A new direction for Canada

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At this point in the political cycle, with 18 months to go before the next federal election, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) is working hard to make its agenda items resonate, not just with the Harper government, but with the business-friendly Liberals and key MPs from the Official Opposition New Democrats.

Having done most of the thinking about the economic and social policy direction for Canada since the early 1980s, the CCCE knows that the best time to establish in the minds of Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau what business wants to see from the next government is before the next election, not after.

Once a new government takes office its attention becomes quickly focused on its daily crisis, and it's harder to get a hearing about what needs to be done to set a new agenda, let alone get future ministers to renew their thinking.

So while the CCCE lobby parliamentarians and public opinion on behalf of the 1%, what would the agenda of the 99% look like?

A new direction for Canada in economic and social policy means rebuilding the inter-generational bargain between young and old; focusing spending on improving social determinants of health; and making the Canadian economy climate-friendly, not a contributing factor to burning up the planet.

In order to "succeed" in today's economy, young Canadians are asked to educate themselves, meaning taking on debt. With job prospects bleak, this amounts to offering young people the choice between precarious employment with debt peonage (as successful undergraduates or with advanced degrees) or without (secondary school only).

Creating a first jobs strategy and transforming student loans into grants would be a good start. Young Aboriginals are an increasing share of the youth population and stand to benefit from active job creation. Debt-free graduates -- with jobs -- could plan to have families, and set up homes.

Proportionately, Canada spends less on the young than other age groups. Thinking ahead, does not the opposite seem more intelligent?

In order to open up the job market, it would help to make leaving it more attractive. Instead the government is pushing retirement age back to 67.

Public pensions in Canada are miserable, yet could easily be enhanced as the Canadian Labour Congress has shown, providing better opportunities for retirees to contribute to their communities, instead of worrying about making ends meet.

The inter-generational bargain needs to be renewed. Today's workers pay for their past studies and future retirement. Investing in youth and providing for retirement has social benefits and requires collective support. Much can done through a serious progressive income tax, but notable additional sources of revenue for student grants and other social spending exist. A financial transaction tax for instance could raise an estimated $4 billion, and has wide support in public polling.

The biggest transfer of wealth in history is about to take place as the baby boomers pass on inherited wealth to their children. Inheritance needs to be taxed in Canada either as an ongoing wealth tax or through re-introducing succession duties.

Corporations are sitting on piles of wealth -- dead money, former Bank of Canada head Mark Carney called it. Erin Weir estimates that corporate cash on hand at the end of 2013 of $626 billion exceeds the federal debt of $611 billion. Tax idle capital and invest in public education, health, transport, culture and amateur sport. 

Knowledgeable research shows that investing in early childhood education, reducing family poverty, improving social housing, ensuring gender equity, enhancing child-care facilities, adopting "living wage" policies, sane nutrition and agricultural practices, and promoting overall equality, reduces the cost of health care and improves the quality of life for everyone. Whether it be pioneering work by Dennis Raphael or the authoritative study by the World Health Organization, the benefits of enhanced equality for health are clear, and attainable when the social determinants of health are addressed successfully.

Building healthy communities starts with protecting and enhancing the environment. In developing a green agenda for the economy the main obstacles are placed by the people who benefit from their domination of economic life -- the members of the CCCE. Busting the power base of the corporatocracy will requires governments prepared to act in the public interest, not the corporate interest. As Naomi Klein said at the founding meeting of Unifor, "our current economic model is not only waging war on workers, on communities, on public services and social safety nets. It's waging war on the life support systems of the planet itself. The conditions for life on earth."

Attacking climate change means breaking with capitalism; not coddling companies with talk of "cap and trade" or suggesting consumers buy new lightbulbs, but banning LNG development, keeping bitumen in the ground, and requiring public ownership of the energy sector.

Corporate direction of economic and social policy did not end when the Chrétien Liberals took over from the Mulroney Conservatives. The election of the Harper Conservatives further reduced economic and social security for most Canadians.

What Canada needs now is a new direction, not just a new government.

Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

This column marks the 10th anniversary of Duncan Cameron's time as weekly columnist for rabble.ca. To celebrate the occasion, we've brought out his very first column on rabble, and assembled a collection of his favourites over the years. You can read a selection of Duncan's picks right here, as well as on social media throughout the day.

Photo: Preserved Light Photography/flickr

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