Confused about universality? So are NDP leadership candidates

There was some pretty confused stuff on universality and means-testing during last night’s NDP leadership debate. Here are some thoughts that might help clear things up.

First, Singh’s attack of Caron on means-testing early in the debate was a bit bizarre seeing as both of them have major new means-tested transfers among their policy planks. Caron did a good job in fighting back and hit back at Singh’s move to fold near-universal OAS into a more aggressively targeted benefit. Not a very enlightening exchange.

Not to be outdone, Angus’s attack on Singh at the end of the debate was even more confused. This time, Singh did a good job of defending himself and made a clear argument on the differences between means-tested cash transfers versus universal social programs.

On OAS in particular, Singh is right: not everyone receives it because claw-backs start at $75,000 in income and the benefit is gone for those making roughly $120,000. But Caron is right in that a vast majority of income earners ($120,000 in income lines up with the top 5% of overall tax filers) will get some benefit from the program so it is de facto universal. This makes OAS very different from things like GIS for seniors or WITB for low-wage workers, which phase out much quicker and are targeted at low income folks.

The problem of middle income seniors falling behind is an important one and tied up in so much else about the economy (the decline of unions and pensions; the housing bubble where some have won the lottery and others have not; and so on). The NDP does have to think about what combination of new social programs (pharmacare in particular because it disproportionately helps seniors), expanded public pensions and income transfers will do most to improve people’s lives, and also be a foundation to build on politically—in terms of policy staying power and building winning electoral coalitions. (more…)

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Canada missed the memo: it’s OK to talk about inequality and capitalism

There is no political rocket science to the Oct. 19th election result. Even with our slanted first-past-the-post system, it would have been difficult for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to squeak out a parliamentary majority, or even minority, given that more than two-thirds of the population wanted him out.

If vague notions of change played the lead role in the long campaign, then the economy wrote the script for much of the rest. The Liberals won, while the others lost, on economic issues.

Since the global crisis of 2007-08, most of us have seen stagnation in incomes and living standards. The past year, with the global resource and commodity price crash, has only made things worse by taking down the last bastions of growth, albeit ones based in the toxic extractive sectors of the Canadian economy.

Together these basic facts, lived every day by millions, made it inevitable that the economy would be the defining issue of the 2015 campaign and key to whether the change vote coalesced around the NDP or the Liberals. People were clearly tired of seeing Harper represent them, but in daily life, they’re tired of seeing their debt, their rent, their children’s tuition and their bills go up, while their jobs disappear or their incomes flatline. (more…)

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Looking towards childcare in Canada, with lessons from Sweden

 

This week, the federal NDP reignited a national debate over childcare by proposing a universal $15 per day childcare program. This is the focus of today’s episode, which features two guests. First up, Angela MacEwen. Angella is an economist with the Canadian Labour Congress and has long been a strong advocate for public childcare in Canada. I spoke with her about the economics of universal childcare.

My second guest is Petter Nilssen, who is the press secretary for the Left Party in the Stockholm municipality and is a board member of the Institute for Marxist Social Studies, also in Stockholm. I spoke with him about the recent history of the Swedish model of the welfare state, something he wrote about recently in Jacobin Magazine under the title, “Sweden Without Illusions“.

Remember, you can now also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, directly via this link.

141016 Childcare poster

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