Journalist

ISSUES NETWORK - ECONOMICS

September 2009 - May 1998
September, 2009
Learning from the EU about Integration

Brussels/Frankfurt – It was billed as a seminar on the Global Role of the Euro, but some of us called it a “junket”. Others, who cringed at that term, preferred to use the phrase “study tour.”

In any case, approximately a dozen journalists from around the world, including Canada, the US, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, were flown to Europe at great expense by the European Journalism Centre – the propaganda arm of the EU.

We were put up in four-star hotels, fed well, and lectured to for four days on the state of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the EU’s most common currency – the euro. (Only 16 of the 27 EU countries use the euro at this point and are, therefore, members of the Eurozone.)

The experience was, for this Canadian, a bit of a wake-up call. Could North America be headed in the same almost-borderless direction? If so, what would the process of integration be like? Would we have a common currency – already referred to by some as the “amero” – which would replace our loonie, the US dollar, and the peso within strict, overarching economic policies?

In Brussels, our first stop where the EU headquarters and parliament are based, it soon became clear that Canada, which is not one of the world’s great powerhouses, now has more independence than mightier nations, such as France or Germany, in establishing its own policies in many crucial areas.

Unlike Eurozone countries in the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), which have their policy hands tied with one acronym and treaty after another, we have our own central bank and can set our own interest and exchange rates. Our federal government can go into debt if it so chooses in order to carry out certain national programmes.

Indeed, the lessons of European integration might be one Canadians should pay heed to. A simple examination of recent European history where once-proud nations have been willing to give up important elements of their sovereignty is highly enlightening – whether one is for or against deeper North American integration.

Although plans for a single European currency were laid out as far back as 1969 by the six-member European Economic Community (EEC) and followed soon after by the concept of an economic and monetary union, many member states didn’t want to part with their own national currency.

However, soon enough the European Monetary System (EMS) was established in the late 1970s, which tried to link currencies in order to prevent wide fluctuations in their values. The European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) restricted each member state’s currency exchange rate to narrow fluctuations (+/-2.25%) on either side of an agreed upon standard.

In the late 1980s, as EEC member states began to create the European Single Market – a kind of free trade zone, they found that the lack of overall co-ordination regarding their various exchange rates – in spite of the ERM – hindered international trade and added to transaction costs. Some, especially corporate leaders, I’m sure, wanted more co-ordination, more efficiency, and fewer costs to business.

The creation of a common European market began officially in 1990 when national exchange rate controls were abolished entirely, allowing capital to move freely within the EEC. A few years later, a process began which introduced the euro into accounting, beginning the transition to its use in daily life.

When the very independent European Central Bank (ECB) became a reality in the late 1990s, it was charged with establishing monetary policy for the European Union and overseeing the activities of the European System of Central Banks – and national policymakers’ hands were tied even further. Finally, on January 1, 2002, the euro was jingling around in people’s pockets.

But the economic blending I have just described is just the beginning.

If ratified, the Lisbon Treaty will also change the way the EU deals with external relations by establishing the role of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. This “supreme coordinator”, backed by a new European External Action Service, would have broad responsibility for all EU external relations, as well as other portfolios: Trade, Enlargement, Development, and Humanitarian Aid.

Many Canadians have heard what one writer has referred to as “rumblings” about increased North American integration and the “amero”. Although the concept is generally deemed by many in power as just another conspiracy theory, it doesn’t seem to want to go away.

Perhaps Canadians should be wondering if the old adage: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” applies. If so, we should have a loud, open, and democratic debate on whether we want to follow in the EU’s steps or not.

July, 2009
Are We Creating a Lost Generation?

Toronto – How badly hurt are young Canadians by the economic downturn we are going through? Will any damage they suffer be short-term – or will there be long-term repercussions? In other words, are we creating a Lost Generation?

The unemployment rate for young people is worse than for any other group. If you are between 17 and 19, it’s a scandalous 18 per cent. There are far fewer jobs available out there this summer than last. In fact, students looking for work to help them through school in the fall are facing the worst job market in ten years.

Yes, for students, it’s a double whammy – or triple or quadruple. Tuition has been rising faster than inflation; food prices are frighteningly high, and many undergrads are already burdened with a huge debt load at a time when their parents are less able to help them out financially. Kraft Dinner shares might well be a good investment.

As if the above factors aren’t enough, young people are also most at risk when it comes to credit card misuse, as many try to enhance their lifestyle – or simply survive – with the ubiquitous pieces of plastic. This, too, could spell disaster.

To find out more about this summer of discontent, I talked to three young women – all in third year university and highly motivated. Their ready smiles hid the fact that they have been facing real frustration and worry.

Kayla is 20 and looking forward to her fourth year studying Commerce. Part of her degree is based on finding suitable work in her field and getting hands-on experience. But that hasn’t been easy.

Most of Kayla’s summer work search has been on the Internet – Craigslist, Kijiji, Workopolis, in part because she has no “networking connections” through family or friends. She tells me that a few weeks ago she “started to get panicky as time began to pass” and she still didn’t have anything. “It was just a constant, daily search.”

One thing the young woman noticed was that there was a “huge difference” in the quality of jobs available this year compared to last. Most are low paying. At the same time, there has been a growth in the number of “internships” being offered by businesses – which entail working for free in order to gain work experience.

Fortunately, Kayla managed to avoid that fate. She found something through Craigslist – a “fluke”, as she describes it, which has “turned out great.”

Corie, 21, a Communications major, has had a similar experience. She had been hoping to get the well-paying job she had last summer, but it just wasn’t possible. So, she began to search on the Internet “every single day.” She swears there wasn’t a job listing that didn’t receive her resume – although employers rarely had “the decency to respond”.

"You develop a sense of hopelessness," Corie says. "You send out your CV, thinking you are qualified ... It's extremely discouraging." When she turned to job agencies, they told her they weren't dealing with students this year. After a while, the hardest part was motivating herself.

Unlike Kayla, Corie finally found a position through her family and is now doing administrative work at a company where her aunt works. Of course, she would much rather be getting experience in her own field, getting her foot in the door, and all those wonderful things, but they appear to be luxuries at the moment.

Sadly, Corie is feeling quite cynical about the system. “I think they are taking advantage of students, capitalizing on them.” Lower salaries, commission-based labour, and no benefits are examples of what she means.

Veronica, 20, is studying Kinesiology, but her jobs this year have included yard work and selling jeans. The latter didn’t pan out because “no one is buying” and there was resentment among full-time employees who felt she was taking away their commissions.

She, too, used Craigslist, although she found there were “a lot of scammers” who insisted on photographs and meetings in hotels. More like a “personal ad”, she says.

Although she finally got a good job through connections, she is still worried about her generation. “We’re students and have a lot of financial commitments,” she tells me. “We’ll be going back to school with not as much money as we need.” Among her friends and acquaintances, only two or three out of 20 are “making good money”.

At the same time, she feels that a Bachelors degree “doesn’t cut it anymore” – and a Bachelors degree with no relevant work experience is even worse.

But she is trying to be positive. “You have to hope that the economy will turn around by the time we graduate next summer and you will be doing what you like. I’m being optimistic, but maybe not quite that realistic.”

Is this any way to treat the next generation of Canadian employees and citizens? Although I’m not a Catholic, perhaps Pope Benedict XVI was right when he recently called for an economy with ethics – “not any ethics, but an ethics which is people centred.”

June, 2009
When in Doubt, Create Your Own Money

Salt Spring Island, B.C. – While financial institutions try to polish up their reputations, governments struggle to save their economies, and world leaders debate the future of the U.S. dollar as the international currency standard, one Canadian community is in the pleasant position of being able to say “I told you so.”

Of course, that wasn’t the original intention. In 2001, well before the global financial crisis and Barack Obama’s new regulatory “rules of the road”, the island of Salt Spring in the Southern Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia created its own currency – based on monetary policies running counter to the mainstream. At that time, no one had even heard of a sub-prime loan.

Salt Spring Dollars, designed and printed locally, have been unaffected by the turmoil around them. They are issued by the Salt Spring Island Monetary Foundation – the SS IMF. The founders had quite a sense of humour when they gave this registered, non-profit organization its name. It couldn’t be more different from its namesake – the IMF or International Monetary Fund whose reputation has also suffered during this global economic crisis.

For one thing, unlike the elitist, Washington-based IMF, ordinary, local citizens can join and help direct the SS IMF. Its chairman and past-president is a mere dentist, not a Harvard-educated economist.

Salt Spring Dollars are pegged in value to the loonie and accepted at par at the two national bank branches on the island, the local credit union, Canada Post and more than 160 local businesses – even the transit system.

According to the SS Dollars website, their role in this community of 10,000 residents is to provide “highly secure and functional currency” which will help “drive island commerce and identity by keeping local dollars local …”

And yes, SS Dollars are legal. This seems to be one of the main concerns among those who first come across them. We have all been so programmed to fear any kind of counterfeit or bogus currency.

However, contrary to popular belief, governments, communities, and individuals have the right to produce their own money – such as a cheque.

In many ways, SS Dollars are more physically secure than most money. According to the website: “Without being too overconfident, Salt Spring Dollars are among the most secure documents printed anywhere in the world.” They have hidden security features that once surpassed, but now have been matched by the Canadian and United States government.

Given the present-day context when the status quo has proven itself fallible, the concept of communities creating their own currency is an interesting one whose time might have come. In fact, various communities across Canada, the U.S., and the world have moved in this direction – although it appears the Salt Spring Dollar has achieved more success integrating into the economy.

