The analysis of the 2021 Canadian federal election has been going on for a couple of weeks. Most of that analysis has been to the effect that it was a somewhat useless event, an unnecessary election that simply reproduced the previous parliament. Some analysis is devoted to the role of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party, some to the flip flopping of Erin O’Toole’s on the banning of certain guns, and his ambiguous position on vaccine mandates, and of course, some to the staying power that anger about an unnecessary election played. This is not an exhaustive summary.
The current federal election has highlighted for me the difficulty of having a truly informative debate about health care in Canada. Of course some of the difficulty derives from the nature of politics, and of the media, but even this is made worse by a lack of clarity about the nature of Medicare in Canada, and foundational legislation like the Canada Health Act. This lack of clarity makes it easier for some politicians to mislead Canadians about their real positions, and may even cause Medicare friendly politicians to unintentionally obscure the issues.Read more
Young people in Canada are a political force. With under three weeks left in this snap election, there still remains an unprecedented opportunity for candidates and parties to engage young electors in meaningful ways both in this election and going forward. As community leaders and organizers, there is a critical role for us to play in ensuring that we not only hold candidates accountable for their engagement efforts, but also support the youth and community members we work with to find connections to the systems of power that have the ability to impact the issues we care about in the long-term.Read more
This federal election must be about building a better Canada after the pandemic. The Broadbent Institute has set out a social democratic perspective to influence the political debate.
The crisis we and the world continue to confront seriously affects public health and our social and economic well-being. The pandemic starkly revealed major cracks in the foundations of our society and economy, which must be seriously addressed. On top of the public health crisis, which is still very much with us, we have to contend with long-standing problems that COVID-19 not only made more visible but also exacerbated.
There will be no quick return to normal, nor should there be.
The rise of precarious jobs and growing economic and social inequality revealed that the high unemployment experienced during the shutdowns was unequally shared across the workforce and that unless we take significant action to rectify the root causes, the recovery will also be unequal. Any recovery plan would be short-sighted and ineffective if it did not repair the foundational inequities in our society and address the crisis of climate change. This is a moment for social democrats to fight for fundamental reform.
We must, in overlapping phases, defeat the virus and protect health; provide relief and support for as long as necessary; and develop a plan for long-term social and economic transformation based on the lessons we have learned from the pandemic.
The status quo has worked well for the top 1% of Canadians, who now receive almost 15% of all household income and own 25% of all wealth, and even more for the top 0.1%, who are Canada’s billionaires. But it was not working for the great majority of Canadians who have experienced stagnant wages and living standards, rising household debt, and increased economic insecurity due to less stable jobs combined with cuts to income support programs.
Those consigned to the growing ranks of low-wage and precarious workers are increasingly excluded from the social mainstream, and this gap is highly gendered and racialized. The health costs of the pandemic were heavily and disproportionately experienced by women and racialized workers in essential jobs involving close contact with the public, while many of the better-off could isolate themselves by not working or working at home.
Far too many Indigenous people remained and still remain on the margins of the economy and struggle for recognition of their fundamental rights and ownership of land and resources. At the same time, they are fighting the devastating impact of the pandemic in their communities.
“Normal” was not seriously tackling the climate crisis. Even in the midst of the pandemic, we saw nature out of control: almost unprecedented floods, droughts, hurricanes, extreme heat waves, and rising sea levels. The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed our worst fears that these events are now indeed normal and bound to become more common. Canada has formally committed to dealing with the climate crisis through the Paris Accord but has made pitiful real progress in terms of actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning from the old to the green economy. Many irresponsible business and political “leaders” remain wedded to a carbon-intensive economic model while pretending that serious action can be further delayed.
The crisis has revealed huge gaps in our social programs. The lack of eligibility for existing income supports such as Employment Insurance (EI) for many of the newly unemployed left the government scrambling to come up with new programs on the fly. Crowded, understaffed, and under-regulated long-term care homes led to a wave of unnecessary deaths among seniors. The lack of paid sick leave for many resulted in workplace COVID outbreaks as workers felt obliged to go to work even when they were ill. Parents with young children faced impossible choices as schools closed and no options were available for affordable child care.
