Following two unremarkable years of empty rhetoric and vague clichés, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has finally provided Canadians with some substance on the economic front. Trudeau’s new plan promises tax cuts for those earning between $44,701 and $89,401 annually and significant tax increases for those earning over $200,000.
Of course, thanks to recent provincial tax hikes — the Ontario Liberal government has hiked tax rates on high-income earners twice since 2012 — under Trudeau’s plan the top marginal tax rate for those earning over $200,000 per year would be 54%.
In case anyone missed Trudeau’s intention with this proposal, the plan is called “Fairness for Middle Class.” Trudeau mentions the phrase “middle class” 11 times and the word “fair” six times in a 250-word statement. Take out the prepositions and jabs against Stephen Harper, and the statement might as well be Trudeau repeating the phrase “fair middle class” over and over again.
These words must poll well in Liberal focus groups.
Rather than helping the poor or marginalized, the Liberal economic plan is designed simply to attract more votes. A plan to take money from the rich and give it to the middle class is nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt to evoke class warfare, that pits Canadians against one another.
But don’t just blame Justin.
Pandering to the middle class has become the most prominent feature of our democracy and a major reason why governments have such a difficult time paying their bills. It used to be the government’s job to look after the least well off in our society. But not anymore. The vast middle class is the largest voting block in society, and it’s also the largest recipient of government spending.
Our governments are going broke trying to pay the bill for middle-class entitlements such as healthcare, education, old age security and the newer phenomenon of rebate cheques and tax credits. Politicians understand that in order to get elected, they must woo the middle class. Instead of offering good governance or responsible fiscal management, politicians simply outbid each other by offering more free stuff to Canadians.
Politically, it’s easy to see why. Canada is a middle-class society. The term is vague enough to apply to most Canadians; almost nine out of ten Canadians considers themselves as part of the middle class, according to a recent study. It describes more of an aspirational state of mind than a concrete economic position. Unlike trends in Europe or the United States that have resulted in a shrinking middle class, Canada’s middle class is thriving.
A report last year in The New York Times said Canada has the richest middle class in the world. Average incomes in Canada’s middle class have grown steadily, by nearly 25% over the last decade. The middle class is Canada is far from struggling.
So why do Canadians rely on and demand so much of our government? Politics has degraded into a bidding war over who can offer more free stuff to the right cadre of voters in order to win office. Meanwhile, middle-class families are becoming ever more dependent on government programs.
It is a vicious cycle. And Justin Trudeau’s micro targeting of voters in the middle class is about to accelerate the process.
This column appeared in the Toronto Sun on Thursday, May 7, 2014.