The following is a transcript testimony of Peggy Taillon presented before the House of Commons Committee on Finance, April 30, 2013
Why address growing inequality? If left to fester it will tear apart he very fabric of Canadian society.....equality connects us, binds us together....builds cohesion.
Social cohesion is not just the absence of conflict. It is the ability to move forward in the same direction with shared purpose. It is a mandatory requisite for a smaller, trading country like Canada. We can only exercise our full strength through some essential level of agreement.
Canada must have continuous nation building by furthering a genuine consensus across provinces, cultures and languages. We require much more than passive tolerance of one another to advance on our common problems.
At the core of the Canadian idea has been a broad definition of success as shared progress for all its citizens, measured in terms of income, opportunity, well-being and enjoyment of social rights and freedoms. It has been coupled with a special responsibility to ensure those who are vulnerable are not left behind. In Canada the assumption of common advancement has reached across political perspectives, governments and generations. This Canadian aspiration gave expression to underlying individual values of hard work, fairness, merit, and shared responsibility.
We are however at a cross roads....faced with a choice: Shared Prosperity or Increased Polarity?
Decades of accomplishments in support of shared advancement have been followed by a period of stagnation that has stalled progress, and now that progress is unravelling.
Consider the following:
- We are running the very real risk is that our children will be the first “reverse generation” in Canadian history, one that is less well off than the one before. Less well off in: employment opportunities, health outcomes, the environment they inherit, income attainment....
- Growing income inequality is becoming entrenched.
- Middle class families are working more but not getting ahead except by borrowing much more and saving much less.
- Health care universality is threatened by a loss of faith in its affordability.
- Poverty has become a bog that entraps people contending with life challenges or transitions, caused in part by ineffective government policy.
- Our collective failure to grasp sustainable development puts us on the other side of our values and international expectations.
In part, this is the result of loss of will and focus.
In recent years, almost imperceptibly, Canadians have been cajoled to reduce their expectations; to accept the lowest common denominator of what we can accomplish together. Individuals and families are being encouraged to look after their own interests. Economic problems are portrayed the results of “international” and “global” conditions beyond our reach. Our policy choices are reduced to growth in GDP, (our so-called “standard of living”) regardless of benefits delivered for the well-being of average Canadians. Social needs and government responses are vilified as complex, costly and muddled jurisdictionally.
We cannot afford to take our social cohesion for granted. The increasing contrast between the lived reality and the country that most Canadians presume upon means that there is short distance to the alienation. What follows is not only lost promise in terms of meeting our challenges, but the road to loss of trust in institutions, and increased rates of crime and other social dissonance.
There is tremendous opportunity today to forge a new consensus for Canada. Canadians are a fundamentally generous and optimistic people. We still have time to exercise enlightened approaches to our major challenges, from an aging population and a shrinking a labour force, to competitiveness and poverty in ways that can galvanize most Canadians to become engaged in our next nation building process, as country.
And because so many Canadians are feeling the impact of inequality, they are looking for leadership more than ever before. It will not the one that does the best job of defending the old status quoes, but rather the one that is best able to define the improved future we can attain.
There is no magic to addressing inequality, but it does take leadership. The choice is simple, governments can create the conditions for success, or choose stratify the country. Despite the evidence, it appears that we are on the path of the later. Leadership is about making tough choices, the tougher the times, the tougher the choices, governments at all levels can set the tone and even in times of austerity, have the ability to create the conditions that build social cohesion, its all about priorities and perspective.
Building social cohesion is not simply the responsibility of government; business, private citizens and civil society all have a role to play, but we all know governments set the prevailing character of a country. Communities thrive when enabling conditions are present. People form community when people have good jobs, meaning in their lives, strong family support, good living standards, opportunities to participate.