These one, two, five, ten, twenty, fifty, and one-hundred SS Dollar bills are more like gift certificates, according to the Canada Revenue Agency. They can be bought directly from the SS IMF, exchanged, or given as change at most commercial outlets.

Salt Spring Dollars are more secure than the bills we are used to dealing with in another way. When created, each new SS bill is backed by an impressive combination of Canadian Dollars, silver, and gold held by an Investment Trust Fund. This means there is no problem redeeming SS Dollars. National currencies used to function in the same solid way, but no longer.

At the same time, the Trust Fund itself stands out because of its policies. As the world recently discovered, financial institutions around the world have been lending money they didn’t actually have. It’s called leveraging. In many cases, banks have lent amounts of money which were several times what they actually had in reserve. This was in part because countries – like Canada – no longer have a reserve requirement.

Further good news from Salt Spring is that returns on the Trust Fund’s investments are used to re-invest on the island – rather than filling the coffers of rich executives.

Also highly relevant to today’s crisis – and the sub-prime scandal that precipitated it – is the fact that these SS IMF loans are often interest free, especially for organic and natural growers. This “no usury” policy is “fundamental to the concept of true community currency”. Banks and the other IMF must shudder when they hear that such an alternative policy exists – because “no usury” runs so counter to the entire structure underlying our societies and global capitalism.

For any communities wanting to follow Salt Spring’s lead and extricate themselves as much as possible from the prevailing system, SS Dollar supporters admit that “it's pretty complicated to set up this process”. After establishing the SS IMF, raising funds, designing and printing the bills, they then had to convince sceptical financial institutions and businesses. “Even so, we're very big fans of local currency and encourage other communities to create their own!”

Perhaps, this is the future calling – one that is more local, secure, efficient, and fair.

July, 2003
The Human Story at DuPont Canada

Kingston, ON – There ought to be a better way of running corporate affairs.

Take, for example, the latest company restructuring to hit this quiet city of 160,000.

Sadly, it appears that years of job security have come to an end at one of the major industrial plants -- and, not surprisingly, employee morale has never been so low.

Late last year, the giant Delaware-based E.I. duPont de Nemours and Co. announced it wanted to shift its two Canadian nylon operations from DuPont Canada to the newly-created DuPont Textiles & Interiors (DTI).

Since then, depression, anxiety, and sleepless nights have been commonplace among employees. There has simply been too much uncertainty, too many unknowns.

The “nylon plant,” as Kingstonians refer to it, has been a part of the local landscape for decades. Owned by DuPont since 1942, it is one of the giant multinational’s largest sites.

I can remember driving past it as a child and staring at the enormous, science-fiction-like structure by the waterfront, wondering how human beings could actually survive inside.

Well, survive they did – and quite well, too.

According to one long-time employee, DuPont Canada has been an admirably responsible employer, especially in the areas of health and safety. And, with centres for corporate engineering and research and development along with the manufacturing, it has provided steady, often interesting work for many locals.

Sure, there have been temporary lay-offs from time to time over the years, but, for the past decade, it has been “smooth sailing,” according to one worker.

Now, all this relative serenity (in an increasingly globalized world plagued with buy-outs and downsizing) is in the midst of a complicated set of negotiations.

The parent company is attempting to purchase the remaining independently-owned shares of DuPont Canada in order to split off the nylon operations and establish DTI as a separate subsidiary or sell it off to a third buyer.

When this master plan was first made known, rumours began to fly about the DTI plants in the U.S. It was said that costs were aggressively being reduced; people were being laid off, and the workload increased for those who remained.

Here in Kingston the reaction was understandable.

"It was a shock to a lot of people," said my source, who for obvious reasons will not be named. "Many of us had felt quite dedicated to the company and realized we were simply being put out to pasture.

"To climb the corporate ladder and then be cut loose just like that is a real blow."

As well, suddenly employees, caught in a complex web of corporate restructuring and high finance for the first time in their lives, were tossing and turning at night wondering whether to sell their DuPont Canada shares to E.I. DuPont at the offered price or wait for something better.

How should they know what to do? They had little experience in this sort of thing. It had become a frightening new world.

For long-term employees, there was also the problem of their pension – their future security – which they had always taken for granted would be there when they needed it.

Now, they were faced with the decision to bail out under DuPont Canada – even if it meant an early-retirement penalty – or possibly face a new unknown employer with its own pension policies.

For younger workers – many with mortgages and young families, the road ahead was also very hazy. What kind of job conditions would they face? What benefits would they have? Worse still, would they be kept on by the new owner?

All of this stress-creating uncertainty reached another crisis point a few months ago when it was rumoured that a Kansas-based company, Koch Industries, Inc., involved in everything from petroleum to agriculture around the globe, was interested in buying the newly-created DuPont Textiles and Interiors.

The privately-held Koch is not an unknown entity in the Kingston area. A couple of years ago, it purchased the company, KoSa, which took over the Celanese Canada plant in 1999.

There is a perception that Koch runs a tight ship, prefers short-term employees with fewer benefits, and often skimps when it comes to health and safety requirements. This, of course, has DuPont staff spooked once again.

In my opinion, whether this is accurate or not is irrelevant. The point is that loyal, competent Kingstonians are being put through the wringer through no fault of their own. (The nylon plant is a highly-productive one.)

And the problem is exacerbated because the company is doing little to keep them adequately informed.

Of course, you won’t read about any of this in the business pages of newspapers following the DuPont story, because it’s not really considered crucial to the restructuring process.

Too bad. If the lives and careers of ordinary workers were deemed truly important, I am sure we would find a better, more humane way to arrange corporate affairs – and there would be fewer sleepless nights.

March, 2000
Poverty and Homelessness – Especially Among Children – are National Scandals

TORONTO – What's going on here?

To begin with, child poverty was supposed to be eliminated in this country by the year 2000. Well, I've checked the date and the statistics. There are 60 per cent more children living in poverty than there were ten years ago – when all the federal political parties committed themselves to eliminating this national scandal.

But that's not all. There have been articles in the paper about the fact that the birth rate is declining because Canadians are beginning to think having children is a luxury they can't afford. (They thoughtfully don't want to add to the child-poverty statistics.) One quote I read said: "Many people are just priced right out of the having-babies market."

Not a nice way to put it really – but them's the facts.

And then there's the sick. I've been collecting articles on how our health-care system is dealing with Toronto's homeless, including quotes from social workers which are enough to break your heart: "People are discharged with no shoes, people are discharged in their pyjamas in the winter." or "I've been doing this for 11 years. People are much sicker than they ever were." or "You feel sometimes like you are working in the Third World."

Again, what's going on here?

One local newspaper article in early winter was headlined: "Last winter was a crisis. This winter will be worse." It went on to quote from a front-line health-care worker who didn't pull her punches. "It feels like we're waiting for a slaughter to happen," she said in early December. And she pointed out that "Homeless people are dying at the rate of two to four a week."

And that was before it got cold.

The same article stated that homeless-shelter occupancy was expected to rise seven per cent this year to 4,560 per night -- about twice what it was in 1993. And many of those will be children. In fact, a spokesperson for a group called Low Income Families Together (LINK) stated that more parents with a high-school education are homeless and increasingly turning their children over to children's aid societies. "This myth that the homeless are a bunch of old illiterate bums flies out the window," the spokesperson observed.

Another study I read recently began like this: "The City of Toronto is in crisis. The percentage of children living below the Statistics Canada low-income cut-off is now 37%. Homelessness is at levels not seen since the 1930s and food banks are used on an ongoing basis by 135,000 Toronto residents, a doubling in number since 1990."

And then there was the United Way's report entitled: "Toronto at a Turning Point." It was full of data about this city and the country generally. Miserable data. "Average household incomes fell by 12.5% in Toronto between 1990 and 1995." "Across Canada market incomes have declined for all but the top 30% of families between 1986 and 1996 ..." "The poorest families have seen their income from employment earnings fall by 61.6%."

Again, what the heck is going on?

The United Way report listed some very good reasons why people, including many children, are suffering in Toronto -- and the rest of the country. The list of negative developments was a long one: the recession in the early 90s, rapid demographic changes, amalgamation of municipalities, service realignment within the provinces (downloading responsibilities to the municipalities with their smaller tax base), federal and provincial changes to the social-safety net (the tightening of eligibility rules for Un-Employment Insurance), under-investment in new infrastructure, less affordable housing and so on and so on.

(Of course, we can't forget the proliferation of part-time, low-paying McJobs in the service industry.)

All of these gloomy facts and numbers were in a folder I have been filling over the past couple of months which was simply labelled "poverty." I pulled it out this week wanting to get a better sense of the state of Toronto and Canada at this historic time in human history. In the folder, I also found an excerpt from a book entitled, "The Economic Horror" by writer Viviane Forrester. It helped make sense of some of the misery I have described in the paragraphs above.

Forrester offered her explanation of why so many people (including innocent children) appear to have been forgotten by society, left by the wayside. "For the first time in history, the vast majority of human beings are no longer indispensable to the small number of those who run the world economy." That is because, she stated, the economy is "wrapped up in pure speculation. The working masses and their cost are becoming superfluous."

She went on to note that " ... there is something worse than actually being exploited -- and that is no longer to be even worth exploiting ..." adding that "Today the great thing is to be 'profitable' not 'useful.' This raises a very serious question: Should people be profitable in order to 'deserve' the right to live?"

So, according to Forrester, many of us (including children) are now dispensable. Is that what's going on?

A hideous thought!

