Last month’s federal budget explicitly recognized the problem of inequality, but despite the prime minister’s election commitment to close tax loopholes available to the rich, the budget did nothing to address the issue.
Mr. Trudeau had his chance to deliver. Instead of removing the stock option loophole and raising the rate on capital gains, in the face of opposition from the rich, he backed down. He chickened out.
Inequality matters. Promises must be kept. It’s not enough for our government to celebrate the diversity of our country but not enact policies that head off growing inequality. Mr. Trudeau, it’s time to deliver.
The underlying causes that produced the harsh politics of resentment and exclusion in the United Kingdom before Brexit, and in the recent U.S. election, are stirring here at home. According to a recent EKOS poll, the percentage of Canadians who identify themselves as middle class has dropped from 67 per cent to 46 per cent. And 70 per cent of Canadians believe – quite accurately – that almost all recent economic growth has gone to the top one per cent. Almost 60 per cent of Canadians said that they would not be surprised if violence broke out unless inequality was addressed.
This accurate perception of unfairness, that some make great gains but most do not, undermines democracy. As the statistics suggest, many Canadians feel the sense of alienation from the political process and from the economic system, which has fuelled the rise of the nationalist and intolerant political right around the world: Donald Trump in the U.S., UKIP in the UK, and the Front National in France.
But let’s be clear: the reactionary politics practised by Trump and his kind are also, in no small part, in response to their discomfort with the kind of important progress that activists have recently achieved, for example on gender and environmental issues.
As Tommy Douglas used to say: “We must never underestimate our opponents; nor should we forget that the closer we come to reaching our objectives, the more vicious and forthright will their opposition become.”
I’ve always believed, whether in hockey or in politics, that the best defence is a good offence. We must not settle for simply defending those progressive gains that we’ve already achieved. We need to keep pushing back. And keep pushing forward.
We Canadians must renew our commitment to a more equal society to head off the spreading of disenchantment with its resultant intolerance and nativism. Sadly, like our neighbours to the south, we too are seeing a rise of hateful acts. We are witnessing the stirring up of intolerance by certain Conservative leadership candidates. And in January, the vicious rhetoric of hate and Islamophobia became tragically real in Sainte-Foy with the murder of six people targeted simply for being Muslim.
Our country is not immune to a radical right wing fanning intolerance and hate. We cannot be complacent. We cannot be anesthetized by a government narrative of how inclusive we are, a story at odds with the lived experience of so many Canadians.
We need to change the game. And we have a longstanding injustice to address.
At this moment of Canada’s 150th birthday, it’s important to remember that our history goes back much further. And that the hard work of reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians has only just begun. It will take more than words. It will take deeds.
It’s not right to speak a good line about Indigenous rights but not invest in the future of Indigenous children. We need to get serious about reconciliation.
We have a ways to go, but we should never lose sight of the path we have travelled already. And of those who made it possible. As sure as the buildings of Parliament rest on the layers of great sandstone blocks, the layers of our democracy have been created by the perseverance and imagination of talented politicians, activists and movements.
A country’s true worth is not measured by how it enables the few but by how it provides for the many. Our country needs all the restless, creative energy we can bring to bear to create a brighter future.