Huge majority of Canadians want governments to spend whatever it takes, and tax the rich, to pay for coronavirus response

The country is united, while our politicians and pundits have missed the memo
Photo: Dennis Jarvis
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An overwhelming majority of Canadians, including a majority of Conservative voters, want a muscular government response to COVID-19 that provides for everyone, according to a new poll released today by Abacus Data.

How do we pay for it? Fully 75 per cent of Canadians, including 69 per cent of Conservative supporters, want the government to implement a wealth tax on Canada’s richest people. This is a modest increase over the 67 per cent of Canadians who supported a wealth tax in a similar poll conducted last year. The policy appears to find overwhelming support any time it is polled, despite rarely being discussed in Canada’s mainstream media.

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Asked about their attitude towards government spending to support recovery over the next few years, “almost two in three Canadians feel it is vital that governments spend whatever is necessary to rebuild and stimulate the economy, even if it means running large deficits for the foreseeable future.”

The Abacus report on the poll, which was commissioned by the Broadbent Institute, notes support was consistent across all regions of the country, and in all demographic groups. Even among Conservative supporters, 46 per cent agreed that governments should spend whatever it takes.

Virtually all Canadians want stronger social programs

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the catastrophic failure of long-term care homes to protect residents from COVID-19, a whopping 97 per cent of Canadians say the long-term care system needs improvement.

Asked about other elements of the social safety net that they would like to see expanded, 94 per cent named the healthcare system, 89 per cent want paid sick days and livable wages for all workers and the same number want “income support and employment insurance that everyone can access.”

In other findings, 77 per cent of Canadians want governments to provide financial assistance and debt relief to municipalities to help with budget shortfalls, and 81 per cent “believe that companies that receive government assistance should not be allowed to use foreign tax havens, and not use the funds for excessive executive salaries, share buybacks, or increased dividends.” This stands in stark contrast to the Trudeau government’s refusal to bar companies registered in tax havens from government support.

Instead, Trudeau excluded companies convicted of tax evasion from support. But because no companies that would be otherwise eligible for support have been convicted of tax evasion, the number of companies actually barred by this measure is zero, according to research done by NDP finance critic Peter Julian.

The real issue is the legal tax avoidance schemes that this government has repeatedly promised to crack down on, which cost Canada billions of dollars a year in lost revenue. Despite prodding from other governments, and repeated promises to close loopholes, little to nothing has been done.

Why is Trudeau so determined not to bar companies registered in tax havens from government support, as a growing number of European countries have done? Perhaps it has something to do with media reports that have linked both his top fundraiser and his finance minister to the use of tax havens.

The Liberals are and always have been the party of Bay Street, not Main Street.

What does it all mean?

Over the past decade, public opinion has shifted significantly to the left on everything from the role of government in society and the desirability of expanded social programs to the need for policies like a Green New Deal and taxes on the rich. These are, in poll after poll, mainstream positions held by vast majorities of Canadians.

Driven in part by young people who have been buffeted by financial crises, out of control housing costs, the rise of gig work, the imminent threat of climate change and unchecked income and wealth inequality, the “greed is good” mentality that characterized the 1980s is deader than a doornail in this country.

Unfortunately, our politicians and mainstream pundits haven’t gotten the memo.

Total disconnect between the population and our political parties and media outlets

Not just the Conservative Party, either. Liberals sniff at the ridiculousness of such proposals, while the NDP, which should be reaping the benefits of this rapid shift in public opinion, are too timid to stake out their turf on the resurgent left.

A 2 per cent wealth tax is the bare minimum, and has been proposed in the United States by figures like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The reason today’s Abacus poll tests the idea of a 1 or 2 per cent wealth tax is that the boldest proposal for a wealth tax on record in this country is a 1 per cent tax floated by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in the last election campaign.

The NDP have done great work in pushing the Liberals to expand their COVID-19 support programs, and we have them to thank for support being directed towards millions of Canadians who were left out of initial Liberal proposals. But the party remains stuck in the mentality that if they call for what people really want, they’ll be pilloried by the mainstream press, and so they propose half measures that are better than nothing but less than we need.

Meanwhile, our mainstream media don’t platform a single real leftist. There isn’t a single columnist with a major newspaper or regular commentator on a national TV show who consistently advocates for leftist policies that are supported by an overwhelming majority of Canadians.

The centre has shifted, significantly, but you wouldn’t know it from our mainstream media.

Our opinion pages are dominated by fossils whose views haven’t changed since the 1980s and who unapologetically represent the interests of billionaires. This might have something to do with most of our newspapers being owned by a U.S. hedge fund, but it doesn’t explain the failure of outlets like the CBC to balance their coverage.

There is a profound disconnect between “thought leaders” in politics and media and the rest of us.

The new centre is reflected in today’s poll. While we wait for Postmedia columnists and CBC talking heads to catch up, thank goodness there is a flourishing ecosystem of independent, crowdfunded media outlets in this country that serve the public interest.

The extremists are the callous shitweasels on your TV. The centrists are the rest of us.

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