There are a few things I really need to say, and it might be boring to anyone who isn’t into Sociology, Politics, or Economics. But if you’re a citizen in Canada then you should probably pay attention anyway because if you’re freaking out right now about the future of our economy what I have to say might start to make some sense to you. Or it might not. No biggie if you think what I’m saying is wrong; it’s only my personal opinion and the way I happen to view the world.
As you all know, Justin Trudeau won the election this week. I’m not ashamed to say that I totally supported this win! I supported it from the moment I watched the election debate and heard him speak, and when I was reading his platforms. I’m thrilled and I think that it’s going to help out a lot of people who just don’t realize it yet. Those who aren’t thrilled are focused on two things: higher taxes for the 1% of the population making $200,000 a year (that’s $16,660 per month before taxes, by the way) and running a deficit and not balancing the budget until 2019.
The first one is ridiculous, because under Harper everyone was getting taxed at about 23-30% anyway, and the middle income tax bracket increased at $32,000 approximately. Basically you make a living wage and you’re SCREWED. Because you also have to start paying MSP premiums, with the lowest amount being $79 per month and the highest being $144 per month. At $34,000 you were charged the full premium (for one year my husband hit this tax bracket). You also had to pay back your student loans or at least a partial amount, based on what your GROSS income was for three months; NOT your net income. And if you happened to have a better month than average but at the time of filling out the repayment assistance form and you were facing a few bad months, too bad. Can’t pay? It goes to collections and Revenue Service Canada takes your entire tax return.
Now, I know that the richer people are all wagging their fingers and saying “well if you hadn’t taken out the loans in the first place…if you were living within your means…if you spoiled millennials just paid your dues and worked hard…I work hard for what I earn and I shouldn’t have to pay more in taxes to sustain YOUR lazy lifestyles and give you handouts…” and let me stop you right there, with a big middle finger while I’m at it. Because here’s something you continue to fail to understand or fully grasp: WE DO WORK HARD. WE DO LIVE WITHIN OUR MEANS. BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH.
Let me tell you something about my family. Both my husband and I were poor when we were kids. I was in a single parent household where my dad worked his butt off as a waiter for years, often needing to work two jobs to support us. He had a little help from his parents and siblings, but mostly it fell on his shoulders to put food on our table. He had to take out a ridiculous student loan to pay to go to university when I was 11 years old, and then some crap happened that was beyond our control and we had to move closer to the coast because of it. No one in his family was able to just help him out anymore, because they were four hours away. So if we needed groceries he had to find some way to pay for them; often needing to let a bill or two slide until the next payday. It was survival at that point and with my mother often working low paying jobs we didn’t get much in the way of child support either. Child tax credits dwindled as my brother and I got older. My dad had to start paying on his student loans for five years before he could take out another loan to go back to school. At this time I had to take out my own loan to go to college. At one point I was buying my own groceries to help out (and also to ensure I got a lot of the food I wanted but we used to not be able to get all the time) and working two part time jobs while going to school. But classes got harder and more writing intensive and I just couldn’t keep up with the demand of both school and work. I sadly ended up leaving school because I saw how big the loans I was taking out each semester were, and I knew that if I continued down that path I would be stuck living at home for three more years. I couldn’t do it. My home life was becoming unbearable because I did not get along with my dad’s girlfriend; she was too critical of me and I was becoming depressed and feeling trapped.
My prince rescued me at age 23. He gave me a way out, and even though my job as an assistant manager at a retail store only paid $10 an hour and I would be LUCKY to get 35 hours per week (because the big corporation didn’t like to pay their employees fairly, no matter how hard they worked or how devoted they were) I took that chance. I moved into an apartment with him that was $900 a month. I made less than $1200 monthly and paid half this rent. I also covered the cable/internet bill, my cell phone (we did not run a landline because nobody was home all day) and my credit card bills (for the times when we needed groceries and I had no money in my account). This was barely sustainable. I had $10 left over after paying these bills, and though my husband was making good money ($20 an hour) it was in the flooring industry and was a major victim of the recession. When people are broke they aren’t so concerned with getting their floors done or investing in new properties. So jobs dried up. He ended up having to go on EI, all the while trying to find a job that would pay him what he was making before. He could barely find one that paid over $12 an hour.
This man, who worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met in my generation, who would scrub septic tanks if it meant a decent wage, could not find a job. He applied to employment agencies and was even more discouraged by the lack of opportunities. In all this time I had to use the credit card to get our groceries and pay our bills. I put myself in such debt that there was no way out. I couldn’t leave my job and find another one. If HE was having such difficulty, then I stood NO chance. I tried a few multi-level marketing/direct sales opportunities, but they all fell flat for me. I don’t know a lot of people and it’s just not my strong point. Some people are good at it; I just wasn’t one of them. And in the meantime, I had put MORE money on my credit card to get into these businesses!
