Managing our debt in a progressive way

I came across an interesting article the other day on the Fraser Institute’s website. I have to admit, I usually don’t see eye-to-eye with this organization. It’s a conservative think tank who usually recommends very right-wing solutions to our economic and social problems. But they did write an interesting article about debt, deficits, and the need to control spending.

I found this article interesting because many times conservatives talk about eliminating our deficit but they rarely succeed. In fact, they usually make deficits worse. Take Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He tripled Canada’s debt in less than 10 years. It was Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who successfully reduced our debt to manageable levels. In the United States, debt levels skyrocketed under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush (the elder) and his son George W. Bush.

During the last provincial election Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak talked about the need to control spending. He even promised to fire 100,000 civil servants to balance the budget. But how bad is our spending problem? And what can we do to control spending? These questions have a major impact on our healthcare workforce.

Over the past 20 years our financial situation has gotten a lot better. In 1993, 33 cents of every tax dollar Ottawa collected went to paying off interest payments on the debt. Today, only 11 cents of each tax dollar goes to debt servicing. In Ontario, it’s even better at 9 cents.

Personally, I would like Canada and all 13 provinces and territories to eliminate their debts entirely. But it’s not that simple. Our debt reduction efforts since the mid-1990s were sidelined by the Great Recession in 2008. If the Federal and Provincial governments didn’t inject huge amounts of cash into our struggling economy, we may have walked into another Great Depression. It’s only now, six years later, our economy is starting to recover.

And there are different ways to balance your books. While Conservatives are always talk about cutting healthcare, education, social spending, and other programs that we all rely on, there are other ways to increase revenue. There is no reason why we can’t increase taxes on corporations or wealthy individuals who make six-digit salaries. While their incomes have skyrocketed over the past 30 years, there is no reason why they can’t afford to pay more in tax. They certainly can afford it.

Yes, we need to control spending. But let’s take a balanced response. A balanced response means trimming spending and increasing revenue. A balanced response is not gutting our social safety net, including valuable healthcare jobs, that took more than 150 years to build

G.A.D

…but what about assisted death?

This post follows one I wrote last week on suicide; usually the fatal result of a mental illness such as clinical depression. But this week I’m thinking and writing about a different kind of suicide: the death a rational person chooses because of their incurable poor, and usually declining, physical condition.

What “rational,” “incurable,” and “physical” mean are all debatable. But I’m talking about a growing movement in Canada for discussion about what’s often called either assisted suicide, assisted death, or euthanasia. The movement is sometimes referred to as “dying with dignity.”

What did Donald Low, a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and Gillian Bennett, a retired psychotherapist from British Columbia, have in common?

They both suffered from fatal diseases, and they both went out appealing to Canadians to please consider the right for anyone to “die with dignity.”

Donald died without outside intervention, despite his wishes (because euthanasia is illegal in most of Canada, although the law is changing in Quebec). Watch him talk about the issue here, a week before his death:

But Gillian committed suicide because of the dementia that was getting worse and rapidly taking over who she once was. She thought it through in detail and discussed it with her family. A website was launched on the day she died: deadatnoon.com. It includes all of Gillian’s written reasoning and explanations.

The Healthy Debate blog posted that their most shared article this year is the one that thoroughly explains the difference between euthanasia and palliative care. This is a hotly contested and debated issue in Canada right now. The Canadian Medical Association also just discussed this at a big meeting in Ottawa.

Before she died, Gillian Bennett wrote: “Understand that I am giving up nothing that I want by committing suicide. All I lose is an indefinite number of years of being a vegetable in a hospital setting, eating up the country’s money but having not the faintest idea of who I am.” Pictures and video of her family discussing her death are on the Vancouver Sun.

Donald Low’s health was failing at a much faster pace and he did not take the dramatic step of suicide. But he did say: “What worries me is how I’m going to die. What the end is going to look like. […] Why make people suffer for no reason when there’s an alternative?”

G.W.

Looking for a leader, not a dinner guest

For anyone who read The Star’s profile on Tim Hudak this morning and felt uneasy, you’re not alone.

Painted as the ‘boy next door’, within the first few paragraphs of this profile (which reads like a feel-good script) we are handed out a prediction that “if [Hudak] wins, voters are going to love him.”  This opinion is coming from Conservative funder and business lawyer, Ralph Lean.  Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t take political opinions from someone who regularly offers legal advice to and represents millionaires. I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Lean and I would probably not ‘love’ the same type of leader. And so, it’s beyond me why The Star chooses to begin their profile on Hudak with such a blatant bias.  Thank you for your opinion, Mr. Ralph Lean. I will now give you mine.

The piece from this morning makes me uneasy, because it creates a diversion. This type of profiling is dangerous because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside- kind of like how I feel when I watch Brad Pitt on the big screen. But I’m not electing Brad to be my next Premier. That would be distracting- just like this piece from the Star. Forcing me to read about what a good and “likeable” guy Hudak is, how he used to play street hockey after school and how he grew up in a small town, although perhaps factual , are in reality distractions.

