NUPGE/MGEU Fair is Fair Rally at the Legislature

August 7, 2014

The NUPGE/MGEU Fair is Fair campaign in Manitoba reached its zenith with a rally at the Manitoba Legislature.  Union members from both the public and private sectors heard the message about income inequality and tax fairness from Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuf, Manitoba Federation of Labour President Kevin Rebeck and Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union President Michelle Gawronsky.  Rebeck had this to say:

It gives me great pleasure to join you here today to support our demands for fairness in our community and fairness in how the rewards of Canada’s economic success are shared, from coast to coast.

On behalf of the unions affiliated with the Manitoba Federation of Labour and the more than 100 thousand members they represent, I thank you for giving us some of your time to make our feelings known to government and the public.

I also want to congratulate the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, and through them the National Union of Public and General Employees for showing strong leadership and financial commitment to the Fair is Fair Campaign, both here in Manitoba and across the country.  They’ve taken their campaign bus and volunteer workers to many communities throughout Manitoba and elsewhere, raising a public profile for the campaign that is unmistakeable and direct – “Fair is Fair and Income Inequality is not!”

Developing a public policy blueprint that leads to the Fairness we seek is a multi-faceted exercise.  I’d like to talk a bit about one of its critical elements, Tax Fairness.

Brother Yussuf has shared with us what is possible when unions enable workers to earn fair wages and benefits; and prepare for a financially sound retirement.  But what else does the union advantage do?  In addition to creating personal financial security and all that that entails, it enables us to create commonly-owned wealth that we as a society invest in things that bring benefit to everyone.  Things like a high-quality, universally accessible health-care system, a responsive and relevant education and training system, safe roads and bridges, a public defined benefit pension plan, income support for the elderly and so on.

It’s that combination of privately owned assets and assets that we all own through common-ownership that makes up the basis of a good quality of life for all Canadians.  The underpinning for those two elements is fair wages, the sort you get through a union contract, and also contributions to common-wealth through our taxation system.

There are people still active in the workforce today that used to contribute to the public treasury at a rate roughly matched by corporate contributions.  Today, the amounts are lopsided, the share of government revenue coming from individuals has increased and the share coming from corporations has fallen. 

The anti-tax forces in Canada have been very successful at painting the picture that all taxes are bad, that governments who collect taxes are bad, and that governments that spend tax revenue on anything are bad and must be thrown out of office.  They came up with the words “tax burden” to describe how we create commonly-owned wealth that we use to support services that we all consider vital for maintaining a good quality of life and vital for creating a good future for our children.  “Tax Burden” – like it’s something to be avoided at all costs.

This tax phobia puts the cross-hairs on those vital services that make it possible for us to live in a safe, peaceful and prosperous country.

How many of you here today work in the public sector?

First, thank you for all that you do to help make Manitoba and Canada a great home for us!

Second, tax phobia in peoples’ minds means your wages, benefits and pension plans are targets for right-wing inspired reductions.  Never mind that these are products of the collective bargaining process and ratified by all parties.  Never mind that they are reasonable measures.  It’s all part of the right-wing propaganda campaign that attacks any public expenditure.

Tax phobia leads people to vote for politicians who promise tax cuts without really thinking it through to see what kind of an impact frozen or reduced taxes will have on our communities.

Will our roads and bridge deteriorate into pot holes and collapses?  Will the sewer and water infrastructure turn into a nightmare?  Will citizen access to vital services degrade?

Since 2008, the Harper government’s corporate tax cuts have cost us about $80 billion in lost commonly-owned wealth.  $80 billion of revenue, gone from the public treasury.

Harper’s reason for the cuts was to encourage corporations to invest in Canada`s future.  Well, the opposite has happened – companies have been investing less in machinery and job-creation and reported corporate profits have risen dramatically!

Personal tax cuts have mainly benefited the richest 1%.  For example, more than half of the benefit from capital gains tax cuts since the year 2000 goes to the richest 1%.

So while these unfair tax policies make life good for luxury car dealers, yacht clubs and granite countertop manufacturers, it`s not so good for Canadians who rely on key public services, it`s not so good for students staggering under student loan debt, and it`s not so good for those of us who have to react to boil water alerts, pot-hole filled roads and tainted food scares.

I, and most people I know, don`t mind paying their fair share of the contribution to commonly-owned wealth.  Their fair share of tax responsibilities.  But I do mind making up the shortfall when taxes are avoided by wealthy individuals who benefit from unfair policies, who exploit loop-holes to avoid their fair share; and taxes that aren`t paid by profitable corporations.  That I do mind.

This is a situation that has developed since 1990 – the period when Canada`s tax system got a lot less fair.  The richest 1% of families have received most of the benefit of tax cuts while the poorest 20% pay more.  The Canadian corporate tax rate fell from 28% to 18%; that is, if they were paying taxes at all and not stashing it off-shore in tax havens.

That is why we need Fair Tax Policies from all levels of government, to get things back on track.   
At The Fair Tax Summit which took place last March in Ottawa, NUPGE President James Clancy summed its importance up in an interview by saying:

“Tax Fairness is critical if we’re going to meet our goals and our aspirations as Canadians.  We’ve got a tax system that has ceased to be fair.  We’ve got to bring fairness into the tax system so that we have the revenue to provide quality public services; to provide the services that people need to ensure that their families have a chance and that our communities are healthy and safe places to live.  Our government’s ongoing policies of cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations is short sighted and only results in more misery.  Using our commonly-owned wealth that is raised through fair taxation is the way to go.  That is what built this country and we’ve lost sight of that over the past 25 years.”

We need to call on all levels of government to have fair taxation policies that build our communities and our future.

Together we can restore balance to our tax system.

Join me on board the Fairness Express!