Our current crisis is the result of 40 years of extremist “neoliberalism”—the belief in so-called free markets and private control of almost all of the economy. Our failing economic system has entrenched economic inequality and racism, bred right-wing populism, and damaged democracy.
Publicly-led innovation for equitable social benefits
Our solutions lie in a mixed public/private/not-for-profit social economy with high levels of public provision to meet key needs, protection against poverty and insecurity, and effective public-interest driven regulation of banks and large corporations. The market and the private sector are important tools, but governments must shape the economy to secure fair and inclusive society.
We need to renew the capacity of governments to shape the economy in the national and public interest, to lead innovation toward a shared vision of the equitable future, to distribute resources in order to achieve more just outcomes, and to increase the bargaining power of workers vis-à-vis employers.
As in the aftermath of the Great Depression, now is the time for federal leadership. The federal government alone has the fiscal capacity to make major new investments in social programs, due to its relatively low debt, its access to all major sources of tax revenue, and its special relationship to the Bank of Canada. The times call for new national programs in health care, education, housing, and income support programs.
The immediate priorities should be child care and early learning and the expansion of public health care from physician and hospital care to long-term care, pharmacare, and mental health.
A green and just economy
The transition to a clean, green economy must be driven not only by taxes, but also through regulations (e.g., strict building codes, clean fuel standards, and a shift to zero-emission vehicles). In addition, major public investments need to be made in clean energy, greater energy efficiency, stripping out carbon from production and consumption, and building new infrastructure such as mass public transit and charging stations for electric vehicles. All of these will promote environmental remediation.
Rather than relying on private finance alone to support the new clean economy, these kinds of investments could be increased and scaled up by establishing a new Green Investment Bank mandated to fund clean, green investments at low cost, including through equity stakes and low-interest loans to enterprises.
A just transition is essential to ensure that workers will not suffer because of the economic restructuring that will be required. This would be possible, since the clean economy would be much more labour-intensive than the current highly capital-intensive, extractive economy.
Displaced workers should be guaranteed a comparable job or income compensation through wage tops, and they should be offered the opportunity to retrain.
Centering care and decent work in the economy
The caring economy, though rarely discussed until recently, has long been the backbone of our social and economic well-being. Not only is it a foundational aspect of a meaningful post-pandemic recovery; it also holds the keys of our future resilience in the face of crises to come. Health care, education, child and elder care, and social services are the key pillars of the caring economy. They meet a multitude of social needs while providing a great many jobs, especially for women and racialized Canadians, and they rely on leadership and investment from governments to work.
We need to start fixing the labour market through key changes to labour law and employment standards to promote more secure and better-paid jobs.
Governments should facilitate and encourage collective bargaining and enhance minimum wages to establish a wage floor that provides workers with a livable income. Sectoral, multi-employer bargaining in private and public services can set a decent floor of wages and standards without putting any one employer at a competitive disadvantage.
Canada's inadequate income-security safety net was unable to stand the test of the pandemic as many unemployed workers and independent workers found that they did not qualify for EI or social assistance and faced immediate destitution.
In the longer term, Canada should move toward a Basic Income Guarantee. We need a bold vision for income security reform but also a thoughtful plan to do better building on what exists and already works, as outlined in our paper Basic Income Guarantee: A Social Democratic Framework.
Making sure everyone pays their fair share
As noted in our report Paying for the Recovery We Want, expanding public and social services will have to be financed in medium and long-term through higher taxes. We cannot build a social democratic Canada without collectively paying for it, and that should be through a transparent tax system based on ability to pay. A precondition for political support of higher levels of public spending is public confidence that the costs are being fairly allocated.
