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National Opinion Centre

This month, the same month the Conservative government unveiled income splitting, its signature gift to the core of its base – wealthy, single-income 1950s era ”Father Knows Best” families – Food Bank Canada reported that more than 840,000 Canadians are forced to resort to food banks to feed their families.

Five years after the economy’s downturn, 170,000 more people were using food banks than before the recession. “Alarming” was the term Food Bank Canada used to describe the situation.

It investigated the ‘’’why’’’ of food banks. The picture isn’t pretty.

“The massive loss of well-paying blue-collar jobs, too many people without the skills for today’s labour market, inadequate social programs for people facing hard times – we have largely not taken the steps necessary to address these problems head-on,” Food Bank Canada continued in its recent report. “Low income is just one part of the equation that leads to food insecurity and the need for food banks.”

It criticizes both federal and provincial governments, warning that Canada’s often “overlapping yet under-co-ordinated and sometimes conflicting systems are failing too many.”

As if on cue, the Canadian Payroll Association reported that slightly more than half of Canada’s employees – 51 per cent – would find it difficult to meet their financial obligations if their paycheque were delayed by a single week, according to the Canadian Press.

For those between the ages of 18 to 29, the number was even higher. Sixty-three per cent reported they lived paycheque to paycheque. More than a quarter of respondents – 26 per cent – said they probably couldn’t come up with $2,000 over the next month if an emergency arose. More than half reported saving just five per cent or less of their paycheque as opposed to the 10 per cent recommended by financial planners.

Not surprisingly, 79 per cent said they expected to have to delay retirement until age 60 and older. Yet Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to fiercely oppose all calls to enrich the Canada Pension Plan – the only pension plan the vast majority of Canadians have any hope of accessing for their retirement.

All this is being driven by the pervasive “cut, cut, cut” neo-conservative anti-tax mania sweeping the Anglo-Saxon world caused by the relentless decades-long crusade by the wealthy and globalized corporations to dismantle the welfare state.

One of its leading acolytes is Canada’s own Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In 2009, he told The Globe and Mail’s Eric Reguly that “I don’t believe that any taxes are good taxes”.

Harper has been touting his preference for a return to a Leave It To Beaver/Father Knows Best 1950s society since he became Conservative leader, when, ironically, income taxes on the wealthy could climb as high as 90 per cent on the top income bracket, something unheard of today. He’s been signalling his desire to provide family income splitting to reward the Conservatives’ family values core support –groups such as REAL Women, evangelicals and social conservatives – since he took office in 2006.

Right on cue, in the middle of the 2011 election campaign, Harper, joined by wife Laureen, sat down with a smiling family on the porch of a suburban Victoria home to unveil his party’s campaign centrepiece: a Family Tax Cut to begin once the federal deficit was slain.

A similar ad, complete with Mom, Dad, kids and dog, graced the re announcement of income splitting this past week.

“Canadian households with children have good reason to cheer the $26.8 billion in tax breaks from Ottawa for families. But everyone else can count themselves shut out,” ” reported The Financial Post, not usually regarded as a Marxist publication. Parents with children under 18 would be allowed to split up to $50,000 in income for tax purposes, with a maximum benefit of $2,000.

Even the late former Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, was offside the plan, warning that “I’m not sure overall it benefits our society. I think income splitting deserves a long, hard, analytical look.”

But his cabinet colleague – and prominent social conservative – Employment Minister Jason Kenney immediately and sharply disagreed. “All I know is we keep our platform commitments,” he said. “The bottom line is we’re committed to tax relief for Canadian families.”

Kenney is Harper’s outreach to the Conservatives’ large social and evangelical conservative political base. It’s a base that’s well out of proportion to its numbers in overall Canadian society but remains a powerful – and listened to – voice in everything the current government does or doesn’t do from social policy to tax policy.

Canadians can be thankful that public pressure prevented the government’s initial – and blatantly unfair – giveaway that would have benefited most the wealthiest of wealthy Canadian families.

Last June, the left-leaning Broadbent Institute released a report revealing just how perverse the original scheme was. A reverse Robin Hood manoeuvre, it was to have cost $3 billion, bestow no benefits to 90 per cent of Canadians and transfer a disproportionate amount of its largesse to families in Alberta and Saskatchewan – Canada’s two wealthiest provinces.

According to the institute’s calculations, the average tax saving for Alberta traditional families would be $1,359 while Saskatchewan families would capture second place at $1,070. These two provinces, which together have 42 federal seats, sent 40 Conservative MPs to Ottawa in 2011.

Meanwhile, in descending order, Nova Scotia families would average $727; Manitoba families, $772; New Brunswick, $787; B,C, $853; Ontario, $874, and Newfoundland, $925.

Scott Clark, former federal deputy finance minister and senior advisor to the prime minister, and Peter DeVries , director of the federal finance department’s Fiscal Policy Division from 1984 to 2005, also sketched out the egregious unfairness of the Harper government’s long-promised scheme to cater to its base in a recent article for iPolitics.

“There is no justification whatsoever for introducing income splitting on social or economic grounds – certainly not in the current economic environment,” Clark and Devries write. ‘Income splitting is being done to placate a small part of the Conservative base at the expense of virtually everyone else.”

Nor is that the end of the unfairness. By definition, single-parent families, usually the poorest of the poor, get exactly nothing from income splitting.

 

Frances Russell was born in Winnipeg and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science. A journalist since 1962, she has covered and commented on politics in Manitoba, Ontario, B.C. and Ottawa, working for The Winnipeg Tribune, United Press International, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Winnipeg Free Press as well as freelanced for The Toronto Star, The Edmonton Journal, CBC Radio and TV and Time Magazine.

She is the author of two award-winning books on Manitoba history: Mistehay Sakahegan – The Great Lake: The Beauty and the Treachery of Lake Winnipeg and The Canadian Crucible – Manitoba’s Role in Canada’s Great Divide. Both won the Manitoba Historical Society Award for popular history.

She is married with one son and two grandsons and lives in Winnipeg.

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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