July, 1999
Abraham Lincoln on Monetary Reform

TORONTO – Money. You might not trust me on the subject, but surely you would trust Honest Abe Lincoln!

It's interesting that, even as Canadians, we have heard so much about this former American president. We know that he freed the slaves and was shot to death in a theatre by John Wilkes Booth, but there is one thing that is rarely, if ever, discussed – his theories about money.

So, it will probably come as a surprise to hear that Lincoln had very strong opinions about the role of money in society – opinions that, in his day and ours, could even be called revolutionary. He outlined his thoughts in a statement made in 1865, just before the end of the Civil War. The statement began with these words: "Money is the creature of law, and the creation of the original issue of money should be maintained as the exclusive monopoly of national government."

Now, that was – and still is – a very daring statement because in Lincoln's day – and today – money was almost exclusively created by private banks in both the United States and Canada (and almost every other country).

Technically speaking, money is nothing more than a means of exchange. I give you something; you give me its value in dollars, rather than handing over something of equivalent value. But somehow, that simple tool has been taken out of the control of society and handed over to private companies which, as we know too well, make a lot of money making money. They charge individuals, businesses, and governments in need of funds interest for the privilege of borrowing, and, as in Canada's case, that interest often compounds – building up a huge burden of debt.

(Canada's federal debt is now $580 billion with interest payments of more than $40 billion. No wonder the banks and other financial institutions are so profitable!)

Lincoln thought this was a terrible way to run a country, a society. Again, I will let that honest gentleman speak for himself: "No duty is more imperative for the government than the duty it owes the people to furnish them with a sound and uniform currency, and of regulating the circulation of the medium of exchange ..."

So, Lincoln was not only willing to take on the slave owners of the southern states, he was also ready to confront the banks, and take away their vast power over the money supply. A brave man! He called for a national currency and a national banking system, stating that government could more easily control such things as depreciation and inflation if it also made and distributed the dough.

I quote: "The circulation of a medium of exchange issued and backed by the government can be properly regulated and redundancy of issue avoided by withdrawing from circulation such amounts as may be necessary by taxation, re-deposit and otherwise ... No individual should suffer a loss of money through depreciation or inflated currency or Bank bankruptcy."

As a politician who had overseen his country during a bitter and expensive war, he must have known what it was like to go cap in hand to the bankers for cash. He, therefore, was quite definite that: "Government, possessing the power to create and issue currency and credit as money ... need not and should not borrow capital at interest as a means of financing governmental work and public enterprise."

In fact, Lincoln was very clear that government-created, rather than bank-created money was a much more efficient and effective system. "The taxpayers will be saved immense sums of interest, discounts and exchanges. The financing of all public enterprises, the maintenance of stable government and ordered progress, and the conduct of the Treasury will become matters of practical administration."

He referred to the ability to create and control the money supply as "government's greatest creative opportunity," noting that: "The people can and will be furnished with a currency as safe as their own government."

Fascinating stuff! Especially in light of the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, this aspect of a well-known and revered man has been deleted from history. How many of us would have recognized the following militant words as those of Abraham Lincoln? "Money will cease to be the master and become the servant of humanity." Most of us would probably attribute them to Karl Marx, not a president of the United States.

Indeed, Lincoln thought that government money creation was key to running a democratic society. He felt the power of the people had to be greater than "money power" – and presumably bank power.

But perhaps Abe revealed his hand a little too recklessly. After all, he was directly challenging the status quo and the most influential people in his country – and, as president, was in a good position to act on his words. It is noteworthy that a few weeks after he issued his statement on monetary policy, he was murdered. Coincidence? We will probably never know.

What we do know, however, is that Lincoln's ideas about money were more or less buried with him. Even today, as the banking sector becomes more powerful and consolidated than ever before, there is very little said about taking the right to make dollars away from the few and handing it over to government.

Where is Honest Abe when we need him?

October, 1999
The Monetary Story Behind Our Tax Rates

TORONTO – They billed it as a forum on "The Great Canadian Tax Revolt," but no one came. Or almost no one. About 65 souls. Some revolt.

CBC Radio's "This Morning" sponsored the event with host Michael Enright, microphone in hand, ably playing referee as the tension between the tax defenders and the tax cutters rose steadily.

But there was something fundamentally wrong with the discussion. It wasn't so much what was said by the six panellists – although some of the comments were nasty and bitter, but what wasn't said.

They didn't get to the crux of the matter.

It seems to me that you can't talk about how much money we all pay in taxes without looking at how that money gets into the economic system in the first place. That wasn't addressed by the experts – although some members of the audience tried to broach the subject without much success.

Let me explain what I mean by first pointing out that I disagree with both the tax defenders and the tax cutters. The former insist that taxes aren't too high because they are desperately trying to protect whatever government-funded social programmes we have left. The latter want to cut taxes because taxes are, in fact, too high – and because they resent having to support social programmes.

Contrary to both, I believe we can and should have both lower taxes and social programmes. Sound impossible? Not at all. My position is based on an analysis of our monetary system and how money is created. Indeed, the origin of our money is key because that determines how much it costs to produce our money (interest rates) and how and where it will be spent.

Right now, private banks are creating almost 100 per cent of Canada's cash. They do this by lending money that doesn't actually exist (cybercash), which means that almost all the money created in this country is "debt money" with an interest rate attached. This is a very negative beginning for our dollars – although it is highly lucrative for the banks, as we all know.

(Also, since the reserve requirement which forced banks to hold a certain percentage of the money they created in reserve was removed by the Mulroney government, the banks are now free to leverage their funds by more than two-hundred times. In other words, they are lending out – or creating – a lot of money with nothing to back it up. Obviously, this system is becoming dangerously out-of-control.)

In years gone by, much of the money created in this country was channelled into various productive areas of the "real economy" – industry, decent public-service jobs, maintaining infrastructure. Now, more and more new money is going into financial speculation which is rarely productive and dangerously inflating the stock market. This has resulted in fewer jobs being created – and fewer taxpayers.

At the same time, much of the money is leaving the country.

Such a harmful scenario is not based on any natural order of things and it could certainly be replaced. Between 1939 (as a reaction to a similar situation that led to the crisis of the Great Depression) and 1974, the federal government's own Bank of Canada produced a healthy portion of Canada's money at nominal interest rates – meaning less debt to the private banks.

During this period, we successfully waged an expensive war, rebuilt the country's infrastructure, and established national social programmes. That system worked well for the country and its citizens for several prosperous decades. So, why have we replaced it with the present dysfunctional one? A question few are asking.

To sum up – since this is a complicated and little-discussed topic – the connection between taxation and money-creation is, at the very least, two-fold:

1) If money is created by private banks, costing the government billions in payments when it borrows at high-compound-interest rates, then taxes will surely go up.

2) If the government has no control over whether the money created will be invested in job-creating and tax-generating ventures, chances are once again that taxes will rise.

At the same time – and this, at least, was noted during the forum, corporate taxes have, over the years, been shifted to the individual taxpayer through higher personal income taxes and the GST. More burden.

Is it any wonder we have, if not a full-fledged tax revolt, at least a lot of disgruntled citizens who are receiving less and less for their costly donations to society while, at the same time, paying user fees every time they turn around?

I consider the issues of monetary reform and taxation basic to any understanding of the country's economic problems, and to their solutions. Too bad none of the panellists at the forum – who will remain nameless – and few other pundits generally (to say nothing of our politicians) agree with me.

December, 1998
Today's Concentration of Wealth

OTTAWA – Remember that lovely, anti-war song which asked the wistful question "Where have all the flowers gone?" Well, I would like to suggest a rewording of the song's lyrics to better suit our times. Forget the flowers, let's wonder instead "Where has all the money gone?"

That's right. The cash, the capital. There just doesn't seem to be much of it around. Streets have become grimier, more pot-holed; stores are boarded up; people look sadder and more pathetic. I remember looking out a bus window in downtown Vancouver a few months ago at the masses of grubby human beings gathered on the sidewalk. The scene reminded me of Russian-Revolution documentaries.

What is going on? Where is the money? After all, the Canadian economy has "recovered." The deficit is no more, and experts tell us that the so-called "fundamentals" – low inflation, lower interest rates – are in place. At the same time, there is more wealth moving around the globe now than at any time in human history. About four trillion dollars (US) worth of currencies, stocks, bonds, and commodity futures are traded daily on world markets. The pool of "hot money" available for these and other transactions is estimated at more than US$13 trillion.

But where is this wealth exactly? Who has it and who is benefiting from it? To answer these questions, I decided to conduct a search for that enigmatic global dough. And you might say I found it – or, at least, some of it. Statistically, I mean. (It eluded my actual grasp once again!)

Generally, the money is being sucked upward into fewer and fewer pockets. To begin with, there are more billionaires. In 1995, there were 357 of these super affluent human beings who were worth a total of $760 billion – equal to the combined wealth of about three billion others. In 1996, the number of billionaires rose to 447, and last year it topped 500. Added to these are the many multimillionaires and millionaires.

This financial concentration is a change from the past. Much more extreme. In 1960, the richest one-fifth of the world's population was about 30 times wealthier than the bottom one-fifth. Now, the top group is estimated to be about 150 times better off than the bottom. Distribution of the world's bounty isn't improving, it is getting a whole lot worse.

In Canada, the richest 50 Canadians have about $39 billion in assets – approximately the same as the bottom five million citizens who earn less than $10,000 a year. In 1993, the top 20 per cent of Canadians' "share of the income pie" was about $14 billion more than it was in 1973. That additional income was transferred in one way or another from those at the bottom.

