Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Sacred Cows No Politician Dares To Touch

Thank God the Stanley Cup Playoffs start this evening. This has to be the dullest federal election since Sir John A. swore off the bottle. Same old. Same old.

Yet, around the world things are different. Despots are being disposed, countries teeter on bankruptcy and severe austerity programs are being implemented in response to a perceived debt crisis.

Here, the election is being framed as the choice between the “reckless” coalition and the stability of a Harper majority government. In other words, the choice is between the Liberals in bed with the separatists and socialists or a Canada governed by a guy with a bad haircut.

These are the choices?

This election would generate a lot more interest if our politicians started focusing on the real problem facing Canadians, especially for those who believe that it is our social programs that keep this nation together.

Sky-rocketing health care costs coupled with an ideological belief that no new tax revenues can be raised threatens the continued viability of the Canadian social system. At the present rate of growth in health care costs, expenditures for health care will represent 50% of budget allocations at the provincial level by 2020, and this includes monies targeted for health care transferred to the provinces from the federal government. In other words, if we continue on the present course, we will not be able to adequately fund education, welfare, public transportation, environmental measures, debt reduction, etc.

Faced with such a dilemma, we need to cut to the heart of the matter and address two outstanding issues that politicians fear to discuss publically since it places them in opposition to the rich and the powerful. The first is the method in which doctors are remunerated in the public health care system, fee for service performed, and the second is the imposition of a financial transaction tax, which is often referred to as the Robin Hood Tax.

With regard to the former, we cannot endure the continued growth in health care costs. Technological advances in medicine combined with an aging population create a situation where the potential for the expansion of medical services to be performed will surpass our capacity to pay within the present payment structure. To rein in costs in the public system, all medical personnel will need to be salaried as is the case with other professionals employed by the state. No exceptions. Those wishing to continue working within the fee for service model can continue to do so within the private sector.

With regard to the latter, we need to be able to distinguish between no new taxes for those who are already taxed to the hilt and new taxes for those who pay no tax or very little tax at all. Presently, the financial sector escapes paying its fair share and receives preferential treatment. Remember the federal Goods and Services Tax replaced the hidden Manufacturers’ Sales Tax? Financial services were among the exemptions. Yet, even a ridiculously small levy of one tenth of one percent on all financial transactions has the potential to raise billions in revenue. This new revenue could then be used to pay down the debt thereby liberating billions in service charges that could be reallocated to continue making investments to promote the social well-being of the population.

Serious debate on core issues like these will generate genuine interest in the electorate. However, as long as the political debate is confined to peripheral issues the electoral campaign will continue to be a sleep fest.

Perhaps, that’s how the powers that be prefer to have the electoral campaign contested.

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