It wasn’t one of her three big ideas to improve health care, but it was a brief moment of brilliance.
During Monday’s RamsayTalks at the University of Toronto, Dr. Danielle Martin had just been asked by the Rotman School’s Mark Stabile how she would achieve her goal to expand public drug coverage when there was a declining appetite for deficits or taxes.
Her initial comment was “please, somebody tax me.” Given the creation of Doctors for Fair Taxation (their link is on the right) that part of the message is not entirely new nor is it a surprise that Martin would say it. It was the phrase that followed that was far more interesting: “I think our country is worth it.”
At that moment it sounded warmly nostalgic.
Conservatives like Stephen Harper and Tim Hudak want us to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. “Worth” just doesn’t come into play.
Conservatives like to wrap themselves all around the flag and the military. They talk about the ultimate sacrifice young men and women pay with their lives to preserve our freedom. Yet when we ask them to simply pay taxes so that no Canadian is left behind in our economy, well the hypocrisy becomes self-evident. Young people are expected to give up their lives. Conservatives will only grudgingly part with their silver.
A few weeks ago we had lunch with Alex Himelfarb who suggested we need to start reclaiming some of this terminology. The highest ranking civil servant in Ottawa under three different Prime Ministers, Himelfarb said that it bothers him to hear neo-conservatives talk about freedom. When a government leaves so many of its citizens in poverty, without a job and without a future, what freedom of choice do these citizens really have? It is government itself that has the capacity to give them choice.
The wealthy will always have freedom and choice. In this election Tim Hudak is selling anything but freedom. We’re told there is no choice but to cut 100,000 jobs. There is no choice but to undermine our unions. There is no choice but to balance the budget in two years. How do these Conservatives equate “freedom” with their mantra of no choice? It is the opposite of freedom.
We’re told the middle class feels hard-done-by despite the significant taxes that have already been cut. Economist Hugh MacKenzie regularly reminds us that tax cuts have already removed $17 billion annually from the provincial treasury. That too means less choice in solving our many problems. If $17 billion has been given back, why is it so many feel they are not getting ahead?
Aside from stagnant real wages (except at the top), this may also come back to the question of value and worth. Mackenzie quantified the value of public services in a 2009 study appropriately called Canada’s Quiet Bargain. He concluded that the average per capita benefit from public services in 2006 amounted to $16,952. About 56 per cent of that benefit comes from health care, education and personal transfer payments. For households in the $80,000 to $90,000 income bracket, the benefit they receive from public services is equal to about half their income.
Later that same year Mackenzie argued that if Stephen Harper had transferred 2 per cent of the HST to the municipalities — rather than simply cut it — about 80 per cent of Canadians would have benefited. You might not be facing quite the number of pot holes this spring.
Government by its very nature is redistributive. If we look at rising inequality and all the social ills that come with it, it is because we are feeding that inequality through cuts to public services.
Monday night Dr. Martin showed us the possibilities of what we can accomplish with very little real investment.
Surprisingly despite the suggestion by Mark Stabile that Canadians are tapped out when it comes to taxes, our own polling shows otherwise when clear goals can be attached to that revenue.
Even Rob Ford was willing to tax Torontonians to pay for a Scarborough subway.
Polling also shows us Ontarians would pay more to get better access to quality health care.
Next time somebody calls for a tax cut, shouldn’t we question both their commitment to this country and what those taxes are worth to our families?
Is Ontario worth it? We think so.
Thank you Danielle. Thank you Alex.
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