An Open Letter to Andrew Saxton, MP

Dear Mr. Saxton MP, (Conservative, North Vancouver)

On Tuesday, March 25, we accompanied a large group from Leadnow and The Council of Canadians delivering our “Let People Vote” petition to your North Vancouver office. (A) Our petition included over 80,000 names of Canadians, many whom are outraged with the very UNfair Elections Act that your party is trying to ram through our parliament. While there is a lot wrong with what your party is proposing in this particular bill, our petitions are specifically asking your party to remove the parts of the new elections law that would suppress voting by young people, Aboriginal people and low-income people.

Dropping off the petition, March 25

Photo by John-Ward Leighton

wheelbarrow of petitions

So there we were Mr. Saxton, en masse to hand deliver our wheelbarrow full of names to you.  We took the time from our own busy day to come in person. We understand you were in Ottawa and we were sorry to have missed you. However, as a courtesy to you we had phoned ahead to let your office know we were coming yet you were unable to return the courtesy by having someone there to hear us out.  We wonder, Mr Saxton, did you help your staff to plan an extended lunch break that day?  

Photo by John-Ward Leighton

As no one was at your office to speak with us so that we simply had to leave our petition on the floor of your office, we are writing this letter to tell you what we were unable to tell you or your staff in person. We want you to know sir, that as Canadian citizens we continue to be outraged. We are outraged at the arrogant stance that you and your party are taking in your refusal to listen to what we Canadians are saying about Bill C-23.Your colleague, Mr Poilievre,  MP (Conservative, Nepean-Carleton) has refused to listen to or consult with non-partizan electoral experts such as Harry Neufeld (B), or even the chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand (C). Political science scholars across the country and even from abroad are writing to your party to express their grave concern with regards to what this act would mean for democracy in Canada and yet you march on, pretending that somehow this bill will make our elections more fair. (D) (E) Shame on you Mr. Saxton for being a part of this scam. Shame on you.

protest

Photograph by: Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

Since your office was closed Mr. Saxton, we also decided to visit your website to see what you had to report to Canadians on the very important matter of your party’s plan to fundamentally and unilaterally diminish our democracy; to see what you had to say about how  your party has re-written our election laws to dis-enfranchise thousands of Canadian Citizens; and to understand how you could justify having done so without consulting any of our respected electoral experts, scholars, provinces or citizens. Apparently democracy isn’t important enough for you, Mr Saxton, to open your doors, nor important enough to communicate to your constituents through your website. We used your own search engine Mr. Saxton – there was not one single occurrence of the “Fair Elections Act” on your website. Perhaps we should have searched for “UnFair Elections Act”?

Saxton web search

Photo by Jackie DeRoo

Our message to you Mr. Saxton is this – be assured that we will remember that your website was silent and your doors were locked when we came to discuss our concerns with you. You cannot pull the wool over our eyes. Canadians will vote on election day and weigh in on your refusal to listen to the people of this country.

Sincerely,

Three Inconvenient Citizens,

Jackie DeRoo, Eoin Finn and Betty Gilgoff

cc:

References:

(A) “Protestors Decry Election Act Changes,” By Brent Richter, North Shore News, March 28, 2014, 12:00 AM. http://www.nsnews.com/news/protesters-decry-elections-act-changes-1.931649

(B) “MPs pass Fair Elections Act, Opposition Demand Changes,” By Jessica Hume, Toronto Sun, First Posted: Monday, February 10, 2014 10:43 PM EST, Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 10:51 PM EST.  http://www.torontosun.com/2014/02/10/mps-pass-fair-elections-act-opposition-demand-changes

(C) “Election chief Marc Mayrand fears Canadians could be denied vote,” By Laura Payton, CBC News,  Mar 06, 2014 10:48 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 06, 2014 8:29 PM ET. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/election-chief-marc-mayrand-fears-canadians-could-be-denied-vote-1.2562153

(D) “Don’t undermine Elections Canada,” National Post, March 11, 2014, Last Updated: Mar 12 7:07 PM ET. http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/03/11/dont-undermine-elections-canada/

