Canadian Budget January 2009

Sent to: The Hon. Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, Ottawa, ON

Dear Mr. Flaherty:

I hear that you are consulting widely prior to finalizing your budget proposals. I trust that you are giving adequate consideration to two groups of people: those whose life experiences and convictions are different from your own; and those who know poverty.

For at least the past thirty years I have been reading periodically that the poverty gap has been growing in real terms. Typically the information has stated that the 20% with the highest incomes have seen their average incomes rise by 20% or more over a 10 or 20 year period, while the incomes of the lowest 20% have remained the same or have dropped during the same period. This in spite of a unanimous resolution by the Commons to abolish poverty in Canada.

The numbers of the homeless have been growing in recent years. Many of these people are employable; many others are marginally so, but with proper support systems can become contributing members of society. More and more people – employed, underemployed and unemployed – are resorting to food banks, in a time when increasing numbers of us are financially unable to contribute to such voluntary organizations.

In the rural society of fifty years ago, we knew our neighbors and often cared for the needy through informal ways, and an unskilled or marginally employable person might contribute by tending a garden, chopping firewood or doing housework. Today, in our urban society in which we don’t always know those next to us, we have to organize and depend on government (at various levels) to support the needy.

Conditions on many Indian reserves have improved somewhat in recent generations, but the rates of unemployment, addiction, incarceration and suicide are still far higher than in the near-by majority communities. Settling of land claims proceeds tragically slowly, and industry takes advantage by developing on disputed land. The very progressive Kelowna Accord was garbaged by the Conservative government.

The average income of women who are working fulltime is still less than 70% of that for men; the situation has improved only slightly over several decades. Many single mothers are unable to get an education and so improve their lot, care adequately for their children and contribute fully to society; and another generation grows up, often ill equipped and disadvantaged.

Employment insurance has been largely decimated in recent years. We have heard recently of a couple, both of whom had lost their jobs, in despair and hopelessness entering into a murder and suicide pact; four lives were lost. I wonder whether these people would be alive today if EI had been maintained at the 1980 level.

I wonder also how many people have been robbed of the ability to contribute fully to society by the financial starvation of our educational and health care institutions and counseling services. We deplete our resources by our neglect.

In the meantime, we have more millionaires and billionaires than ever, taking more and more expensive junkets to distant places, and receiving exorbitant bonuses in addition to huge salaries. Surely no CEO needs to make more than fifty times the salary of his most humble employee. Such exploitation is tantamount to robbery and should be prohibited by law.

I am well aware of the need for a concentration of wealth and power if the wheels of industry are to rotate adequately. But surely such concentration can be achieved by other means. I am also aware that our largest trading partner – the elephant with us in the bed – does not have the levels of social programs that Canada has, and therefore is hard to compete with.

I do not have the knowledge and understanding to make concrete suggestions in this field, but I understand that there are some who do; that some world famous economists, such as Jeffrey Sachs, believe that we have the resources to feed the hungry and abolish starvation and save the planet, if only we have the political will. Over the years I have read recommendations by the Canadian Council of Policy Alternatives and other such bodies that criticize our system and make suggestions that sound good to me. And I am aware that about a dozen denominations of the Christian Churches in Canada cooperate in “Kairos”, an organization that studies and promotes social justice.

I am also aware that in Denmark, a land that does not have the extremes of wealth and poverty that Canada has, the population has recently declared its satisfaction with its country by a higher margin than any other population in the world, including Canada. (A well known Danish patriotic song, written about 200 years ago, holds up as an ideal a society in which “few have too much and fewer still too little.”)

I deplore the assumption that we have to bribe millionaires to get them to do their job. That is a shaky foundation for a society; witness the present economic depression.

We need to ensure that the most vulnerable are not made to bear the costs of the depression and of the mistakes and greed of the wealthy.

Sincerely yours,
Flemming Holm

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