The theory is that this increasingly concentrated wealth will "trickle down" to those below. But, as someone once observed: "Mink coats don't trickle down." In other words, the luxury items produced for and purchased by the superrich minority aren't really enough to maintain the kind of healthy economy needed to create a decent life for the rest of us.

In fact, to make matters worse, much of the money accumulated by those at the top of the heap is taken out of the general economic system entirely – and hidden away in the growing number of offshore banking havens, such as Switzerland, the Bahamas, the Channel Islands, and Luxembourg. Here, the loot avoids taxation – and, therefore, isn't moved back into society where it might do some good. The investment bank, Merrill Lynch, estimated not too long ago that the amount of private wealth stashed away in tax havens – sometimes referred to as "black money" – is about US$3.3 trillion.

But this is just part of the problem. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has calculated that, if the assets of the giant corporations are included, the value of all those funds hidden in havens is about US$5.5 trillion – a huge chunk of the world's total income.

Indeed, the accumulation of extreme wealth by a few happy individuals (they'd better be happy!) is a reflection of another modern phenomenon – the growing economic clout of giant global corporations. These financial entities have greatly increased their wealth and influence over the past decade. Now, 51 corporations rank in the top 100 economies of the world. Wal-Mart, number twelve on the list, is wealthier than 161 countries.

Again, what does this mean in terms of the distribution of money? To put it simply, the two-hundred largest corporations in the world have the same dollar-power as the bottom four-fifths of all the men, women, and children living on this earth. At the same time, those mega-businesses don't really provide their share of jobs – they employ less than three-quarters of one per cent of the world's workforce.

So, where has all the money gone? Look up. Look way way up. It's in the hands of fewer and fewer folk. Of course, the rest of us can join them when we win the lottery – or reverse government policies.

July, 1998
Weak Canada Considering Monetary Union with Stronger U.S.

TORONTO – This is a difficult summer. The pollution index is often high; people are cranky, and – now that the Chretien government is considering monetary union and an open border with the U.S. – the country appears to be teetering on the brink.

I wrote about the prospect of a North American monetary union (referred to as NAMU by supporters) a few weeks ago, but, at the time, I felt I was warning people about some starry-eyed scheme that a few right-wing radicals were cooking up for the fuzzy future. Now I realize that even cynical nationalists like myself can be naïve – and starry-eyed. It seems no matter how bleak we think things are, they are worse.

Sad.

To top it off, the news of the "blue sky" open border discussions with the U.S. came as I was reading a particularly disheartening book about this country: "Dismantling the State" by long-time journalist Walter Stewart. This book itemizes the various changes and restructuring foisted on Canada (with little public debate or awareness) over the past few years. Suitably enough, it is subtitled: "Downsizing to Disaster."

In spite of the fact that Stewart's impressive piece of work was published a year ago (it received little publicity at the time), it is even more relevant today. For, although it was written before the monetary-union cat was out of the bag, it demonstrates clearly – by the number and breadth of his facts – that this is a very bad time for Canada to be negotiating increased closeness with our aggressive American neighbour.

Stewart begins his book with an overview of the federal government. He shows how the Canadian public service, once the envy of the world, has been weakened: "The federal government lost 55,000 people – more than one in every five of those on staff – between 1993 and 1997; whole departments were wiped out ..." He reveals that the government has been dismantled further by "outsourcing" (contracts outside the public service), "telework" (electronic homework), and Alternative Service Delivery (bureaucrats form their own companies and sell their services to the government for a profit).

What was once a cohesive force working for the nation has been diminished, divided and, in many cases, demoralized.

Stewart devotes a chapter to the demise of the powers of government in the area of regulation. He begins this chapter with a very powerful quote by Susan and Martin Tolchin, the authors of "Dismantling America": "It is inconceivable to think of 'lessening the regulatory burden' as some put it, at a time when private industry has the power to alter our genes, invade our privacy, and destroy our environment ..." He then lists the areas – from mining to banking to food inspection – where governments have abandoned their roles as overseers.

On the subject of culture, one of the adhesives that keeps this country together, Stewart is equally strong and frightening. He observes that: "No other advanced nation in the world has surrendered its culture to another nation as Canada has to the United States." He then examines bastions of our culture – film, publishing, libraries – which are threatened.

Stewart leaves no stone left unturned in his examination of the weakening of this country. He looks at the "high cost" of free trade, the compromising of our justice system, the privatization of government agencies, the destruction of our rail system, the increase in child poverty, the rise of the "New Robber Barons," and the dangers facing our public health and education systems. It's a mixed bag, but all related to one thing – the viability of Canada as a nation.

Perhaps, the easiest page to read in the entire, often-exhausting book is a list of what Stewart sees as things we can and can't afford. It is also very revealing of our values as a society at the end of the millennium. We can afford hockey salaries up to $8 million and bank salaries up to $10 million; we can't afford universal health care, adequate day care, or pay equity. We can afford a growing number of lawsuits; we can't afford legal aid. We can afford several models of new cars every year; we can't afford public transit. We can afford expense-account lunches; we can't afford school lunches. And so it goes.

What Stewart is trying to point out (and has succeeded in my opinion) is the bankruptcy of this nation – not in terms of finances, but values and a sense of community. The deficit has been conquered, but what remains is a money-obsessed society with no sense of togetherness, pride, or, more dangerously, the future.

This is the country that is going to the bargaining table with the most powerful nation in the world to discuss an open border and monetary union. Wish us luck.

May, 1998
Is Monetary Union with the U.S. “Inevitable”?

TORONTO – Boy, were we naive!

Ten years ago, when many of us rallied to oppose free trade with the United States, we were such innocents. We really had no idea what we were dealing with – or how fast the political, economic, and social landscapes of Canada would change.

No idea.

Sure, we warned that health care and other social programs would suffer and become more like those of the U.S. We were also worried about increased American pressure on our culture and the loss of jobs to the south. But did anyone have the foresight or, perhaps, the courage to predict that we would lose the loonie?

I don't think so.

As far as I can remember, no one stood up and boldly told Canadians that, within a decade of the implementation of the Canada/U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA), there would be high-level pressure for a North American Monetary Union (NAMU) – complete with a continental dollar. (No doubt, pro-free traders would have been branded such a person an alarmist.)

But that is what is happening.

Indeed, with the introduction of a single monetary unit, the Euro, to European Union countries a few months ago, the advocates of a similar move on this side of the Atlantic are beginning to use the word "inevitable" when they promote their vision. After all, they argue, Canada is already deeply integrated with the U.S., why not take the obvious next step?

For example, NAMU promoters are quick to point out, 82 per cent of this country's exports – equal to 30 per cent of our GDP – now go to the U.S. In Europe, the average level of trade between the 15 EU countries and their fellow members is a mere 62.9 per cent – and yet they have opted for a common currency.

At the same time, Canada's various regions are looking north-south, rather than east-west. British Columbia is increasingly tied to the American Northwest; Alberta is looking south as far as the Texas oil region; Ontario and Quebec are bonded to the Great Lakes states (44 per cent of Ontario's GDP goes across the border).

So why have different money?

In case these arguments don't do the trick, NAMU boosters have got another card up their sleeves – based on the fear factor. They state that, if Canada doesn't begin negotiations for NAMU and establish a common North American currency, there is a distinct possibility that we will be forced to accept "dollarization." In other words, we will simply drop the Canadian dollar and adopt the American greenback. (This has already happened in much of the business world.)

Professor Thomas J. Courchene of Queen's University has warned that a "willy-nilly drift into dollarization, triggered by an unstable Canadian exchange rate, would be enormously costly to the country" for a variety of economic reasons. He, therefore, concludes that if "currency integration of some sort is highly likely in North America, the question for Canadians is whether they would prefer a NAMU to dollarization."

Courchene realizes that many Canadians would balk at the prospect of the U.S. Federal Reserve controlling North American monetary policy (it would do so by dominating any future North American Federal Reserve Board) and the fact that "... North American monetary policy will, for all intents and purposes, be US monetary policy." But, as stated above, he concludes that, given the other option of "dollarization" (there appear to be only two options for Courchene and others), such a development would be preferable.

Somehow, NAMU pushers think they can convince the rest of us that their concept does not threaten Canada's sovereignty. They say it is simply another version – the 21st-century version – of nationhood and we shouldn't worry too much about the future of the country. But how naive do they think we are this time?

I, for one, am willing to bet the farm that a few years after the establishment of a North American Monetary Union, we will hear arguments for a North American Political Union (NAPU). We will be told that we are already deeply integrated economically and monetarily – so the next step is "inevitable." (That word again.) I can hear it now.

Sadly, as Ottawa and the provinces continue to decentralize and weaken the powers of the federal government, the groundwork is being laid for such a scenario. And, by the time Canadians wake up, we might be too weak and compromised to save this land. What a tragic conclusion to our valiant northern experiment.

Surely, we deserve better.

May 1998 - December 1995
May, 1998
End of Auto Pact Bound to have Negative Repercussions

TORONTO – On a hot, polluted day – when I was trying not to panic about the fact that I shouldn't breathe the air, I walked out of a crowded subway station and came face-to-face with this headline: "Trade ruling expected to kill auto pact." I was stunned.

Yes, indeed. For some reason (I have no affiliation with the car-manufacturing business, and I drive a Mazda), the news hit me hard. I found myself standing stock-still in the midst of hundreds of sweltering, rushing bodies feeling quite bereft. I felt an overwhelming sense of despair.

Now, after further thought and research, I would like to take this opportunity to explain why.

