Thursday, November 03, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Community Food Centres Canada highlights the need for social assistance benefits to keep up with the cost of living, while noting that Ontario (among other jurisdictions) has fallen well behind in that task:
It's been far too long since social assistance rates have been viewed through the lens of whether anyone can actually survive with dignity on them. Under Mike Harris's "Common Sense Revolution," social assistance rates were slashed by 21.6 per cent based on no criteria other than that government should spend less, that people deserved less, and that this approach would resonate with the public. Since then, rates have only inched up by tiny increments, never reaching anything close to what they were before the cuts.

In 2009, staff at The Stop Community Food Centre developed an online calculator as part of their Do the Math campaign. The campaign called for the public to input into the calculator the minimum amount of money they'd need to cover basic living expenses each. On average, people estimated that a single person in Ontario would need $1,400 to make it through the month -- more than double what people on social assistance actually receive, and still far below the poverty line.
At Community Food Centres Canada, our concern starts with food and food insecurity. But we understand something that governments of recent years have not acknowledged -- that food is intimately linked with all other budget items. The calculation of social assistance rates has to take into account the cost of housing, food and all other personal needs. Because when there's not enough money, food is the first to go. And when people go without food or turn to food banks, their health and well-being takes a serious hit.

We should care about this simply out of a sense of justice and empathy, of course, but there are also economic consequences: the University of Toronto's PROOF project on household food insecurity has estimated that health-care costs for food-insecure people are between 76 per cent and 121 per cent higher than those of adults who are food secure.

We applaud the fact that the Liberal government has a number of initiatives aimed at improving income security in Ontario, including a promising basic income pilot. But planning for and implementing this pilot will take time. The government needs to act now to fix a fundamental gap in the social assistance system, and help Ontario's poorest residents. We've been beggaring too many of our fellow citizens for too long, preventing them from having their basic needs met at a vulnerable time in their lives, and therefore from having a good shot at healthy and successful futures. Where is the common decency -- or common sense -- in that?
- Marc Lee makes the case for a progressive property tax as a first step toward putting idle wealth to work in the public interest. And Mark Leier reviews George Lakey's Viking Economics as setting out a useful model for a more equitable society.

- Preston Mulligan reports that Nova Scotia is paying $85.9 million to buy schools previously leased under a P3 model after a first-hand lesson in the costs of privatization. And D.C. Fraser reports on the Saskatchewan NDP's rightful observation that the Wall government's apparent plans to privatize Crowns would result in substantial revenue leakage to the federal government.

- Fiona Harvey points out that the greenhouse gas emission reductions promised at Paris fall far short of actually reaching the goal of avoiding catastrophic global warming. And Keith Stewart discusses the futility of Justin Trudeau's attempts to stay on the fence when it comes to fully tackling climate change. 

- Finally, Laurel Collins notes that the Libs' attempts to downplay broad support for proportional representation are contradicted by the strong views expressed through their electoral reform consultation process. And Marie-Danielle Smith reports on Maryam Monsef's admission that she and the Libs are carrying a preference on a new electoral model which may bear no resemblance to what's acceptable to the public or to other political actors.

1 comment:

  1. The progressive property tax is a great idea, but it would be foolish to define it in terms of homes' dollar value. The federal NDP got creamed on that when they floated an estate tax a few years ago; their intent was to add a surtax to the top 1% or so of estates, but it was readily spun as potentially hitting lots of people just bequeathing a personal residence, because they defined it as a certain dollar size of estate and property prices were rising. And indeed that could well have ended up happening if it had been enacted, because property prices in some places really have reached the point where average detached homes cost more than the amount they defined.

    No, if you're going to do something like that, define the tax explicitly in terms of what percentage of homes different rates will apply to. X% surtax on top 5% of homes, 2X% surtax on top 1% of homes or whatever. Make it inflation-proof, deflation-proof, and make it absolutely clear to the majority just how small the minority is that you're soaking; both a better policy AND far harder to spin. Municipalities already gather the data so it won't be hard to regularly calculate the value of the cutoffs involved.