Money isn’t everything, except when it is

Lana
Lana Payne
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Money isn’t everything, but according to American motivational speaker Rita Davenport, it does rank up there with oxygen.

Unless, of course, you live in that privileged little world occupied by the province’s employers’ council whose annual conference last week posed the question: “From recruitment to retirement: money isn’t everything, or is it?”

Only the very comfortable can ask such a question.

If you are making a good salary then perhaps money isn’t everything, but it is still certainly a top priority. Just ask Canada’s highest-paid executives. Money, coupled with their generous compensation packages, is pretty important to them. They did, after all, earn 174 times more than the average Canadian in 2009.

If money wasn’t everything, why the persistent demand for lower business taxes? Why the suggestion, as we have heard on numerous occasions, for lower tax rates for high-income earners as a way to attract top executives to the province. But, hey, money isn’t everything.

Money isn’t everything when you have a whole bunch of everything — things like, well, money, decent benefits, pensions, respect and comfort. Money isn’t everything when you can afford nice vacations and dance lessons and hockey camps. But even then, money is pretty important.

And then there is Don Mills, the head of Corporate Research Associates — a polling and market-research company out of Nova Scotia, and one of the guest speakers at the employers’ council conference last week.

Mr. Mills could give the founders of the U.S. Tea Party a run for their money.

What’s clear is he doesn’t like unions very much. But then, those who worship at the altar of the so-called free market have never had much time for unions and the role unions have played and continue to play in our economy and in our society.

And despite the economic crisis most of the world still finds itself in — a crisis that has it roots in this free-market economic theory — some are having a very difficult time believing their economic religion needs a rethink.

Social progress, fairness, equality, wealth sharing. These are not delivered by the marketplace. They don’t get delivered because governments take a hands-off approach to social and economic development.

We need catalysts like unions and other civil-society organizations pushing governments to ensure these values are realized.

The problem is when the power of those who push for social and economic fairness is weakened, as Mr. Mills suggests should happen to unions, income inequality goes unchallenged. Some might argue that the weakening of the labour movement in the United States as a result of a three-decade-long attack has been part of the continued troubles in that country. Not much wealth sharing going on south of the border. Things are so bad that one of the richest men in the world — Warren Buffett — has told the U.S. government to raise the taxes of rich people.

In addition to complaining about unions, Mr. Mills bemoaned the so-called pace of public-sector growth compared to the private sector. Of course, in doing so he merely highlighted not problems with the public sector, but rather with the private sector.

Drunk on billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts — delivered at the hands of both the federal Liberals and the Harper Conservatives — and yet corporate Canada has not delivered on the promise of those tax cuts.

The theory was the tax cuts were needed to make Canadian businesses competitive. The theory was that these businesses would use those tax reductions to reinvest and spur further economic growth. So much for theories.

Why cut taxes?

As Canadians, we should question the soundness and effectiveness of these billions and billions of dollars in tax cuts to corporate Canada, more and more of which is foreign-owned.

What we are seeing in Canada, as well as the United States, is a hoarding of corporate cash — which is one of the reasons why the federal government should cancel its next round of corporate tax cuts and instead invest that money directly into the Canadian economy.

Mr. Mills’ diatribe against the public sector, public-sector workers and their pensions — similar to those ravings of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business — misses the real issue with Canada’s economy. Despite all the tax cuts and incentives to business, it is never enough.

Perhaps the question for Mr. Mills is not how well the public sector is doing, but why the private sector is stockpiling cash.

For the first time in our history, Newfoundland and Labrador has recovered from a recession with lightning speed. The provincial government is forecasting a surplus rather than a small deficit. Consumer and business confidence, despite the recession, are at unprecedented levels. People are feeling pretty secure about their jobs and unions have played a role by demanding the prosperity be shared. Of course, one of the ways we share that prosperity is by improving the social wages of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

For the most part, our province has turned an economic corner and perhaps that’s what some people find difficult to swallow. We have even said as a society that sharing prosperity is a worthy goal.

Plato wrote that “wealth is well known to be a great comforter.”

The problem for some in our society is that sharing that wealth with all citizens isn’t something they can buy into. For them, money really is everything.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at

lanapayne@nl.rogers.com.

Her column returns Dec. 18.

Organizations: Corporate Research Associates, U.S. Tea Party, Harper Conservatives Canadian Federation of Independent Business Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada, United States, Don Mills Nova Scotia Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • David Benson
    December 06, 2010 - 08:00

    Seeing the FFAW members protest at the Confederation Building, calling for "Free Trade" and "Free Enterprise", hearing them calling the government "Communist", one suspects that Mr. Mills has support for his right wing ideology in unexpected circles. But then, the FFAW "harvesters" are owners and bosses in the traditional sense. The question is, how can they call themselves a union?