For the majority of Canadians and Québecois who don’t support the protesters in Québec, the morality of the situation is obvious: the province, like the rest of the country, is strapped for money right now and simply can’t afford to keep subsidizing tuition at the current rate. Our health care system is falling apart, the retirement age is rising, social programs and benefits are being cut left and right, and our cash starved universities need to increasingly rely on harassing alumni and begging rich people in order to barely keep up with the latest equipment and to maintain their facilities.
And while everyone else is sharing the pain, the self-centered, entitled students of Québec, who have been enjoying the lowest tuition in all of North America (frozen since 1995), simply refuse to pitch in and pay their fair share in the form of a $1625 a year increase that would still leave them with the second cheapest tuition on the continent after Newfoundland.
“Life is a grind,” as my young, anti-protester friend said to me on the street recently. Rising fees and deteriorating services are a law of nature. “You can’t just expect to get things for free!”
This begs an important question:
Why is it that in a country whose wealth has more than doubled since the Medical Care Act first established universal public health care in 1966, we no longer seem to be able to afford the social programs (including low tuition) that worked so well into the mid 1990’s?
Doubled in wealth? Watchoutalkinboutwillis?
Seeing that most of us work more hours and have more debt than we did in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s, we might not feel wealthier, but according to standard economic measures, Canada’s wealth, relative to population has indeed doubled since then.
The wealth of a society is most often measured in terms of GDP per capita. As defined by the OECD website, “GDP per capita measures economic activity or income per person and is one of the core indicators of economic performance as well as a rough measure of average living standards or economic well-being.”
As you can see from Statistics Canada’s inflation adjusted graph below, our GDP per capita is about 260% what it was in 1960 and 160% of what it was in 1980.
Similarly, the value of the stock market has also about doubled since 1980. According to this Financial Post survey of Canadian “Stocks through the ages,” the TSX was at about 2000 in 1980, whereas now, even with the recent downturn, it’s almost at 12,000 (down from almost 15,000 before the downturn) . Adjusted for inflation, that’s double what it was.
In the same period, labour productivity, which means the amount of wealth workers create per hour (typically measured in real GDP per hour worked) has also been rising continually, up about 70% since 1980 (adjusted for inflation).
Tuition increases? Crumbling health care system? Where’s my public dental care program? Where’s my 20 hour workweek? Where’s my publicly funded purple Cadillac with solid gold fenders? Why aren’t we providing students with a place to live, free daycare and regular meals like they do in Norway (at the onerous cost of $70 per semester) so that students can actually pay attention to their studies instead of wasting 20 hours a week at part-time jobs, the way 40% of Québec students now do, to the detriment of their grades (and to the detriment of their competence as our future professionals)?
Why is it that more than twice as many university students now work while studying, than did in the late 70’s, when our GDP per capita was half of what it is now? Why do they have to work twice as many hours as they did back then? Half of them live on less than $12,200 a year, and half of those on less than $7,400. These are the “overwhelmingly middle to upper-middle class” Québec students, few who of whom “will ever have to stint on mochaccinos, or work with their hands,” as one overpaid and under-informed bag of transcribed gas recently described them.
Again, WTF? Why is this happening?
Is it because an aging population and the rapidly rising costs of health care technology have put a strain on costs and revenues in ways that weren’t envisioned when our social programs were created? That’s certainly a factor, yet other countries with much more generous welfare states have been adapting with their services, free tuition, and robust economies intact.
So what’s our problem?
Our problem is that for the last 20+ years, instead of adapting our welfare state to the globalized economy and to our changing demographic realities, successive federal and provincial governments have chosen to engage in a reckless orgy of corporate tax cuts, effectively condemning our social programs to a slow death by starvation. Our personal income taxes and sales taxes simply can’t fill the gaping hole in the budget. As a result, we can no longer afford to even maintain, nevermind improve healthcare, education or any of the other programs which make Canada such a nice place to live.
Worse, when we run budget surpluses, instead of using the money to repair our deteriorating health care system, or to re-fund our universities, Liberal and Conservative governments alike, use the surpluses as an excuse for more tax cuts, insuring that our programs will get worse and worse; slowly enough so that we don’t take to the streets, but surely enough that we will be resigned to accept that the only solution is more privatization and tuition increases.
In 1960 the federal corporate tax rate was 41% (see p11 of source document). In 2000 it was 28% (p14). Successive liberal and conservative governments have steadily hacked it down to the 2012 Harper budget low of 15%. In the early 1960’s, corporate income taxes made up 20% of federal tax revenues; by 2008‐2009, their share had fallen to 12.6% (p14). As mentioned above it continues to fall with every budget.
