Federal government shows no interest in making Canada better

Lana Payne
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Before kids even go to school, we expect them to connect the dots.
My daughter has been doing it for years and she's only 6. When she's finished connecting the dots, she is left with a clear picture that she then colours a multitude of shades and hues.
You soon learn, though, that children are very good at connecting other kinds of dots. At Thanksgiving, like most kids in the city, she was asked to bring items to school for the food bank. We talked to her about food banks and explained that not everyone had enough money to buy food, pay bills and buy clothes for their kids. And that food banks help, but they are not the answer.
This must have stayed on her mind, as a few days later she asked, out of the blue, if we had food banks because "rich people didn't share enough."
Canada's not-so-new prime minister and his blustery finance minister are counting on us having forgotten to connect the dots.
They certainly don't want us questioning their tax-cut agenda and the damage it is causing and will continue to have on the country's social fabric.
They most certainly do not want Canadians contemplating this failed and flawed public policy.
Because if Canadians start connecting the dots, they may discover that despite tens and tens and tens of billions of dollars in tax cuts, they are still not feeling that financially secure.
Despite a 30-year unemployment low, despite more than a decade of government surpluses and despite unprecedented economic growth, Canadians are a worried lot - at least according to polling by the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives.
It may have something to do with all the debt families are carrying and a lack of household savings. Or it may be because real wages, excluding inflation, have not increased since the recession year of 1981-82.

Not shared
It's no wonder Canadians are feeling a little shaky. After all, the country is generating more wealth than ever before, they see politicians giving away billions, but it isn't filtering down to them.
And despite this failed and unimaginative economic policy of tax cutting, the federal Conservatives persist with the finance minister announcing at the end of October another $60 billion in tax cuts - almost 25 per cent going to corporations.
This is what Canadians do know and what Stephen Harper ought to fear.
They know how expensive it is to send their big kids to university or college because taxes haven't been used to reduce the cost of post-secondary education.
They know that only the lucky and the fortunate can access affordable child care and early learning programs for their smaller kids. They know that tax cuts won't repair mould-infested schools. They know tax cuts won't build bridges or pave roads. Nor will they build hospitals, buy cancer-treatment equipment or pay home-care workers a decent wage. Tax cuts do nothing for homeless people, except keep them homeless.
And tax cuts for corporations do even less, except feather a few already cushy nests.
Canadians know that the last thing hugely profitable corporations need is more of their hard-earned cash. Yet the Harper Conservatives have done just that, handing over another $14.8 billion in corporate tax cuts, including to obscenely rich oil and gas multinationals.
It's no wonder a study last week by the Centre for Policy Alternatives discovered that Canada's tax system is becoming less and less progressive. According to the report, by economist Marc Lee, the richest one per cent of families pay a lower percentage of their income to governments than the poorest.
Lee's conclusion was that Canada's tax system, after years of cuts, now fails a basic test of fairness.
And this was before the Conservatives' latest round of tax cuts, which had many economists warning that Harper had slammed the door on any new major programs.
What a waste. This money could have made a real difference in the everyday lives of Canadians. An average $200-a-year individual tax cut won't buy a coffee a day. But collectively, it could have done a lot of good.
That's, of course, if you are interested in making that difference in the first place.

Government doesn't care
What is becoming increasingly clear is that Canada's slightly used Conservative government has no interest in that. They are much too busy managing the public relations of a war, shutting out the media and playing politics.
And while they play politics - fencing with each other over who is the sharpest politician in the lot - another child's sense of wonder is dimmed by poverty because government chose tax cuts over action.
And that is the whole problem. We have a federal government that doesn't believe in government, and so most days are spent dismantling and diminishing government as a force of change.
The message to Canadians is: don't look to Ottawa to be part of the solution.

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement. Her column returns Nov. 25.

Organizations: Harper Conservatives, Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives

Geographic location: Canada, Ottawa

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