(E) “Fair Elections Act sure to deprive Canadians of voting rights, U.S. experts warn,” By Alexander Panetta, Canadian Press, National Post,  February 16, 2014 11:17 AM ET. http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/02/16/fair-elections-act-sure-to-deprive-canadians-of-voting-rights-u-s-experts-warn/

 

 

 

Help Is On the Way If You Get On Board

I have rarely been a member of any political party, at least until last year when I realized what wonderful work Elizabeth May was doing on behalf of all Canadians and so I joined the Green Party. But that was last year. As of this month I am no longer a Green Party member.

Elizabeth May is still amazing but she needs help. She can’t save us alone. Our country and our environment need help.  Most importantly, right now until March 3rd we have a very unique opportunity to offer that help but we all need to get on board. Rick Mercer perhaps says it best, with levity, in his rant about the Liberal Leadership Race:

What Rick Mercer doesn’t talk about is the benefits for Canada in supporting Joyce Murray’s campaign as it fits well with the urgent care that Canada needs for our democracy, sustainability and stewardship of the environment. I’m pretty new to this whole political scene as an activist. More on that is coming in future posts but right now I’m motivated and excited by what Joyce Murray is offering up by way of creating some real change for Canada.

Many of us already know that our democratic system is not representing Canadians well enough. That Stephen Harper could have been elected as Prime Minister of Canada with a majority government with less than 40% of the popular vote, and with less than 23% of those eligible to vote actually voting for him, is just wrong. The system needs to change and it needs to change fast before this government, or quite frankly, any other government with a minority-earned-majority continues to follow the self interest of so few, ignoring the need for a more just, sustainable and equitable society.

As Rick Mercer says, this may well be a one time opportunity. Sure, one needs to sign up to the Liberal Party, but only as a supporter. One does not need to join and it costs no money. Any one of us can still be free to join any party after the Liberal Leadership election. To be eligible as a supporter one only needs to meet very limited criteria. This includes the following:

  • either be a member of the Party or
  • (a) be at least 18 years of age;
  • (b) support the purposes of the Party;
  • (c) be qualified as an elector who may vote in accordance with part 11 of the Canada Elections Act or ordinarily lives in Canada; and
  • (d) not be a member of any other federal political party in Canada.

The Liberal Party purposes are a little less clear. The web site for registering asks one to agree to what is essentially the preamble of the Liberal Party of Canada constitution. It states the following principles but I had to assume they are the purposes I am required to agree to:

The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to the view that the dignity of each individual man and woman is the cardinal principle of democratic society and the primary purpose of all political organization and activity in such a society.

The Liberal Party of Canada is dedicated to the principles that have historically sustained the Party: individual freedom, responsibility and human dignity in the framework of a just society, and political freedom in the framework of meaningful participation by all persons. The Liberal Party is bound by the constitution of Canada and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is committed to the pursuit of equality of opportunity for all persons, to the enhancement of our unique and diverse cultural community, to the recognition that English and French are the official languages of Canada, and to the preservation of the Canadian identity in a global society.

In accordance with this philosophy, the Liberal Party of Canada subscribes to the fundamental rights and freedoms of persons under the rule of law and commits itself to the protection of these essential values and their constant adaptation to the changing needs of modern Canadian society.

The Liberal Party of Canada recognizes that human dignity in a democratic system requires that all citizens have access to full information concerning the policies and leadership of the Party; the opportunity to participate in open and public assessment of such means, and such modifications of policies and leadership as  they deem desirable to promote the political, economic, social, cultural and general well-being of Canadians.

To realize this objective, the Liberal Party of Canada strives to provide a flexible and democratic structure whereby all Canadians can obtain such information, participate in such assessment and militate for such reform through open communications, free dialogue and participatory action both electoral and non-electoral. This Constitution sets forth the institutions, systems and procedures by which the Liberal Party of Canada, in co-operation with its provincial and territorial associations and electoral district  associations, works to implement these ideas on behalf of all its members.