A CCPA study of the biggest Canadian publicly traded corporations found that while they made 50% more profits in 2009 than they did in 2000, they paid out 20% less in taxes to the federal and provincial governments than they had in 2000. To be clear we’re talking net amount paid, not percentage of income; so if you’re the Burpsi Cola Corporation and you made $1000 of profit in 2000 and you paid $100 in taxes, by 2009 you were making $1500 and paying only $80 in taxes. On the whole, corporations now pay out $18 billion less now in taxes than they did in 2000 even though profits are way up as discussed earlier.
As Journal de Montréal writer Léo-Paul Lauzon noted in his May 22nd blog, in 1963 corporations paid 55% of all taxes in Canada compared to 18% in 2011. Similarly, corporations paid 38% of taxes in Québec in 1963, down to a shameful 11% last year.
Not surprisingly, while corporate tax revenues keep spinning clockwise down our toilets along with the money we use to pay for social programs, average tuition in Canada keeps rising to compensate:
Note that it’s not a fact of life that everything magically gets worse and worse with time. Tuition was actually going down (first tuition chart, top curve, which is inflation adjusted), back in the 70’s and 80’s, when Canadians actually expected something from life besides a downward grind.
This is what we’ve come to: whereas free tuition in Ontario, the highest tuition province in the country, would only cost each Ontarian $170 a year, each Ontarian is instead going to give away $500 a year to corporations in the form of new tax cuts – tax cuts which cost ten times more in lost revenue than what they generate in business investment.
In addition, while falling corporate taxes have been shifting the tax burden onto our personal income taxes, various changes in our tax system (such as heavier reliance on sales taxes) have further shifted the burden of paying for civilization away from the highest income earners, and onto poor and middle-income schlubs who need to borrow more money and work more hours while going to school and have more nervous breakdown so that we can work harder for longer hours and earn more profits for our entitled, whiny, corporate aristocracy.
As you hopefully already know, wealthy countries normally have what is called progressive taxation, which means that the more money you earn, the higher percentage of your income you pay in taxes. That’s how our own income tax system is set up. However, once you factor in all the other taxes like sales tax, property taxes, payroll taxes, inheritance taxes, etc, taxation starts to drop at the top 5% level. Between 1990 and 2005, the tax rates for the top 1% of income earners dropped four percentage points, while tax rates for the bottom 10% increased by more than five percentage points. By now total rates of taxes paid are 30.7% at the bottom of the income spectrum to 36.5% in the middle and back down to 30.5% for the top 1% of families. (p11). In other words, the top 1% have an overall lower tax rate than the poorest Canadians.
This is one of the reasons why most of you don’t feel twice as wealthy as you did in the 1980’s – our country as a whole is, but you’re not – most of the gains have been swallowed up by our wealthiest citizens. The other reason is the exploding cost of living in a Canadian city.
Naturally, the worse services get, the more people resent paying taxes for garbage dysfunctional social programs, particularly the wealthiest people who pay most of the taxes, and who can afford to buy functional private services. Corporations and their media bullhorns egg on this tax resentment because it spills over into more public tolerance for corporate tax cuts. Thus, our personal income taxes have also eroded over time so that we now pay $38 billion less in income taxes than we did in 2000, when our population was smaller.
Make no mistake, these were not inevitable changes, forced upon our governments by the realities of “globalization”. As Linda McQuaig documented in The Cult of Impotence: the Myth of Powerlessness in the Global Economy, in the mid 1990’s, under intense high school style peer pressure from the cool kids in the financial sector and the corporate bullhorn media, our hopelessly spineless and out of touch government deliberately decided to restructure our country and slowly destroy our social programs under the guise of saving us from a wildly exaggerated debt crisis. Even a study by Goldman-Sachs commissioned at the time by the federal government (and then quickly hidden from the public and the press) had concluded that Canada did not have a serious debt problem, did not need to cut social services, and could have easily eliminated its deficit by reducing unemployment instead (see McQuaig p97).
The proof is in the pudding. I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief in 1997, when the Liberals announced that the annual deficit was eliminated and the government was running surpluses. Finally, our health care and education systems would be restored to their former states. I then remember the complete shock and disbelief I felt when Paul Martin decided not to restore full funding to health care or education, but to waste the surpluses on … you guessed it: more tax cuts. Tax cuts which guaranteed that those services would never be properly funded again. I remember reading the newspapers and feeling like I was living in Orwell’s 1984; unanimous praise for the tax cuts and said nothing about the fact that the Chrétien government had initially told us that they were slashing our programs in order to save them once the deficit had been tackled.
And there you have it. That’s the hidden context of the Québec tuition struggle and of the continuing deterioration of Canada’s social programs. The students’ struggle is indeed our struggle too.