The Canada/U.S. Auto Pact harkens back to those pre-free-trade days when the federal government acted quite aggressively to expand and protect Canada's manufacturing sector in order to create and/or save workers' jobs. Ottawa hadn't yet adopted the mentality that it would simply stand back and let business do virtually whatever it pleased – relocate, pollute – in order to increase profits.

In fact, the Pact, signed in 1965, is an excellent example of the opposite of free trade and laissez-faire economics. It represents what can be achieved when government plays an active role in managing or regulating trade and the economy generally on behalf of its citizens. In this case, Ottawa insisted that the powerful American car manufacturers – which would have been quite content to ship finished vehicles up from the U.S. – had to build cars in Canada in order to sell cars in Canada.

Simple really.

(The Pact does allow U.S. car companies to import certain vehicles and parts duty free from other countries. For example, Ford brings in the Jaguar without paying an extra tariff.)

For this and other reasons – our social programs which save car manufacturers about $25,000 per worker, our skills, and our low dollar, Canada has developed at least 300,000 auto-related jobs in areas ranging from the actual assembling of vehicles to the supplying of needed steel and chemicals. And, although the Auto Pact has been weakened by the two free-trade agreements signed by Ottawa with the U.S., most of those jobs remain intact.

(NAFTA, also signed by Mexico, watered down the Auto Pact substantially by replacing Canadian content requirements with North American content requirements. It was feared that this would result in a sharp shift in manufacturing to Mexico, but, so far, this hasn't happened – in part for the reasons stated above.)

But international free trade has gone a step farther over the past few years. Canada now belongs to the World Trade Organization (WTO), based in Geneva, and, when called upon, we must justify our various trade arrangements to the unelected officials who run this highly-secretive institution.

And that is where the recent upsetting headline about the future of the Auto Pact comes in!

Europe and Japan have complained to the WTO that the Pact places them at a disadvantage in the lucrative car-making game. They say it creates an unfair trade barrier because it gives the Americans special rights and treatment in Canada – and, therefore, it must be terminated. The WTO is expected to rule on this matter sometime in the future. (Although such rulings can be appealed, the success rate is low.)

What would a judgement against the Auto Pact mean to Canada?

Quite simply, it would result in a kind of marketplace free-for-all in this sector which the country hasn't experienced for years. The Big Three U.S. automakers would be completely free to move their plants wherever they wished. (As mentioned, they haven't taken advantage of the freedom they have already gained under NAFTA, but who can predict what these corporate giants might do in the future? A higher dollar, a single North American currency, or privatized social programs might tempt them to seek higher profits elsewhere.)

As well, other countries could flood the newly-opened Canadian market with their products. South Korea is already expanding its productive capacity by millions of cars in the hope that international free trade will open new doors. In other words, cars with Canadian content would be replaced by cars with no Canadian content.

How will this affect those 300,000 jobs which are so crucial to the economy of central Canada? And what will happen to our trade balance with the U.S. and other countries? With a little effort, I am sure most of us can imagine a few frightening scenarios.

So, where does the Canadian government – rabid free traders that the Liberals are these days – stand on this? Well, once again, it seems ready to renege on its responsibilities (ignoring the positive lessons of the past) and let the Auto Pact go. Instead of trying to bring Japan and others into the Pact arrangements, it appears to be ready to throw the whole thing out the proverbial window – even though Canada already has a large auto-trade deficit with Japan, for example.

That is, indeed, very bad news.

July, 1998
Move Over Amiel. It's Time to Bring Back the Middle Class

KINGSTON – It began with one of those late-night discussions, which somehow meander into semi-meaningfulness.

A member of our restless, post-midnight group declared (with such force one would think his statement verged on the original) that socialism was impossible because human beings were "just too greedy." I responded by pointing out that very few people I knew could be categorized as greedy – in spite of the temper of the times. Of course, I then had to defend such an apparently outrageous statement.

I did so by pointing out that I thought there were three levels of existence in our society: need, comfort, and greed. The obvious lowest level – need – involved the sometimes-futile attempt by an increasing number of Canadians to supply themselves with the basic requirements for survival in what can be a cruel environment: shelter, food, clothing, transportation, and some form of entertainment or diversion for stress relief (in too many cases, this amounts to a pack of cigarettes).

The next level (the one I believe most Canadians modestly aspire to either attain or maintain) – comfort – takes those basic necessities and embellishes them, but not by much. For example, instead of owning a patched-together car that doesn't always get from A to B, one might purchase (or lease) a new or reasonably-new, moderately-priced vehicle with a few options: radio, sunroof. As well, those living in the comfort zone can afford a home, perhaps a small cottage, an annual vacation, and a few "toys." Nothing extreme, just a few things to make life a little easier, more comfortable.

For me, greed is the easiest to define. It amounts to aggressively taking much more than one's share of what life and society have to offer. So, instead of owning a modest, practical vehicle, one owns an ostentatious status symbol – or three. Instead of providing oneself with shelter (need) or a cosy home (comfort), one opts for an oversized palace with rooms that generally sit unused (greed). Of course, there must also be expensive art on the walls (viewed by a fortunate few) and rare wines (enjoyed by only the most honoured guests) in the cellar. There are trips, expensive dinners, over-stuffed clothes closets, and toys, toys, toys.

As I mentioned, I don't include any people from the third gang among my friends – although I have some acquaintances who enjoy such a lifestyle. And, much as I like some of these people, I find it difficult to tolerate such self-centred consumption when too many children in this country and around the world are starving.

(Why do I feel downright corny when I write such words? So bleeding heart? Nevertheless, I will persist. I discovered recently that the additional $60 billion required to supply basic social services around the globe amounts to about three per cent of the wealth of the planet's 500 or so billionaires.)

All of this came to mind when I read the words of Barbara Amiel, a well-known female journalist, referring to her "obscene dress bills." This was not the first time the privileged woman had mentioned her expansive wardrobe and I began thinking about the importance of such commodities for some human beings. In other words, what lies behind the need to be greedy? What is the psychology of greed? Why do some individuals actually believe that what goes on their backs is more important than what goes into the mouths of helpless children?

I am probably the last person to attempt to answer these questions. As a writer and mother, I have been very much on the sidelines of the age of materialism and consumption. I gave up shopping years ago. My clothing allowance is probably about $200 a year. (Fortunately, my sister is a costume designer for films and has passed on everything from bras to trench coats, once worn by stars). I have worn the same $30 winter boots for three years and the same coat for eight. I have one pair of high-heeled shoes.

But somehow my low-budget look has not held me back. In fact, when I attended the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner not too long ago, I showed up in the same dress I wore to that prestigious event in 1995 – a little black number borrowed from my daughter. Nevertheless, I felt comfortable as I ate, drank, and conversed less than ten feet away from the prime minister. Clothes don't maketh the woman, Barbara.

Over the years, I have learned that big houses and fancy cars don't necessarily bring happiness. On the other hand, poverty is both gruelling and debilitating. In other words, it's best if Canadians are neither too needy nor too greedy – and it's better for the economy. More people spending some money is better than a few spending a lot.

So, let's revamp our tax system and breathe new life into our social programs to re-enforce the comfortable middle ground. There's lot of money out there. Share the wealth!

October, 1997
WTO Agreement on Financial Services is Bad News

OTTAWA – So, what is the average bank-goer supposed to think of the agreement reached by the powerful World Trade Organization (WTO) on financial services? Should we celebrate? Or will service charges rise once again?

I know one bank-watcher who suggests the latter.

But before I reveal the reasoning behind his prediction, here is some basic information about the agreement. (There aren't a lot of details available; Canadians are being kept in the dark on this and other secretly-negotiated international trade deals. And incredibly, even people in relevant departments on Parliament Hill were a little mystified about the WTO deal when I called a few days after it was announced.)

Under the agreement, which Canada has signed and will ratify next year – probably by rushing it passed confused members of the House of Commons who don't have the financial know-how to fully comprehend and, therefore, challenge the legislation – this country will open its doors much wider to foreign bankers. Right now, foreign banks operate here as subsidiaries which are limited because they must function on the strength of their own capital – money – and cannot make direct use of head office funds.

Canada's WTO negotiators have committed us to allowing foreign banks to open branches rather than subsidiaries – with the approval of the Minister of Finance – which will not have to incorporate or have their own Board of Directors and, presumably, will have access to lots of cash from the distant parent. The only limit, for now, appears to be that these foreign branches can only cater to customers who are able to deposit $150,000 or more. Definitely not me and probably not you.

What might this mean? Well, imagine the strength of a bank, such as the newest mega-bank in Switzerland which will have $595 billion (U.S.) in assets. That's a lot bigger than anything we have here. In fact, Canada's banks don't even register on the global "Top 50" list. Sitting ducks, perhaps? Of course, the plan among those pushing the open-door policy is that Canada's banks will merge and become giant killers.

In other words, a few Davids will get together to fend off the invading Goliaths. (Get out those slingshots!)

There's another possibility. A few Canadian Davids could join up with the odd foreign Goliath and turn against their own. Why not? It's business. Why let national loyalties get in the way? In this case, a Canadian bank could ally with or be subsumed by one of the U.S. financial giants – the Bank of America, say. (This is on the horizon, although it has not received government approval yet. But the banks – which want desperately to be part of the global action – are lobbying for it.)

