We are fortunate to live in Canada. One of the things that makes this a great country is that change – even major change – is possible. Since the founding of Canada in 1867 Canadian citizens have fought for a better, more just society. The struggle of workers to unionize and of women for voting and other rights began before the formation of Canada but gained momentum after Confederation. Many other movements have also made progress through years of activism. Change was slow often taking decades. But over time substantial progress was made, often at great sacrifice and always accompanied by reaction. Occasionally opportunities arise to advance social and political change much more quickly. Now is one of those times.
From the Second World War until the late seventies many progressive changes were enacted. But they were only achieved through the actions of many people and organizations dedicated to bringing them about. In the late seventies massive organized push back began supported by the super wealthy, corporations, right wing organizations and their allies in government. Neo-Liberalism became the new orthodoxy and it has been successful not only in slowing and even frustrating attempts at progressive change but also in weakening and even dismantling progressive policies of the past. The results have often been devastating - the 2008 financial crises, loss of good paying jobs, growing economic and social inequality and the ongoing destruction of climate change for example. Most of the increased income from productivity gains since 1990 have gone to the top 1% and especially the top 0.1%, making inequality in Canada much greater. Changing technology has added to this process as more people have insecure contract jobs or low paying part time jobs. Successful corporations dominate with huge profits that are largely untaxed. Large sums of this money are then used to fund and support right wing organizations and lobby governments, often successfully, to adopt policies that favour themselves.
Fortunately there has been a renewed and growing awareness that the system is broken and that change is needed. Not incremental change, not a bit of tinkering here and there but fundamental change. The kind of change that would give regular Canadians more influence on policy issues while drastically reducing the power of corporations and the wealthy to do so. With the advent of COVID-19 and the government's response it became clear to many that not only was change needed but that major change was possible. The myths that we couldn't afford it or that substantial change would ruin the economy have been destroyed. But as in the past change won’t happen with out active citizen involvement, and a clear vision of how to bring it about.
The first step is to develop a consensus on what changes are needed and a strategy on how to bring them about. If you don't have a clear idea of where you're going it's very unlikely you'll get there. The overall goal doesn't have to be grandiose, in fact it should be a simple statement that describes clearly the world we are hoping to bring about. It is sufficient if it allows us to test our actions against what we hope to achieve. Kate Raworth in Doughnut Economics has formulated just such a statement: “Meet the needs of all within the means of the planet”.
So where to start? The Broadbent Institute and many other organizations have developed specific, well thought out proposals. The problem is that there are too many proposals that individual organizations are pushing for. The Just Recovery movement did an admirable job of bringing together a large coalition but it chose a decentralized approach where each organization could would pursue its own proposals within some overarching principles.
We believe that in order to make real progress it is absolutely necessary to start by focusing on a number of key issues that if enacted will fundamentally change the way government, the economy and society function. Such changes will replace neo-liberal dominance of our economy and of our politics. Just as important they will make future reform more likely and easier to achieve. Each organization can still pursue its goals as well but if all or most of Canada’s progressive organizations unite behind a core set of issues we will have a much greater chance of success.
Below are a number of key reforms that we feel are both possible and transformative that progressive organizations could rally behind.
- Change our electoral system to proportional representation.
- Replace Gross Domestic Progress (GDP) with a Genuine Progress Index (GPI) that measures full economic, social and environmental progress.
- Mobilize to address the climate emergency just as we mobilized to defeat the Nazis in World War II.
- Create a Guaranteed Annual Income by creating a comprehensive income support system for 18 to 64 year olds to complement the Child Tax Benefit and old age income supports.
- Radically change the tax system to raise revenue and reduce inequality.
- Create a caring economy with a national affordable childcare program and well funded long term care.
- End homelessness and massively increase non market housing.
- Address anti-Black racism and Indigenous rights.
These and many other ideas have been promoted by a wide variety of organizations. Not all of these suggestions would necessarily be supported by a coalition. These proposals are examples. The final proposals must be agreed to by a wide variety of people and organizations. But we feel strongly they must be focused and must be able to engage, inspire and mobilize people.
What is clearly needed now Is a group willing to lead a process to develop and promote a common platform supported by most progressive organizations in Canada.
That’s what is needed now if we are to have any hope of making the dramatic changes that this rare historic moment calls for.
Brian Gifford and Cliff White are long term friends, political and social activist living in Halifax, Nova Scotia