The run up to the recent Quebec election prompted a revival of the argument that only federal transfers keep that fiscally-challenged province afloat. For example, Mark Milke of the Fraser Institute argued in the National Post that Quebec is “massively subsidized by the rest of Canada.”
This argument is hugely over-done. And it contradicts a more effective and positive argument for federalism, namely that it has been no barrier to the construction of a distinctive and progressive social model in Quebec.
A widely-reported study by the New York Times shows that middle-class Canadians now have higher after-tax incomes than middle-class Americans, and that Canadian middle-class incomes, adjusted for inflation, have been rising significantly over the past decade.
The facts cited in the original article are not in dispute. The median per-person income in the United States (half earn more and half earn less) has stagnated for the past decade, and the income share of the top 1% in that country has continued to rise to record-high levels.
But this does not mean, as the Harper Conservatives and right-wing pundits have been quick to claim, that all is well with the Canadian middle class.
At one point last Saturday afternoon in the main ballroom of the Delta hotel in downtown Ottawa, epicentre for the Broadbent Institute’s first annual Progress Summit, Alex Himelfarb, a former clerk of the privy council and now co-editor of a book entitled Tax Is Not a Four-Letter Word, recalled being at a dinner party and wondering aloud about “how nice” it would be to have universal daycare in this country.
The Conservative Party’s 2011 election platform titled “Stephen Harper’s Low-Tax Plan” promised a bountiful menu of tax goodies. The government has delivered appetizers such as the Children’s Art Tax Credit and the Family Caregiver Tax Credit as well as an amuse-bouche in the form of a Search and Rescue Volunteers Tax Credit.