The late Tom Kent was practically raised to sainthood by the Liberal Party of Canada. It was Kent’s ideas that fuelled the rebirth of the party in the 1960s. His ideas also spurred the growth of the left wing of the party. And it was the growing and vocal left wing of the party that pushed through Medicare and welcomed the leadership of Pierre Trudeau.
Yet we never thought of Tom Kent as a social democrat. That idea is being promoted by former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent. It seems that Kent wrote a paper on the future of social programs for the Broadbent Institute. What is unusual about the paper is that it advocates refundable credits in federal income tax to combat poverty and further other social democracy objectives. He uses the example of the Baby Bonus cheques that went to the mothers that were replaced by the supposedly more sophisticated child tax credit in the federal income tax.
But the monthly child credit still goes mainly to the mother or to her bank account. The tax system is then used to claw back the money from families with better incomes. Not even Stephen Harper has been able to find a more effective system to distribute these funds. And it is hardly an example of the use of refundable credits in the tax system.
Refundable credits are the ones where the taxpayer spends the money and then claims the refund in the subsequent year’s income tax. That system was used for the home repair credits in Harper’s economic stimulus plan and seemed to do no more than ensure people got receipts and paid the GST for their home improvement expenditures instead of keeping them hidden. The real amount of economic stimulus was probably limited.
The most serious basic social need in this country is a guaranteed annual income for every person. This is a basic income to keep a roof over their head and a proper diet on the table. It is neither generous nor fun but it does ensure survival and an opportunity to earn more. It is not something that can be paid in the subsequent year, based on your failure to earn an income this year.
That is what a Liberal believes in: basic dignity for the individual in our society. That is also what a social democrat should believe in.
We are not too sure what point Ed Broadbent is trying to make with Tom Kent’s paper. The way it was said in the version we saw, the refundable tax credit system was a roundabout way to make social programs work under our current government system. The time is long overdue to change that system.
Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry
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