The chaotic scenario above would require the striking down of an amendment to the Bank Act that was passed by the federal government in the 1960s when Ottawa was a little more patriotic than it is inclined to be now. That law restricted shareholders to 10 per-cent ownership of bank stock, not really enough for predators to sink their acquisitive teeth into. A few years after this legislation was passed, former Liberal Finance Minister Walter Gordon wrote:

"If the government had not taken the stand it did in the fall of 1964, I firmly believe that more Canadian financial institutions, including at least one and possibly several of our chartered banks, would now be controlled by foreigners. If this had happened, Canada's chances of remaining independent would have been weaker than they are today."

Imagine what Gordon would be thinking now, especially since he considered foreign takeovers of our financial institutions as nothing less than "a further surrender of control of the Canadian economy." He would be shocked and demoralized, I'm sure. And he would be waiting anxiously for the report on the 10-per-cent ownership issue – and other crucial issues – to be presented by the Task Force on the Future of the Canadian Financial Services Sector next fall.

But enough of old-fashioned nationalist dreamers like Walter Gordon, what about my bank-watcher friend and his fears about rising bank service charges? His conclusion is based on the fact that, so far, Canada is only going to allow foreign branches to cater to wealthier clients – the over $150,000 crowd. My friend thinks that probably means Canadian banks will lose some very important business to the newer Big Guys from the U.S. or wherever. And, to make up for their losses, domestic banks will have to increase their various charges for the rest of us.

If he's right, you can thank the WTO. (May we return our membership before it's too late? Please.)

September, 1997
The GDP: A Gross Domestic Pretence?

OTTAWA – You can be forgiven if, like many Canadians at this budgetary time of year, you stop suddenly in the middle of a chore or task, shrug your shoulders and mumble: "What is the GDP anyway and why should I care whether it goes up or down?" Your question isn't a silly one. These three letters have a lot of power over your life – too much power.

As we've seen, Finance Minister Martin is obsessed with the deficit and government spending in relation to GDP; he makes predictions (rarely accurate) about GDP growth rates to come. Export performance, retail sales, manufacturing, construction, and wholesale trading are measured as a percentage of GDP; it affects interest rates, investment and the dollar. Something this pivotal should be part of the grade-school curriculum.

The GDP or Gross Domestic Product measures the total value of goods and services produced within Canada, calculated on a quarterly basis by Statistics Canada. (It has replaced the Gross National Product or GNP as the indicator of choice, because GNP included Canadian activities abroad.) GDP figures released just days ago reflected the country's economic performance in the last three months of 1995. They revealed that the GDP dropped by 0.1 per cent in December.

It's all quite dramatic. The GDP goes up and we celebrate economic growth; it goes down and we hold our breath and hope the drop is temporary, fearing the worst. But could it be that the measuring stick we use to determine success or failure in our economy and our society is misleading, even harmful?

More and more experts in the field are beginning to think so. After all, it's difficult to accept a measure of financial and national welfare that assessed the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez as a plus. In fact, according to GDP measurement, the more garbage and pollution we create the better; they spawn collection and clean-up activities and jobs. Divorce is good, too. It gives lawyers something to do, and often means houses are bought and sold, furniture purchased.

In the land of the GDP, a parent caring for his or her own children is not a money-generating activity and, therefore, has no financial value. (Nor does housework.) However, children in day care create employment, incomes, and sales in small furniture. Crime also pays when calculating economic output. There are jobs for police, lawyers, the courts, growth in private security services, and expansion of the dead-bolt market. More guns are sold.

It's not surprising that the protest against this narrow system of national accounting – where only things which affect the market have real worth – is growing. There are those who say the value of a tree when cut down should be more accurately compared to its value standing. A live tree helps clean the air, conserve water and soil, and provide habitat for other living things. In the long-term, it might be much more valuable to the country than lumber. Shouldn't this be reflected in the nation's tallying system?

A group in the US, known as "Redefining Progress", has developed what it calls the GPI or Genuine Progress Indicator which takes into consideration the value of natural resources, happy families, crime-free streets, and a healthy populace. It has dared to question the constant drive for increased economic growth, suggesting that the questions "growth of what" and "growth for what" need to be asked by planners and policy-makers.

Because increased output doesn't automatically benefit everyone in society, the group includes the distribution of income in its GPI calculations. The GPI can't go up unless the whole population shares in the increase; it goes down with pollution and resource depletion.

"Redefining Progress" argues that the negative costs of growth can sometimes outweigh the so-called benefits. In other words, some growth is actually uneconomic. (This is blasphemy in the profit-driven, expansion-obsessed nineties!)

Stewart Wells of Statistics Canada admits that the GDP ignores many important aspects of society that are difficult to measure – things under the heading "Quality of Life". He says StatsCan is working to develop a broader method of defining and determining economic and social welfare. He warns that it might not be possible to find any single number that accurately reflects the complexities of the modern nation, but agrees that an improved indicator is necessary.

As for the ubiquitous GDP that so many politicians, business leaders, economists, and journalists consider sacrosanct, he says: "It's useful for what it is, but people ought not to read too much into it." Did you get that, Mr. Martin?

August, 1997
Will Canadians Survive Deregulation?

OTTAWA -- The spirit of competition is in the summer air with the Olympics in Atlanta. It's impossible to avoid. But would this international athletic contest of skill, speed, and stamina be as exciting and impressive if it were deregulated – a no-holds-barred physical free-for-all?

I don't think so. Chaos would reign, standards would drop, and our respect for the players would diminish as they battled for first place at any cost? So why, then, are we allowing the deregulation of our economy in the name of competition?

The concept of an increasingly unregulated society keeps me awake at night. I toss and turn, losing much-needed sleep, as I envision a future with little or no government supervision in various crucial areas of our lives – from air travel to water quality, from day care to land development.

My dreams, when I have them, feature endless witnesses at tainted-blood and mining-disaster inquiries who tell of federal and provincial government failure to protect the public. I wake up when a ValuJet airplane crashes into a Florida swamp, as a chorus of US aviation regulators promises to improve inspections.

Deregulation is one of the scarier buzz words of the nineties. Rules and guidelines are seen as unnecessary and restrictive barriers to business performance and profits. Competition, we are told, will bring us happiness and prosperity – and anything that hinders the natural workings of the marketplace is time-consuming, old-fashioned, and bureaucratic.

Just before the federal government went on summer vacation, it pushed its regulations bill – which few Canadians have even heard of – closer to becoming law. This bill weakens the government's regulatory powers in everything from industrial development to the environment. The Chretien Liberals tried earlier to pass legislation allowing corporations to actually re-write regulations they weren't happy with! But that was shelved when backbench Liberals rebelled against the idea of negotiable laws.

In Ontario, the Harris government has announced it is laying off the province's food inspectors – the people who quietly roam the markets and grocery stores collecting food samples, testing them, and ensuring that what we eat is safe. When they go, there will be nothing to stop farmers and importers from passing off pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables.

The Harris government is also withdrawing from day-care regulation and inspection, giving private operators a freer hand to look after children in whatever conditions necessary to make a buck. It is distancing itself from other areas, such as elevator and amusement-park inspections. As one observer noted, we'll just have to wait until there is a tragic accident before this policy is questioned.

So why do so many people with power and influence continue to worship at the alter of deregulation? For some, it means a free rein to reap bigger profits. Others like the idea that government isn't "in their face." Deregulation offers a kind of cowboy freedom – where the most aggressive among us can do very well, as the rest endure the consequences.

Michael Janigan of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre says every generation seems to have to learn the value of regulation and the drawbacks of unfettered competition for itself. Sooner or later, people realize that you can't have fair and affordable service delivery without reasonable guidelines. Right now, however, many business and government leaders "have a look of zealotry in their eyes" when they talk of deregulation – as if they just graduated from Economics 101.

And what does Janigan think would happen if the Olympics, the ultimate in world competition, were deregulated? "Well," he laughs, "Ben Johnson would be on the cover of "Sports Illustrated"!"

December, 1996
Chretien’s GST Apology Not Enough

OTTAWA – It is all well and good that Jean Chretien gave Canadians a pre-holiday apology over the GST "mistake" – a little something to warm our hearts during the festive season. But he can't stop there. With his unique public admission, the prime minister should push for a new strategy in modern politics – the "I'm sorry" school of governance.

We've long been known as the most apologetic country in the world – someone bumps into us and we apologize. Now we can extend that humble impulse to where it really counts and is needed -- politics. In his own modest way, Chretien could establish a much-needed political style for the New Year, the New Century or – why not go for broke? – the Next Millennium.

Obviously, now that the prime minister has taken his first timid step toward openness and accountability, he mustn't turn back. If he wants his "I'm sorry" to stick, he can't simply vanish again into that infamous nether world where politicians say one thing and do another and to heck with the consequences – and the voters. As with pregnancy, there is no such thing as being partly apologetic or semi-contrite – at least, not for long.

The Liberals have broken many promises over the past three-plus years, some more crucial to the Canadians' well-being than the GST. It would seem that Chretien could take a page from his party's own Red Book as the basis for his new "mea culpa" technique. The policy book states that "... after nine years of Conservative rule, cynicism ... is at an all-time high. If government is to play a positive role in society, as it must, honesty and integrity in our political institutions must be restored."

Indeed, a re-read of that little book, which Chretien waved around like a religious zealot during the 1993 federal election campaign, reveals a lot of pretty dramatic and high-minded stuff. Many important promises – both implied and openly stated. "For Canadians," it says, "the next election is about one simple question: what kind of country do we want for ourselves and our children." After criticizing the Mulroney Tories for double-digit unemployment and high rates of child poverty, it goes on: "We want a country whose people live in hope, not fear ... We want a country whose adults can find good jobs and whose children can realize their potential."

