Broadbent Institute will release a series of responses to this paper written by a number of prominent Canadians from outside the trade union movement.

Read Union Communities, Healthy Communities today.

Seriously, Canadian conservatives? Ron Paul?

As Canada's right wing gathers this weekend in Ottawa, the conservative movement finds itself looking in a strange -- and somewhat dangerous -- place for inspiration.

Conservatives attending the 2013 Manning Centre networking conference will hear from the usual roster of cheerleaders, political practitioners and ideological elders. But this year's keynote is something different. A surprising guest whose ideas can only be described as completely outside the Canadian mainstream: former U.S. Congressman Ron Paul.

Mr. Paul is well known in the United States for his radical notions. Often described as the "intellectual godfather of the Tea Party," Mr. Paul takes libertarian philosophy to new heights. His positions and policies are offside most U.S. Republicans, let alone Canada's more temperate Red Tory traditions.

One need not dig too deeply to figure out why.

In a 2007 CNBC interview, Mr. Paul suggested that the US Federal Reserve should be abolished in favour of a system of competing currencies: "We can't get rid of the 'Fed' in a day or a week but we could legalize competing currencies...if people don't like competing currencies... they can opt-out and start dealing in gold and silver."

In his 2011 book, Liberty Defined, he opined that, "We need to give up our dependence on the state... it is far better to live in an imperfect world than it is to live in a despotic world ruled by people who lord it over us through force and intimidation." I am left scratching my head at this bizarre statement: which despotic agents of the state, exactly, is Mr. Paul referring to? Doctors? Nurses? Social workers? All of the above?

Mr. Paul has been particularly outspoken on a number of other important issues. As a self-described "unshakeable foe of abortion," he has gone so far as to introduce legislation "which would negate the effect of Roe v. Wade." Mr. Paul opposes gun control because he believes it "clears a path for violence and makes aggression more likely." Go figure. Mr. Paul even wants to abolish the minimum wage: during a 2011 Republican primary debate, he argued that "minimum wage is a mandate. We're against mandates so why should we have it?"

Climate change -- which all Canadian political parties have now acknowledge to be real -- is still a fantasy to Mr. Paul. He suggests that "I don't think there's a conclusion yet... if you study the history, we've had a lot of climate changes."

Mr. Paul has spoken candidly about his views on sexual harassment in the workplace. During a Fox News interview, he stated that "...if people are insulted by, you know, rude behaviour, I don't think we need to make a federal case out of it... people should deal with it at home."

And on key votes he has frequently been virtually alone in speaking against what is essentially a right-left societal consensus. On the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act's passage, Mr. Paul was the only Congressman to vote against a resolution hailing the Act, and even gave a speech to Congress claiming that it "violated the Constitution and reduced individual liberty."

I could go on. Mr. Paul's record of opposition to most ideals Canadians hold dear is very lengthy.

The Manning Centre is, of course, free to invite anybody they wish to their party. Even the Tea Party. But my grandmother used to tell me that "You're known by the company you keep", which seems to me a fair comment in life as in politics. Of all the conservatives the Manning Centre could have invited to be the star attraction at their annual shindig, why Ron Paul? Is this supposed to be a foreshadowing of the future direction of Canada's conservative movement? Which of his, frankly, bizarre ideas does the Manning Centre agree with? How does the Centre see Mr. Paul's contribution as being a positive addition to our Canadian political conversation?

Most importantly: Which pieces of Ron Paul's extreme agenda do Canadian conservatives harbor the ambition of importing?

Canada's conservative movement has been working overtime over the last few years to convince Canadians that they are mainstream and on a roll. It is no surprise that my organization and I disagree with both the philosophy and (alleged) facts behind these conservative arguments. By welcoming Ron Paul to Canada, however, it is difficult to see how the Manning Centre furthers even its own stated objectives.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post Canada.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.

Canadians share progressive U.S. values

Viewing Canada - U.S. relations through the prism of supposed national self-interest has led many commentators to reject U.S. criticism of Canadian energy and environmental policies. Indeed, a recent Globe and Mail editorial goes so far as to denounce as a “threat” the view from Washington that Canada should get serious about dealing with climate change.

This is deeply ironic insofar as the vast majority of Canadians—78 per cent would—according to opinion polls, have voted to re-elect U.S. President Barack Obama rather than support his opponent Governor Mitt Romney if they had been given the chance.

Canada has long viewed itself as a more progressive country than the United States, more committed to the collective pursuit of the common good through democratic government, more supportive of paying taxes to support decent social programs and public services, and less wedded to the view that market freedoms are the only ones that really count.

But Obama’s recent inaugural address rang many more progressive notes than we have heard in Canada for quite some time, certainly from the Harper government.

The speech argued that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action” and that “social programs are the commitments we make to each other.”

It denounced growing income inequality, saying that “our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well, and a growing many barely make it.”

Obama’s subsequent state of the union address spelled out an agenda for the restoration of the broad middle-class based upon public investments, a transition to a clean, green economy as part of a strategy to deal with the fundamental challenge of climate change, higher minimum wages to help the working poor, and securing real equality of opportunity through major investments in early childhood learning.

Obama also underlined the world’s responsibility to future generations to deal with accelerating and destructive climate change.

The president concluded by saying that “We are citizens. ...  It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others.”

Canadian progressives, indeed the great majority of Canadians, would applaud these sentiments. The key question is: why are they not embraced by our own government?

The Conservatives, let us recall, ripped up the Kyoto agreement and have done next to nothing to deal with climate change. They have failed to impose long-promised caps on carbon emissions by the tar sands and other polluting industries, and have portrayed opposition to their agenda as politically motivated, and, indeed, dictated by foreign interests.

It’s little wonder that many Americans think Canada is environmentally reckless when we have placed all our eggs in the basket of the expansion of oil and gas exports, over-riding entirely legitimate concerns regarding how we deal with the impacts on the environment and the interests of First Nations.

The Conservatives have signally failed to create the new middle-class jobs in a growing green economy which could have been replacing lost jobs in the hard-hit manufacturing sector. Our efforts are hugely limited in comparison to the strides that have been made south of the border, and voices calling for major new federal investments in public transit, energy conservation, and renewable energy have been rejected.

Far from talking about rebuilding the middle-class amidst rapidly increasing inequality, the Conservatives have launched a major attack on the right of the labour movement to participate in democratic debate; have undermined our Employment Insurance and public pension programs; and have delivered sweeping tax cuts to corporate Canada.

Far from investing in real equality of opportunity for all our children, the Conservatives scrapped the embryonic child care and early learning program they inherited from the previous government. Their social vision is confined to promising even more tax cuts largely tilted to the most affluent once the federal budget is balanced. 

In this dismal context, we are ill-advised to reject legitimate comment. Canadians can only hope that the progressive sentiments being voiced in the United States spill over to our side of the border.

This article originally appeared in the Hill Times. Photo: Center for American Progress Action Fund. Used under a Creative Commons by-sa 2.0 license.