In my opinion, these are pretty general and vague. They aren’t hard at all for me to support as the basis for a civil and democratic society.

As per my previous blog post, I have withdrawn my membership from the Federal Green Party and am now registered as a supporter for the purpose of voting in the Liberal Party Leadership Election.  At this time I believe that I will be supporting Joyce Murray, and only Joyce Murray, as leader. I’m taking this vote very seriously and so am also doing the ground work to really, really research who Joyce Murray is, what she stands for, and whether or not she deserves my vote. In fact I’m learning everything I can about all of the candidates and I will be voting for the candidate who I think will put my concerns at the forefront. I want a Liberal Leader who understands that we need to oust Stephen Harper first and foremost; a leader who understands that the politics of our diverse nation has to be about cooperation, not just now but forever down the road. I want a leader who understands that we need  electoral reform so that we will never again have a minority-elected-majority. I want a leader who cares about our environment and about sustainability, and yes about economic development but not at the expense of the health of our citizens and not solely for the benefit of the corporations. I want a leader who is honestly respectful of diversity including our First Nations. Someone who values women. So far, the only candidate in the running who seems to be the kind of leader that I can support is Joyce Murray.

As a newbie to this world, I’m going to keep on blogging so as to report on what I’m learning. If you have video clips or articles I should check out to help me in my research, please comment and let me know. I’d appreciate your comments and opinions. Even more, I’d love for you to get involved if you aren’t already. Please join me in being a liberal supporter. Help make a difference.

 

 

 

Reflections on The Trouble with Billionaires

I’m really not good at remembering facts. With increasing access to internet information, that’s become less and less of an issue, but it does mean that as I seek to understand issues I have a preference for getting the ‘big picture.’ It is only through finding a structure that I can hope to remember important details so that facts fit together and make sense to me. It is perhaps for this reason that I especially appreciated Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks’s book The Trouble with Billionaires.

Simply put, The Trouble with Billionaires makes the case that income inequality is bad for society and bad for democracy.

“In unequal societies,[…] [t]he very rich tend to withdraw into their own rarified world, traveling by limousines and private planes, entertaining themselves at exclusive clubs and resorts, and living physically apart form the rest of the population, often behind gates or even walls. They come to see themselves as essentially independent of society, purchasing their own health care and education and relying on their own security systems. This leads to resentment that their tax dollars are paying for costly public services that they don’t use, leaving them determined to reduce these costs to keep their taxes from rising. Given their political clout, they’re able to maintain enormous pressure on politicians to keep taxes low, thereby starving the public system of the funds needed to maintain shared services and programs that are basic to the well-being of the broader community. The deterioration of key public services and programs increases the vulnerability of most members of society, as well as exacerbating social divisions and stress levels.” (Chapter 9)

McQuaig & Brooks develop their argument throughout the book first by methodically outlining the historical similarities of the crash of 1929 and the travesty of the financial collapse in 2009. John Kenneth Galbraith, in his book The Great Crash of 1929, the authors point out, identified five reasons for the crash, the first and most important being the bad distribution of income. McQuaig and Brooks’s accounting of the economic policies and players is informative and easy to follow. They takes care to carefully explain the terms which we’ve all read about in the paper but may not have fully understood, terms such as credit default swap (CDS), insurance bundled mortgages, hedge funds, and subprime mortgages. They includes thriller-story like details of how they all played out to culminate, with a number key players such as Joseph Cassano, Angelo Mozilo, Gary Shilling, Stanford Wiell, John Paulson, Bernie Madoff, and Alan Greenspan, in the final fiasco in which the real losers were inevitably always the state, the taxpayers and the working poor.

Holding Bill Gates up as the poster boy billionaire, McQuaig and Brooks move on from an historical account to not only effectively make the case that Gates is not entitled to his billions, particularly given that Gary Kildall was the real inventor of the PC operating system, but also to argue that Gates’ role as internationally renowned philanthropist is misguided. As per the January 2013 article in the Guardian paper, “Philanthropy is the Enemy of Justice,” McQuaig and Brooks strongly support the belief that philanthropy works against democracy. The real philanthropists it can be said, are the millions of people around the world indentured to Corporations providing the funds to the world’s wealthy. The loss of democracy in the current philanthropy process stems from allowing billionaires to vote with their money, taking choice, access to resources, and power away from the people and governments where it belongs.