On the economic front, the Liberals continue to wax concerned. "Without a doubt, one of the greatest failings of the Conservative government has been the tendency to focus obsessively on one problem, such as the deficit or inflation, without understanding or caring about the consequences of their policies in areas such as lost jobs, increased poverty and dependence on social assistance."

The Liberals then promise a more "integrated" approach which will not have such dire social consequences. "We do not believe that the only solution to our economic problems is another five years of cutbacks, job losses and diminished expectations."

When it comes to job creation, the Liberals are equally clear: "... Liberals, unlike Conservatives, fundamentally believe that government can be a force for good in society. Economic growth is not a matter for market forces alone ... We believe we have to take immediate measures to make our economy grow and to create jobs ... Our goal must be to reduce the deficit in a manner that is compatible with putting Canadians back to work."

In other words, the Liberals promised – yes promised – to follow policies that were qualitatively different and more humane than those of the Tories. They said they would not follow the agenda of super-low inflation and job-and-program-cutting which hurt Canadians for almost a decade under Mulroney. Instead, they would take a hands-on approach to job creation, not simply leaving it to the private sector. But that hasn't happened – and even Mulroney has praised the Liberals for bringing in Tory policies more effectively than he did.

Chretien is now claiming that Canadians will forgive him and his party for making a "mistake" over the GST. He says citizens understand that the Liberals are not "miracle people." Speaking as someone who put her "X" beside the Liberal candidate in the last federal election, but won't in the next, I don't think most of us expect "miracles." We are willing to accept a certain number of broken promises in the day-to-day running of a large, modern democracy. We are realists.

What we don't expect is a complete reversal of policies, a blatant change in ideological direction, and an attack on the fundamental concept of "mandate to govern." In spite of what politicians might think, they are chosen to lead on the basis of their principles – and a token "I'm sorry" just won't do when those principles have been betrayed as consistently and cynically as those outlined in the Red Book by the Liberals.

The GST apology is a good start, prime minister, but it's just a start.

August, 1996
Business Dramas: Soaps for the Nineties

OTTAWA – Every day I immerse myself in a fascinating world of sordid passion, mercurial personalities, and intrigue, but I don't watch soap operas -- I read the business pages!

Yes, indeed. For those who enjoy a vicarious walk on the wilder side, forget "The Young and the Restless." You can find plenty of thrills and suspense in the world of the economically powerful.

Take the excitement surrounding jet-set mining executive, Robert Friedland. He dashes from one exotic destination to another – Singapore, Kazakhstan. Now, the US Environmental Protection Agency, upset about pollution left near a gold mine Friedland helped run in Colorado, has frozen some of his millions – with the help of Canadian courts. But the man some call "Toxic Bob" has cried foul with the help of high-priced lawyers. This should get interesting!

Speaking of millionaires – or billionaires – and their woes, I can't get enough news on the cable guy, Ted Rogers. Everyone was shocked and surprised when Rogers' chief financial officer up and left after 21 years of service. Investors got nervous and analysts commented, as Rogers – whose company has a total consolidated net debt of $4.7 billion – tried to quell the storm. For one thing, he is putting together a deal with a US TV home shopping channel that has Susan Lucci of "All My Children" peddling her wares. Perfect!

The personal business stories are tantalizing, but I also love corporate headhunting and raids. For example, Zellers, owned by the Hudson's Bay Co., recently exhibited a flare for the dramatic when it lured a top executive away from Wal-Mart International. The new fellow -- who actually helped set up Wal-Mart here in Canada! -- is now Zellers' president and ready to take on the U.S. giant. As one retail consultant watching the action declared: "It's all-out war." Not to be missed!

Takeovers, especially hostile ones, are entertaining as well in a David-and-Goliath sort of way, except that in business David rarely wins. Imagine the tension, the negotiating, the final deal-making! The swallowing of 70-year-old, family-run investment dealer, Richardson Greenshields, by giant, Royal-Bank-owned RBC Dominion Securities was described by one swallowee as "bittersweet." The poignancy of the moment was probably not lost on the 1,700 Richardson Greenshields employees either. You can't beat takeovers -- or mergers, restructuring and bankruptcies -- for sheer human impact.

Ah, bankruptcies. My heart lept when I read the headline "Consumers goes bankrupt" in a paper recently. Such a simple summation of a complex and heart-rending tale. The president and chief executive officer has resigned; the company and its remaining 450 employees are controlled by a court-appointed receiver, Coopers & Lybrand. Unsecured creditors were left feeling "bitter" and angry at the secured creditors -- the banks. This story is hard to resist because we've all fumbled through those Consumer catalogues at one time or another. Stay tuned!

But the real colour and titillation in the business world come from the scandals -- which are plentiful enough to keep even the most insatiable voyeur happy. In the corporate realm, steeped in dollars and power and the accumulation thereof, it's not surprising some eager participants go, well, a little overboard. The result? Insider trading, theft, unseemly penny stock speculation and power struggles. Real page-turners!

Like a soap opera junkie or sports fan, you can become a reasonably proficient "biz" groupie by following the ups and downs of corporations and executive careers from a comfortable armchair at minimal cost. You can then engage in street-corner conversations similar to those of other dedicated followers: What's next for Robert Friedland? Great move by Zellers, eh? Wasn't that sad about Richardson Greenshields? Do you think Consumers has a chance? Imagine the mystification of passers-by catching snippets of such arcane chatter!

As Canadians living in an increasingly unregulated, market-dominated economy, it wouldn't be a bad idea if we could talk the corporate talk -- even if walking the walk might be beyond our reach. Government (our representatives) has less influence over our lives and business has more; we should be aware of what we are dealing with, what they are up to -- and who "they" are? We need to inform ourselves defensively. It's time to get hooked on the real soaps of the Nineties.

May, 1996
Taxing Times

OTTAWA – There's no formal debate on the state of the country's tax system right now, but there should be. For moral and ethical, as well as financial reasons, it's time to clean up what has become an unworkable and grossly unfair revenue mess. We need a tax system for the next millennium, not the out-dated legislative patchwork we're struggling with at the moment.

The subject of taxation nags us constantly and won't go away. In one form or another – whether it's provincial crankiness over GST harmonization, right-wing demands for corporate and personal tax cuts, or dramatic revelations of tax-avoiding family trusts – the system begs to be thoroughly and openly assessed and revamped.

What has me particularly fired up about our anachronistic method of gathering public money are some quotes I read recently from an investors' newsletter. The publication, known as "Taipan", coolly advises readers that the electronic age means increased tax freedom. Money, it explains, is becoming nothing more than "a sequence of bits of electronic information" that can no longer be tracked down by government. It envisions large, tax-free bank accounts with "no more taxes on your invisible income."

But here's the kicker. The newsletter concludes with this probably accurate prediction: "Those who amass wealth and profits privately will be able to keep it. The tax burden will be borne only by those who make money the old-fashioned way."

Welcome to the Brave New (and divided) World of "cyber cash." But are we as a society and an indebted nation ready for this silent and destructive revolution? Actually, it has already begun. Canadians with enough cash – either "cyber" or "hard" – to consider alternatives to paying taxes are rebelling in frightening numbers. Some of the best-selling "How To" books in this country are on the subject of tax avoidance and outright evasion. Havens anyone?

(As a self-employed worker with a computer and a modem, I suppose I should be rejoicing at all this potential liberation, but I recently spent two hours waiting in a downsized government office for a necessary service. I can still see very good reasons for providing government with needed revenue.)

Perhaps the strongest argument for immediate tax reform has come from the Auditor-General. In his annual report, Denis Desautels made waves when he exposed the fact that a $2-billion trust left the country untaxed with the government's go-ahead. But Desautels offered other very powerful observations regarding tax avoidance which received little publicity.

Consider this comment: "Large corporations, particularly those with extensive domestic and foreign operations, have significant opportunities and resources to enter into tax avoidance schemes." Desautels argued that in this increasingly globalized world there are many corporate ways to get around the tax collector, such as the use of offshore banking institutions or the establishment of offshore trusts, holding companies and trading companies. In other words, shelters – legal or illegal.

The Auditor-General also pointed out: "The review of tax avoidance schemes involving large businesses is not dealt with consistently and may not be given adequate attention." This, he wrote, has a negative effect on the "equity and integrity of the tax system." (The fact that the corporate share of income taxes paid in this country has slipped from 21 per cent in the early 1970s to less than eight per cent does not seem to have stemmed avoidance.)

One would think that these well-documented comments from a high-ranking government official, such as the Auditor-General, would be enough to get the tax reform ball rolling. There is slight movement in this direction by two parliamentary committees mandated to examine the A-G's comments and other tax issues. But more concerted, comprehensive, and very public efforts are needed if we are going to save the system and the structures that depend on it.

Tax avoidance and evasion – even before the age of rampant "cyber cash" – are costing the government billions of dollars annually (and, over the years, have helped to create the country's debt and deficits). This, in light of funding cuts to the elderly, the young, and the disabled, is nothing less than a national scandal resulting in many personal tragedies.

It's time to re-examine the role and workings of Revenue Canada. I suggest we begin by putting the Auditor-General back on the tax trail. Goodness knows what else he might find!

January, 1996
Debunking Deficit Mythology

OTTAWA – A former official in the Finance Ministry and a former member of the Bank of Canada board of directors have joined forces to take on their past colleagues and stir up some debate.

If all goes well, they'll have some success, because their audacious booklet, "10 Deficit Myths", is the print equivalent of a sudden splash of cold water on the face – it opens the eyes.