After all, we are not inviting Hudak over for a social gathering; we’re deciding whether he is fit to be our next Premier. We’re not asking him to organize our weekend picnic, but rather organize systems that will drastically and immediately affect our lives. To many people, that means we need someone who is committed to helping others. Now who are these ‘others’ that I refer to? This is perhaps where, Mr. Ralph Lean and I might disagree- or perhaps not…

The type of leader we should be looking for is one who is committed to helping those who are the most vulnerable. In my humble opinion, that means our parents & grandparents, our toddlers, our sick and our poor. I’ll make those sweeping categorizations for the time being.

Now if you agree with my basic premise, that is, if you believe that a good leader ought to serve her most vulnerable populations, then please keep reading. If you don’t, you’re welcome to read, and learn something.

I’m sure Hudak is a good father, husband, neighbour and person. I’m sure if I met him, I would find him very likable. In fact, please don’t try and sell Tim Hudak based on a fact that he’s a “good guy” because frankly, that should be a prerequisite. I don’t want to know how many soccer games he has coached, I want to know what he is planning to do. I want to understand his policies. I want to get a sense of who inspires him and how he plans to help the most vulnerable people in our communities. Sadly, it’s only 30-something paragraphs later that we’re given a basic glimpse into this type of information. After rambling about Hudak’s likability factor, the article breezily mentions the fact that he consulted with right-wing extremists in the USA for economic advice. It also glosses over the fact that his ‘Million Jobs Plan’ is questionable and likely faulty, and that he plans to cut 100,000 civil servants.

At this crucial time, we don’t need any more distractions. We need to focus on finding a leader who is going to fight for the lowest common denominator and act as an advocate for those who have little to no voice. I don’t believe Tim Hudak is that man. Sure, he’s a nice guy. But good people don’t always make good leaders. But don’t take my word for it, read more about why millions are trying to Stop Hudak. As far as I can see,  His agenda, his platform, his slogans, convince me that he is far from helping (a) our seniors, (b) our little ones, (c) our sick and (d) our poor.

S.R.S.

Tim Hudak is smooth. A little too smooth.

Tim Hudak delivered a pretty smooth performance at the Ontario Leader’s Debate on Tuesday June 3. He sounded like he presented a strong economic plan that would create 1 million new jobs, balance the budget, fire 100,000 civil servants, and cut taxes for wealthy corporations. But I thought he was a little too smooth.

A key part of his campaign promise is to create 1 million new jobs in 8 years. And this sounds impressive, but it really isn’t a big promise. That’s because it’s been done before – twice. Between 1982 – 1990 and 1998 – 2006, Ontario added 1 million new jobs. The growth was more impressive back then because Ontario’s population was 10-20% smaller. And this growth had nothing to do with tax cuts.

Hudak says cutting corporation tax rates will provide companies with the cash to hire new employees. But will corporations really step up to the plate? Most of the evidence says that’s doubtful. First, corporate profits are already healthy and strong. But companies aren’t flooding the market with job ads. Who is to say whether these “savings” from the tax cuts will be used to line the pockets of upper management, or will be re-invested into hiring new staff members. Can Hudak guarantee this? Probably not.

In reality, corporations can do whatever they want with their money, including increase salaries and benefits for their senior executive team. Why should a part-time civil servant who makes $20 an hour lose their job so executives from a big corporation can award themselves with an undeserved bonus? This won’t stimulate the economy, unless Tim is focused on pumping the luxury goods market.

Another key plank in Hudak’s platform is to fire 100,000 provincial civil servants to balance the budget. But many researchers and economists don’t believe his cuts to the civil service will provide him with enough money to balance the budget. He will have to cut more – a lot more. Naturally, Hudak didn’t want to expand on this during the debate. Deep cuts in health, education and social services will be needed to pay for his corporate tax cuts.

Throughout the debate Hudak promised over and over again that he wouldn’t cut spending on essential services Ontarians rely on, like healthcare and education. Hudak made an emotional speech about the support his autistic daughter receives from our education system. But under Tim’s plan, many autistic programs would be shut down or seriously downsized. What makes an autistic program strong are qualified teachers and teaching assistants who can supervise these special needs students. You can buy all the textbooks in the world but you need people to supervise and teach.

One big concern I did have about the debate was how there was little discussion on healthcare. None of the party leaders discussed the importance of protecting our publicly-funded, universal healthcare system. Even though Hudak has promised not to cut health funding or staff, his former boss Mike Harris made the same promise and ended up closing 28 hospitals. Wynne and Horwath should have forced Hudak to address this issue.

Hopefully, with a week left before Ontarians go to the polls, voters should take a good, hard look at Hudak’s slick and smooth presentation. They need to know his economic plan doesn’t add up. He won’t create a million new jobs. Instead, he will probably create incredible turbulence for millions of Ontarians.

G.A.D.