February 23, 2015

When Doing What's Right Is Unpopular

Have you ever had that feeling where you have been ignored or discredited for doing what you felt was right? As a cycling advocate, I have had my share of criticism from drivers complaining about cyclists breaking the law (which drivers do too) and so-called inconveniences of removing parking or traffic lanes to accommodate cyclists. However, this post will instead focus on two recent events; one in Toronto and one in Ottawa.

Tory’s Revenue Tool Flip Flop
John Tory at PARC during October 2014 Debate

When John Tory was the chair of CivicAction in 2013, he was among many voices calling for new revenue tools such as sales taxes, gas taxes, and tolls in order to fund Toronto’s transit needs via their Your 32 campaign. Unfortunately, the Ford brothers (Rob and Doug) poisoned political discourse with their anti-tax rhetoric, which received widespread support in Scarborough and Etobicoke in spite of numerous scandals involving Rob Ford. It arrived at a point where neither John Tory nor Olivia Chow were willing to support above inflation property tax hikes during the election campaign. Now as mayor, Tory refused to support revenue tools except for Tax Increment Financing to fund his SmartTrack. This is in spite of significant structural problems with the city budget, part of which was due to provincial funding cuts for affordable housing.
Councillor Gord Perks At Budget Town Hall - January 29, 2015

At a budget town hall last month, Councillor Gord Perks condemned this short sightedness and Tory’s plan to use debt to fix the housing shortfall. An article he wrote in the Toronto Star mentioned how since amalgamation, Toronto’s property taxes are 12.4% lower than what they would have been had they increased with inflation, which translated into a $310 million annual shortfall.[1] Toronto may have the lowest property taxes in the Greater Toronto Area in terms of rate and absolute amounts, but it came at the cost of reduced services. Regarding revenue tools, Perks preferred progressive tools such as income taxes, though he would also consider sales taxes as recommended by city manager Joe Pennachetti.[2] Such tools require approval by the Province of Ontario and while they remain unpopular in Toronto, they should be considered, given Toronto has a revenue problem, not a spending one.

Anti-Terror Bill C-51

Over the past twelve months, several security threats have taken over the airwaves. Shootings in my hometown of Moncton in June, as well as in Ottawa in October. The Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. The ongoing affair with ISIS. In response to these threats, the Harper government introduced Bill C-51 to expand CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Service) powers in stopping terrorist threats at home and abroad. This legislation has been supported by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and as many as 82% of Canadians per a recent poll.[3] 
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair at Peggy Nash's Nomination Event - February 21, 2015

In spite of this support, Thomas Mulcair and the NDP oppose this legislation. They, other groups, and even former prime ministers are concerned about the loss of civil liberties and the bill's wording, which risks labeling peaceful protesters as terrorists despite government assurances to the contrary. While this may appear politically risky, there is a precedent which makes this a good call.

The NDP’s principle of defending civil liberties goes as far back as the War Measures act of 1970, which Jack Layton cited as the main reason for joining the party as per pages 36 and 37 of his book “Speaking Out Louder”. Then leader Tommy Douglas cited he supported the government’s needs to maintain law and order to address the FLQ crisis, but it must not be used as a smokescreen to destroy the civil liberties won by Canada’s forefathers. Douglas also cited he may not agree with Qu├ębec's separatists, but they have rights to their grievances provided they are acted upon peacefully.

The civil liberties issue goes further back to the American Revolution in which one of the founding fathers cited this well-known quote.

Conclusion

Sure, nobody likes paying more taxes than necessary and everybody wants security, but these two examples show how we must strive to do the right thing regardless of popularity. Nothing worth doing is easy and it is up to us to stand for what we believe in by fighting for it by all moral means necessary.

Stay true!
Rob Z (e-mail)

 

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[1] Gord Perks. Toronto Star. January 10, 2015. “Another way to look at Toronto’s budget debate.” http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/01/10/another_way_to_look_at_torontos_budget_debate.html
[2] David Rider. Toronto Star. February 13, 2015. “Should Toronto have its own sales tax? City manager says it’s time to consider it.” http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2015/02/13/should-toronto-have-its-own-sales-tax-city-manager-says-its-time-to-consider-it.html
[3] Campbell Clark. The Globe and Mail. February 19, 2015. “New poll finds Harper’s anti-terror bill is a political juggernaut.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/new-poll-finds-harpers-anti-terror-bill-is-a-political-juggernaut/article23067983/

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