Over the past few decades, the tax burden on the richest and highest-income Canadians has been cut by:
- The reduction of the corporate tax rate, which boosts after-tax returns to equity owners
- The increase or tolerance of special tax breaks being applied to income deriving from capital, such as capital gains and stock options
- The reduction of the progressivity of the personal income tax system
- A decrease in top income tax rates; and by tolerance of the growing use of offshore tax shelters by corporations and the wealthy.
The equalizing impact of progressive taxes has been eroded, compounding the growing inequality of market income and starving the public and social sectors of needed resources.
The aim of a progressive tax system is not just to finance social programs and public services that benefit all citizens, but also to reduce very large and growing inequalities of income and wealth.
Introducing a wealth tax, closing tax loopholes largely used to hoard wealth with little productive purpose, taxing excess profits made by large corporations during the pandemic are measures supported by 9 in 10 Canadians. There is also broad support on increasing corporate income taxes as well as those in the top tax bracket.
This election may very well be the most important of this century. The government that is elected will be charged with setting the ground for our post-pandemic era in Canada. This is a time to boldly restructure our economy and our society in order to overcome the deep inequality and climate change that threatens our world.
We live in perilous times. The pandemic reminds us of the need for collective action to achieve the common good. While it remains to be seen how well Canada will fare in comparison to other countries in terms of its management of the pandemic, the crisis has starkly spotlighted long-standing cracks in our social and economic foundations.
TORONTO – The cost of living, healthcare and housing affordability are top 3 drivers of voting amongst Canadians, with 8 in 10 Canadians worried about their cost of living rising.
A poll conducted by Abacus Research on behalf of the Broadbent Institute and Professional Institute for the Public Service of Canada found that 1 in 3 Canadians say the pandemic has made it harder to cover day-to-day expenses, while 71% of Canadians believe the difference between their income and that of the top 1% has widened over the last two years.
When asked what would make life more affordable, coverage for things like dental care, homecare and prescriptions, stable jobs with decent wages, taxing wealthier Canadians and large corporations to pay for public services were viewed as helping most.
“Canadians continue to be worried about affording a decent life while watching a few people and corporations at the top continue to gain more wealth, ” said Katrina Miller, Program Director of the Broadbent Institute, “they are clear in their minds that better public services, expanding healthcare, and raising taxes on the wealthy will help life be more affordable for everyone..”
Other key findings
- 64% of Canadians say that the cost of things they use and consume day-to-day has risen in the past two years. This number rises to 81% among Canadians 60 years of age and older.
- 73% of Canadians say the pandemic has made it harder to save for retirement
When asked what would help make life more affordable:
- 93% of Canadians said covering more under public health care like dental care, prescriptions, and home care would help, with 41% saying it would help a lot
- 95% of Canadians said ensuring everyone has a stable job with a decent wage would help, with 41% saying it would help a lot
- 93% of Canadians said taxing wealthier Canadians and large corporations more to pay for better public services would help, with 39% saying it would help a lot
“Coming out of the pandemic, affordability issues remain the most important issue for Canadians - especially those under 40. Housing, childcare, and the cost of goods and services are rising faster than people’s incomes. This is creating a sharp demand for solutions from political leaders who soon will be asking for people’s votes,” says David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data. “Like in 2019, reducing costs and increasing incomes for people will likely be one of the top issues of the election campaign.”
REPORT: David Coletto, Abacus Data. Affordability anxiety continues as most Canadians say they worry about the cost of living.
RESEARCH: Abacus Data for the Broadbent Institute and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. Affordability Persists Post-Pandemic.
The political pundits and the media are all but unanimous that there will be a fall federal election. They are probably right, but they may be underestimating the risk to the governing Liberals.Read more
There is no doubt that cost of living concerns loomed large during Canada’s federal election. Historically, economic angst has been fertile ground for a standard Conservative pitch to the electorate – one that promises to end government waste and interference, lower taxes, and put money back in our pockets so that we can seek out our own path to success. That seems to have been Andrew Scheer’s play, summed up nicely in his campaign slogan “It’s time for you to get ahead”.Read more