Strange that I’ve heard scraggly Québecois students who make $8,000 a year and don’t yet have university degrees talk about some of these issues, but I haven’t read anything about it from all the well-educated and well paid columnists in the National Post, the Gazette, the Journal de Montreal, La Presse, MacLean’s or The Globe and Mail. Kudos to Le Devoir, the more intellectual Québec daily which has been bewailing Canada’s neoliberal (undemocratic, corporate and investor-led) turn since the very beginning.
So pay your fair share you lazy, selfish, entitled, self-serving, spoiled, entitled, rich, terrorist, Satan worshipping, entitled, parasitic Québecois students! Work 30 hours a week (as 18% of them already do) while going to school full-time instead of 20! Borrow more money so that your future corporate employers can make 50% more profit off of the skills you acquired from the education that they no longer want to contribute to! And why should they? They know that higher education is now a necessity and that you’ll get yourself into $24,000 of debt or more to get one because most of you have no other choice. Accept that life is a grind, and that it only gets worse over time, unless you’re upper-middle class, wealthy, or a corporation! Give up and roll over dead like the rest of us!
High five Rest-of-Canada for telling Québecers how foolish we are! Chest-bump to the corporate owned media and to your opinion columnists who are about as well-informed and curious about the world they live in as a drunk in a movie theater yelling at the screen right before throwing up. Extra special thanks to you for encouraging us to project our anger at our deteriorating standard of living onto those lazy French barbarians instead of onto the job creating, magnificent corporations that hire you to transcribe your thoughtless and hypocritical belches in printed form.
The good news in all of this is that according to a poll by Environics Research commissioned by the Broadbent institute, the public is firmly against all of this. According to the survey, 64% of Canadians, including a majority of wealthy Canadians, are willing to pay more in taxes to protect our social programs. Things have gotten so bad that even 58% of Conservative voters feel the same way. 73% want to return the federal corporate tax rate to its 2008 level of 20%, which was part of Jack Layton’s 2011 campaign platform. 83% want to increase taxes on the wealthiest.
Meanwhile a recent Ekos poll finds that 60% of Canadians would vote for a party that would raise taxes on the rich vs. one that pledged not to raise taxes at all. Given the strain on provincial budgets, the federal government is having trouble convincing the provinces to reduce their corporate tax rates any further than they already have to reach Stephen Harper’s goal of a 25% combined federal/provincial rate. Not surprisingly, the NDP is currently surging in the polls, and would form a minority government were an election held today.
In other words, a large majority of Canadians already support the cause of the Québec protesters. They just don’t realize it yet. The media has been preventing them from seeing the context, painting the students rather than corporate Canada as the whiny entitled babies who are burdening the rest of us by not paying thier fair share. The student unions have also remained too focused on tuition in Québec and the Loi 78, and have not done enough to link their struggle to the struggles of the rest of the country.
Fortunately, that’s already starting to change. As I’ve been noticing every night at 8pm, the nightly casserole protests that are happening in neighbourhoods (and even suburbs!) across the province are mostly made up of adults in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and their little kids (vs the massive student protests that start at parc Émilie-Gamelin every night). Meanwhile a little bit of context is starting to appear amidst the sea of rabid anti-civilization hysteria in the op-ed pages. Inspired by our assertiveness, and by the fact that 62% of students across the country say they would join a similar strike in their own provinces, student unions in Ontario are preparing to strike as well.
It’s time for us to get onto our facebooks and tweeters and emails and facetimes and skypes and let our friends and relatives who aren’t aware of the context of the tuition hikes know why all of this is happening, and why they should join in if they care about their health care and their retirement and their education. It’s time for CLASSE and FEUQ and FECQ to ramp up their demands and broaden their base of support by insisting on a small raise in the corporate tax rate; not only to help fund universities but also to hire more doctors to alleviate the severe GP shortage and hospital waiting times. It’s time to re-open the debate about globalization and the welfare state which was aborted in Canada in the mid-90’s by our hysterical and hypocritical pundit and political classes
So get out your pots and pans Canada. Get to know your neighbours and start banging away with them to protest the unnecessary and non-consensual destruction of our welfare state. Protest rising tuition. Protest the shameful state of our healthcare system. Protest the $160 million in cuts that were just announced for Montreal hospitals. Protest the atrocious bill c-38 which among other things guts environmental protections, lowers corporate taxes and raises the retirement age to 67.
Realize that millions of other Canadians feel the way you do, and that as Québec’s government is about to demonstrate, governments do give in to popular pressure, even ones as out of touch as those of Charest and Harper.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to protest the garbage corporate mouthpiece media who’ve been encouraging you to vent your legitimate frustrations onto the people who are standing up for their rights so that you don’t join them in protecting your own