Sometimes our kids say the darndest things. Last week, while driving my daughter to school we had the following conversation. (It got me thinking about intergenerational inequity and the conscious or unconscious willingness of the baby boomers to “sell out” the next generation.)
It was April 30 and radio hosts were reminding Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that this was the last day for the good citizens of Canada to file their taxes in order to avoid any penalties.
A few minutes later the same radio host riddled off a long list of birthdays, including the fact that Prime Minister Stephen Harper turned 53 that day.
My soon to be 11-year old pipes up and says: “Mom, don’t you think that’s ironic?” I asked what was ironic.
“That fact, that today is Stephen Harper’s birthday?” she replied. I asked, “Why would that be ironic?” Not quite sure what her point was. Cue, eye roll. (Almost 11-year-olds do that a lot, usually behind their parents’ backs.)
“Well it’s funny that today would be Stephen Harper’s birthday and also the last day to get your taxes in … since Mr. Harper doesn’t like taxes very much.”
Yes, isn’t it ironic that Stephen Harper, the prime minister who said: “all taxes are bad” would share his birthday with the deadline to file our taxes?
Her comment got me thinking about how taxes, so often maligned, are truly just the tools with which we build a better society. Sometimes tax policy is used to drive wedges between citizens and generations of Canadians. Since baby boomers are a powerful voting demographic, they seem to be winning the intergenerational conflict.
Perhaps the two obvious and recent examples are the cuts to Old Age Security and the attempt by Quebec Premier Jean Charest to raise tuition fees by a whopping 75 per cent.
By now most Canadians know if you are over 53 years of age, the government’s cuts to OAS will not directly impact on you.
The message to younger Canadians is that they will not enjoy the same social benefits as their baby boomer parents.
Economist Jim Stanford, referring to the OAS cuts, has said that it doesn’t have to be this way. These are choices. Bad choices, but choices.
Our country, like our province, is producing more wealth than at any point in our history. Resource development and high commodity prices are making a few people and corporations very, very rich. The wealth generated from our economy is in no way fairly shared, including how we are, or are not, investing in the next generation.
The Harper government has used the “affordability” argument for raising OAS eligibility to 67.
This would be the same government that throws away billions of dollars a year in tax cuts to corporations. It would be the same government that lied to its citizens about the cost of fighter jets. And not any small lie of omission, but a whopping $10-billion lie.
The changes to OAS are not about affordability. The OAS/GIS program costs as a share of our country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is only expected to increase from 2.36 per cent in 2011 to a still-modest 3.14 per cent of GDP in 2030 and, after that, the cost will fall.
Stanford has said young Canadians have wrongly resigned themselves to the fact that public pensions won’t be there for them when they retire, but this hardly eases the pain of this unnecessary, destructive measure.
And then there are the students of Quebec, who for 12 weeks have been protesting their government’s plan to raise tuition by a whopping 75 per cent.
Benoit Lacoursiere, a political-science professor at Montreal's De Maisonneuve College, who has written about Quebec’s student movement, says what is happening in his province is unprecedented. “This is the biggest, largest and longest student strike in Quebec's history,” he said in a recent media interview.
In a well-argued column for the Huffington Post, Nora Loreto of the Canadian Federation of Students takes on the many media and
political commentators who have accused the students of being “entitled.”
I laughed when I first heard the students being described this way. Laughed that a baby boomer would write such a thing. Baby boomers paid much, much less for their university and college educations than we are asking of today’s youth. They have enjoyed the benefits of the social welfare state.
As Loreto correctly points out, tuition fees drive social inequality. It’s simple. The higher an education costs the fewer kids see it as a possibility. It becomes unaffordable, and when we make post-secondary
education unaffordable we erode accessibility, too.
The Canadian student movement’s most recent campaign called education a right. In order for it to be a right, it must be available to all.
The fight by the students of Quebec is not just about the cost of tuition. It is about the kind of society they wish to have; a society based on opportunity for all, not opportunity for all who can afford to pay.
The students of today are the workers and leaders of tomorrow. They will be driving public policy
in a few short years. Aging baby boomers might think about that.
Lana Payne is president of the
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Her column returns May 19.