“Philanthropy provided the rich with some very significant benefits that they would be reluctant to relinquish. The benefits to the public are less clear, once the lost tax revenues are factored into the equation.” (Chapter 10)

The authors detail a very Canadian example of the downside of philanthropy with the story of Barrick Gold CEO and founder, Peter Munk’s donation to the Munk School of Global Affairs at University of Toronto. The way it works is that Munk’s $35 million donated dollars receive a $16 million tax reduction, so amounts to a donation $19 million in real cost to Munk. Taxpayers make up the $16 million through lost taxes while Munk in turn gets to make the decision as to what Canadian taxpayers are donating to. Additionally in the “deal” government is required to added $25 million from each of the Provincial and Federal governments, all so that the School of Global Affairs program and building gets named after Munk rather than the taxpayers who footed an equal if not greater amount.

“The capacity of the rich to undermine democracy–so obvious and yet so strangely invisible– is surely the most serious negative effect of extreme inequality. Even if we were somehow able to deal with all the other negative consequences, such as the myriad of ill effects on health and social well-being, we would still be left with the impact of extreme inequality on the very functioning of democracy.” (Chapter 10)

Perhaps even more blatant in this use of money for influence is the flow of money from wealthy power brokers to political parties, here and around the world. McQuaig and Brooks’s thesis fits nicely in this regard with the Academy Award winning 2010 documentary Inside Job, directed by Charles H Ferguson. While the movie goes beyond the scope of The Trouble with Billionaires in demonstrating the incestuous connections amongst the wealthy and the elected officials, McQuaig helps us understand how the circles of influence of our own western creation of oligarchs are clearly operating at the  global level.

The bottom line, as per Louis Brandeis‘s observation, “we can have democracy… or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.”(Chapter 10)

In reading The Trouble with Billionaires I particularly appreciated that McQuaig is a Canadian journalist and so telling an international story but from our own Canadian perspective. McQuaig currently writes as a columnist for the Toronto Star. With at least two journalism awards, including the Atkinson Fellowship for Journalism in Public Policy and the National Newspaper Award, and nine books, six of which have become national bestsellers, she comes to this topic with a strong journalism background of high calibre. Neil Brooks taught tax law and policy at Osgoode Hall Law School for over 35 years. He has researched and written extensively on tax, tax planning and policy, corporate and international tax, and financing the welfare state including a number of pieces for the CCPA. For me this was all important background information in considering the more optimistic and hopeful stance at the close of the book which includes policy changes as a move towards a more democratic and socially just society. As a start their recommendations include the following:

  • A more progressive income tax system with a rate of 60 percent applied to income above $500,000, and a new top rate of 70 percent for income above $2.5 million.
  • Loopholes closed and the tax preferences that now riddle the income tax system and almost exclusively benefit the rich removed completely.
  • Examples of this include the tax on only 50% of capital gains and business deductions for business related meals, entertainment, and travel.
  • Support for the international implementation of a financial transaction tax which is sometimes referred to as the “Tobin Tax.
  • Support for international measures for a clampdown on tax avoiders and evaders.
  • Education and effort towards effecting a change in social attitudes toward taxation and its essential role in a democracy.
  • An inheritance tax, and use the proceeds to introduce a new education trust for every Canadian child. McQuaig suggests a lifetime tax free inheritance allowance per person of up to $1.5 million with progressive taxation on fortunes after that rising up to 70% for over $50 million and then a $16,000 trust for children at age 16 for post secondary schooling or training.

The book is an easy and informative read, overall excellent background for a better understanding of the misguided thinking behind the neo classical economic theories of Milton Friedman and his followers. It is well researched and an excellent starting point for anyone seriously wanting to help us stand up for real democracy.

Other Resources and Related sites: