Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 8, 2000
Circus draws more attention than bread
Over 6,000 concerned people filled the Agricom building on April 16 to register their displeasure over Bill 11. A small crowd, you might say, compared to the throng who were watching millionaires slap a puck across the ice in the playoffs next door in the Coliseum.
Given the choice between bread and a circus, it seems that the circus wins almost every time. But even the national passion is suffering attendance problems as folks begin to turn their attention to the real world.
Hockey clubs threaten to pull out of Alberta unless they can sell several thousand more season tickets. Another lottery scheme is planned to bail out the glacial gladiators.
So, what should we save? Our national pastime or our national health care? A growing number of Albertans have come to the conclusion that defending universal public health care is perhaps more indicative of our Canadian values than supporting privately owned stables of bought, sold and traded athletes.
"The battle of Alberta," suggested Peter Mansbridge the other day, "is not between the Flames and the Oilers, but is being waged in the legislature between the people and the government."
The first days of Holy Week had all the makings of a holy war in progress. The galleries and rotunda of the Legislative building filled to overflowing. Another circus? Perhaps.
All our political debates in legislatures and parliaments display elements of a three-ring circus. This time however there is some anticipation the ringmaster will don the leotards and walk the tightrope between what is right and what is simply right wing. The question is whether his past popularity will provide him with enough of a safety net.
And that brings us back to what all the hoopla is about. The post-war social programs were meant to bolster policies of full employment and at the same time deal with a wide range of society's casualties through old age security and unemployment insurance (1952), disability pensions (1958), medicare and social assistance (1966).
Overall spending on health, education and social security rose from around eight per cent in 1950 to 23 per cent of GDP in 1975. And then it declined.
It used to be, in the good old times, that the state managed the economy ensuring a reasonable distribution of wealth. Now, with galloping deregulation, the economy manages the state. The gross domestic product reveals nothing about the distribution.
And so it is that we are discovering in Canada what they have known for decades in places like Brazil, that the economy can be healthy while the people suffer.
A recent study revealed that poverty levels in Canada have risen by 32 per cent in the last five years for which figures are available. Yet we are told that the economy is strong and unemployment is down.
As in Brazil, the gap between those who benefit from the economy and those who are its victims is widening.
There have been other widening rifts. From 1950 to 1984 corporate tax dropped from 28 per cent of government revenues to 15 per cent while personal income tax doubled from 24 to 48 per cent of revenues.
A deliberate attempt was made by the government, media and business lobby to associate this higher tax burden with the cost of maintaining social programs. From 1985 to 1990 the middle class was taxed 10 times as fast as corporations, while the tax on high income earners dropped to a third of the 1970 level, not to speak of legal loopholes to allow tax havens for the very rich in the Cayman Islands.
Canadians no longer believe the poor should be blamed for their poverty and must therefore suffer the consequences. Perhaps the Bill 11 protests constitute a turning of the tide.
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