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LANA PAYNE: Affordability is real, but Scheer has no real solutions

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005 and society has carried on just fine. But because of the culture wars, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer won’t walk in a Pride parade for fear of offending his easily outraged constituency. - David Bloom / Postmedia
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. - Postmedia

With less than 100 days until the next federal election, things are heating up — including the vitriol.

As expected, the debate is already negative and nasty. It’s going to be a long three months as Canadians sort through the half-truths and outright lies that are permeating the political landscape.

The latest polls indicate a close race between the governing Liberals and the Conservatives. This could mean more power for parties like the New Democrats and the Greens.

In his search to find an issue to expand beyond his base, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has latched on to the affordability of anything and everything.

In doing so, the Conservatives are hoping to feed the anger and insecurity many Canadians are feeling.

Despite healthy job creation numbers (over a million jobs since the Trudeau government came to power) and the lowest unemployment rate since Canada started collecting such data, feelings of economic insecurity persist.

The Conservative solution, a few pennies in tax cuts, will do nothing to improve affordability and indeed could make things even worse for Canadians. Why? Because the tax cuts will have to be paid for with fewer public services or programs that actually do help Canadians.

Ontario under Doug Ford is a case in point.

Leaving things to market forces to deal with the bigger cost items Canadians are struggling with including housing, childcare, post-secondary education and elder care is not a solution either.

If the Conservatives were truly interested in actually doing something about affordability, they would be proposing much more than tinkering with boutique tax cuts. They would be tackling social wages.

They would propose using the policy levers of government to support unions and expanded collective bargaining coverage to improve people’s earned incomes; develop real policies and regulations for millions of Canadians facing precarious employment; and do something (working with provinces) about childcare, post-secondary education and housing costs.

A study released last week by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives noted that those earning minimum wage or just above simply can’t afford rent in most cities in Canada.

In Toronto and Vancouver estimates are that families are paying between 79 per cent and 88 per cent of their median income on housing. Overall, Canadians are spending 56 per cent of their median incomes on housing.

For young families, the other big-ticket item is childcare. In Toronto, the median monthly cost is a whopping $1,675 per child. But it’s expensive and often unavailable for many families across the country.

It’s no wonder Canadians are spending way more than they earn every year. Earlier this year, Statistics Canada noted that Canadians are spending $1.79 in credit market debt compared to every earned $1.

The Conservatives have tapped into an issue. Affordability is a real thing.

The problem is they have no solutions.

They have no plans to improve union rights or expand collective bargaining power for workers. Indeed, workers can expect that such rights will come under attack by Scheer’s Conservatives just as they did during the Harper era.

The 30-year assault on unions and collective bargaining rights have taken their toll. Instead of expanding union density, Canada has experienced declining unionization, although it has stabilized recently.

Yet, collective bargaining remains the single most important tool, in addition to government redistribution measures, to ensure wealth from the economy actually gets shared with workers and their families. It is essential to achieving shared prosperity.

This trend combined with decades of tax cuts to corporations have merely led to a bigger and bigger piece of the economic pie going to corporations and a smaller share going to workers.

In addition, wages especially for young workers haven’t exactly been heating up. And while job creation is on the rise, it’s the security around those jobs that is lacking.

As Economist Jim Stanford pointed out at a recent future of work conference hosted by the Public Policy Forum, precarious employment is not inevitable. It is a choice.

 “Work has become dramatically more precarious in Canada over the last generation,” Stanford told the Toronto Star recently. “I estimate about half of employed Canadians have some dimension of precarity in their work. That could be part-time, it could be temporary or time-limited contracts, it could be labour hire, it could be these dodgy forms of self-employment that we’re seeing — everything from gigs to more traditional forms of contracting out, where people are constituted as businesses rather than workers, in a very artificial way.”

Tax cuts and leaving people to figure the rest out on their own won’t fix affordability.

But as far as electioneering goes, it’s easy to blame everything on taxes rather than come up with real solutions.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns in two weeks.


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