Early in their work, Duncan Cameron and Ed Finn put the debt and deficit into perspective by pointing out that Canada is a very wealthy country. They say the World Bank estimates that each one of us is worth $960,000, because of our vast resources and public assets – a figure that compares very favourably with our per-person debt of $24,000.

The authors have moved a long way, philosophically speaking, from their former government postings. They now work together at the progressive Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. So, to allay any fears readers might have that their conclusions are too "loony-left", they begin with a quote from Jean Chretien when he took power.

"The Liberal Party is, indeed, quite persuaded that the monetary policies of the Conservative Government have been absolutely disastrous for the Canadian economy. We are convinced that the 'war on inflation' is at the very root of our economic problems."

Cameron and Finn agree there is a debt and deficit problem, but argue that the causes we have heard so much about and the painful cures we are experiencing are simply wrong-headed – based on myth. "Most of the things we've been told about public debt and deficits are simply not true," they state, "...as long as we believe them, we'll keep on accepting the hardships being imposed on us."

Myth Number One is: "The overriding objective of government policy must be to eliminate the deficit." The writers say the obsession with spending cuts is more about cutting government and its ability to interfere with the market than about reducing deficits. Why else would the deficit-cutting federal Liberals continue the policy they once scorned – maintaining artificially high interest rates, which compound the debt at an exorbitant, almost usurious, rate?

This question leads neatly into the second myth that governments waste money and create debt-building social programs, which should be cut or privatized. The authors turn to the health care system in the United States for proof that the opposite is usually true. The US system eats up 14 per cent of that country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and millions of people can't afford it, whereas our universal system costs only 10 per cent of GDP. They conclude it is better "to pay taxes to governments, not prices to corporations."

In dealing with other myths, Cameron and Finn present several pieces of information which offer something to chew on mentally. Some examples:

- Since 1987, the federal government has been taking in about $10 billion more in taxes, in most years, than it has spent on programs. This operating surplus is expected to increase to $30 billion a year and even go as high as $60 billion. "It makes no sense to talk about government spending being out of control," the authors argue.

- The federal government financed the war effort (World War II) through enormous deficits and very low interest rates set by the Bank of Canada. When the war ended, the national debt stood at about 120 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), nearly double the level of today, but prosperity followed.

- In February 1995, the Dominion Bond Rating Service released a study which attributed the majority of the federal debt – 93 per cent since 1984 – to compounding high interest rates. The study said the federal debt grew from $94 billion in 1984 to a staggering $508 billion in 1994, mainly because of these rates which, the agency concluded, "are driving the deficit today."

Cameron and Finn note that Canadians have tools at their disposal, which could provide better, less destructive, ways out of the present "crisis" than the cutback approach now being taken. They say the Bank of Canada was established in 1935 to help promote, not stifle, economic growth. They wonder why the government insists on "borrowing at the full market rate of interest from financial institutions which are making whopping profits", rather than from its own bank.

After reading "10 Deficit Myths", I'm thinking of offering my services to Finance or the Bank of Canada. In fact, it might help if we all took a turn working with the faceless experts who control our daily lives and futures by manipulating abstract rates and numbers. Based on the effect the experience had on Cameron and Finn, we would never be the same again.

December, 1995
Canadians Don't Deserve More "Lost Years"

OTTAWA – In this pre-holiday period, I'm finding it difficult to join in the spirit of the season. Instead, like some miserable Scrooge, I've been hunkering down with a book on the Great Depression – the Dirty Thirties. Barry Broadfoot's "Ten Lost Years 1929-1939", published more than twenty years ago, makes for some very heavy late-night reading, but, after witnessing some vicious social-program slashing recently, I'm drawn to the stuff. As 1995 comes to a close with many in power determined to turn back the clock, it seems relevant.

The director of the Carleton University School of Social Work got me started. During a conversation about Canada's high unemployment and declining services, Allan Moscovitch suggested that the country's political and corporate leaders are willing to risk pushing us toward a full-blown depression – because they are too young to remember the hardships and misery of the Thirties.

"They simply can't imagine what conditions were like then," he said. "That's why they have no fear of it. They don't know history, and they don't want to know it."

This ignorance of history and the roots of the government legislation and institutions now being tampered with or destroyed is not surprising, Moscovitch added. In many cases, those who suffered through the Depression tried to forget the past rather than share their memories with others. "We don't do a very good job passing experience from generation to generation," he concluded almost wistfully.

The professor's comments bounced around in my head as I read the preface to Broadfoot's book the other night: "For some reason a conspiracy of silence seems to have tried to hide the Depression from Canadians too young to remember it, to sweep under the rug those ten lost years that were the most traumatic in our nation's history, the most debilitating, the most devastating, the most horrendous. Those words are not used lightly."

Broadfoot wrote that this "conspiracy of silence" was rooted in the fact that Canada had emerged from the war feeling stronger and wanting to forget its "Dirty" past. "A war had been won, great goals lay ahead, the Thirties were still a shameful smear on people's memories, so everyone should forget that it happened. And it has been kept out of sight – but not out of mind."

These words certainly ring true for this forty-something Baby Boomer. The Depression might as well have taken place in Ancient Rome for all I relate to it. The only personal contact I've had is through my grandmother who would often leave a small piece of cold toast leftover from breakfast covered on a plate in the pantry. When asked, she told me she hated to waste food and preferred to finish the toast with her afternoon tea. I had a vague sense that my dear grandmother had known leaner times, but that was more or less the end of the lesson. My mother, born in 1930, remembers people knocking at the backdoor of her childhood home begging for food, but those years have never really been discussed.

Moscovitch mourns the fact that Canadians, especially our policy-makers, don't have the ever-present sense of the horrors of those "Lost Years" that their predecessors had. That awareness led past leaders to create the network of social programs we enjoy today. It seems ironic that we are now being given the impression, by some, that these programs were put in place by thoughtless types who apparently had little concern that they might drive the country bankrupt. That's not fair – and certainly not accurate.

When the Depression began in 1929, very few social programs existed. There was a version of the Old Age Pension, workers compensation, and a very low level of Mothers Allowance. Those in need were dependent on charities, such as the Community Chest (now the United Way) or the Settlement House urban missions. The report of a Royal Commission set up some years earlier, containing pages and pages of testimony about deplorable living and working conditions, had led to demands for a more organized way of dealing with the poor. Regulations concerning working conditions, child labour, public health, sanitation, housing, and even the purity of milk soon followed. Even before the Depression, it was obvious that "laissez-faire" capitalism just wasn't working. Government intervention was called for.

During the Depression with unemployment reaching 25 per cent or higher, there were cries for even more government action. People genuinely needed help and private enterprise was not in a position to give it to them. R.B. Bennett, the Tory Prime Minister who like many of our leaders today believed in minimalist government, initially refused to offer anything more than basic relief. However, he was pressured to act – in part by the more interventionist policies of President Roosevelt in the U.S. In 1935, Bennett finally went on radio to announce his own brand of "New Deal" helping to get some people back to work.

By the end of World War 11, the power elites in Europe and North America had come to terms with the fact that joblessness was not necessarily the fault of the individual; their recent experience had shown them that unemployment was a problem society and its agencies would have to deal with. In 1945, the Canadian government formally committed itself to the achievement of full employment. Such a move was a real break from the survival-of-the-fittest past. (This worthwhile goal existed, at least in theory, until cancelled by the Mulroney government in 1984.)

However, partly because of federal-provincial wrangling, it wasn't until the 1960s that most social programs came into being: the Canada Pension Plan (and Quebec Pension Plan), the Canada Assistance Plan (which ends next year), the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and Medicare. Each one put in place because it addressed a problem society wanted to solve. (Remember those stories about old people eating dog food? They are rarer today because of pensions and pension supplements.)

But what about Professor Moscovitch's thesis that the youth of our leaders today makes them dangerously naive and unrealistic? I called one of my favourite economists, Duncan Cameron of the University of Ottawa, for his take on the matter. He agreed with the thesis pointing out that there is a saying in his profession that you shouldn't trust any economist under 65! "All the best ones, the ones who really know how the system works, became economists because they experienced the Depression and wanted to make the economy work better," he said. And what are the chances that present policies, such as the huge budget cuts and lay-offs, could drive us to a major Depression? "There's no question about it," Cameron said. "If we continue as we are, we'll go straight down."

A few days ago, I found myself staring long and hard at a local newspaper photo showing thousands of job-hungry people lined up outside a downtown Ottawa hotel. They were hoping for a chance to nab a low-paying, part-time job at the city's new hockey arena, "The Palladium". According to the accompanying article, the desperate employment seekers (two young men slept in their car just outside the hotel door), included people who had been laid off in the public service, construction, and banking; several had two or more degrees. One of those hiring expressed his surprise that there were even single mothers in the crowd – these jobs used to attract mainly students. This is Ottawa, I mumbled to myself, the pampered capital!

I turned to Broadfoot's book and the testimony of one man he interviewed: "Men and women and children were dying of starvation in Vancouver. I've seen them dead. Cause of Death? Malnutrition, starvation, no food, weakness, the inability to withstand the winter's cold, and that was because they had no lodgings. Perhaps only a fire of packing cases burning under the Georgia Viaduct or on the False Creek Flats."

I thought about society's efforts over the past 50 years to get rid of poverty and desperation. Those who experienced the last Great Depression wanted to make sure it never happened again. They believed in putting money into the system, not cutting and slicing it out. They had learned that the country had to share its resources in order to survive, because Canada had started out with a survival-of-the-fittest philosophy and it simply hadn't worked. There are still many Canadians who lived through those "Ten Lost Years"; I wonder if they're as worried as I am.