We moved to a smaller place; a basement suite. Four months later we hired the wrong person at work and because I was supervising that night I lost my job (he had already been fired earlier in the week for something else, and they needed a scapegoat). They tried to deny me EI, and I was on the phone in tears trying to get my compensation. I got it, thankfully. But with jobs drying up my husband took out a student loan and went back to school; this time for autobody. He excelled in it and found his passion, and he got an apprenticeship lined up. Unfortunately this was about the time that the landlord told us she needed our suite back because her son was moving home early. So we had to pack up, with neither of us knowing how the hell we’d pay for the first month’s rent and damage deposit. I used paypal to “pay” my husband the money off my credit card, so I wouldn’t have to do a cash advance. We used that to pay for the apartment. It was $300 more than what we had been paying in the basement suite. I didn’t find a job until August and we had moved in December. I used EI to cover my half of the rent…and that was about all I had. Bills piled up. I had to ignore them. I let collection calls go to voicemail and didn’t answer any number I didn’t know because telling them “I’m sorry, I have no money to pay you” didn’t go over so well and they got mean. It caused me such anxiety I had nightmares that I would be arrested. My husband started his apprenticeship and was off of EI, so we had him making $14 an hour and I made nothing.
I got a job at The Bay. It required an hour long bus ride into town, and I started at 7am every morning. I got up at 4:30 everyday. I was paid $10 an hour, and I loved the work. I was getting lots of hours. And then the big corporation that bought The Bay decided that the marketing department could function on less hours for employees. TWO four-hour days per week! That was all we got. I was lucky that my manager liked me, because any extra hours she got for the store she gave to me. I was able to stretch my four hours into six hours, eight if I was extremely lucky. I got called in on weekends. I would get called in at an hour’s notice on my day off, and I’d bus in and stay as long as she needed me to. And I still couldn’t pay my bills.
I went into bankruptcy, but my student loans survived. When I started bankruptcy my husband and his father had decided to get a house together. It would save us money on rent. Where we were currently living…it was a slum. There were people on either side of us always screaming. Sometimes cops were called. I found used needles outside in the parking lot. It was not really “safe” for me to be walking to the bus stop in the wintertime because it was so dark. I was often on high alert for the slightest footstep behind me. So getting the hell out of there, where we were paying almost a thousand dollars a month even though the stove didn’t work very well and there was mold in out bathroom, and silverfish, it seemed like a hell of a good option!
So we moved to a small three bedroom home with a basement suite for his dad. I started looking for a new job and found one. I was getting paid $12 an hour.
Things were starting to look up for us.
Then I found out I was pregnant.
They “let me go” from my new job the day of my first prenatal appointment; said it “wasn’t working out”. Two weeks before they had been so impressed with me. I knew that news of my pregnancy had leaked from my husband’s workplace to mine; it was obvious because the whole reason I got that job was because of contacts through his shop. But I couldn’t prove it, and I was on probation so I had no case. I probably couldn’t have afforded a lawyer anyway.
So now I was pregnant, on EI, and knowing that all I could get would be $10-$12 an hour I saw little point in working only to have to leave once I started to show (which would be in less than three months and they could just fire me again for no reason) and I couldn’t afford daycare (and didn’t really want to leave my child to be raised by a stranger; especially since I intended to breastfeed exclusively) so I just became a stay at home mom a little earlier than I’d planned to. I used my EI payments to pay my bankruptcy fees. I was discharged two months before my son was born and EI switched over to maternity pay…which would only pay out until June because I’d exhausted it by not having enough workable hours from both The Bay and the other job wasn’t even being factored in because I hadn’t worked 600 hours there. Child tax benefits kicked in right away though, so that helped a bit.
Thankfully my husband had started a new job back in October. It paid $22 to start, then he kept getting raises. It had health benefits and dental. For the first time in our lives we felt we had a chance at living comfortably. But his wages capped at $25 and he was only there for less than two years. He saw no chances of getting any higher up the ladder and he went back to flooring. It had real promise. They were paying him $30 an hour. But the economy hadn’t recovered enough and few people were willing to get their floors done. By November work had all but dried up, and he had to spend $300 in gas each month and pay for the bridge tolls each day to commute all the way to Vancouver where the jobs were. And the collection calls for student loans started coming. We were already stretched beyond our means, trying to pay off debt incurred from the autobody tools he had been REQUIRED to have when he was still an apprentice, as well as the necessity of buying a car that would fit a car seat and stroller. I had to file several hardship forms with the CRA to get them to back off a bit, but we still had to pay the very little we could afford (and I had to beg and plead them to take that amount because they wanted more than that). It wasn’t enough to take what little we had each month, they also took our entire tax return; money we had been counting on to help cover several bills and the property taxes for the house.
My husband left flooring. He took a job close to home and took a pay cut down to $22 an hour…flat rate. So hours were billed based on the job, not the actual hours it took to finish it. Sometimes this was a good thing, because he is a hard worker and can get things done quickly and still have them look perfect. Other times it meant his bi-weekly paychecks were under $900 after deductions.
I do what I can to help him. I sell things we no longer need for a few dollars on bidding sites. I figure out what bills need to be paid when and try to cut down on as many expenses as possible. We have very basic cable and internet. I cancelled our one extra cable package to pay for the $15 unlimited internet service because otherwise we’d be screwed on data after one day. I figured rather than pay for the shows I wanted to watch I could just stream them on the computer. Why pay for a handful of channels when you can buy the whole internet instead? I cancelled the data plan on my cell phone and got the lowest plan I possibly could. I’ve clipped coupons and discovered that the stuff that’s “on sale” is usually garbage that we don’t even eat anyway. I watch for ACTUAL sales instead. We do without when we don’t have enough and I’ve become pretty good at stretching a hundred dollars to last us two weeks if need be.
We don’t have emergency or maintenance savings in our budget because after bills and groceries and gas there isn’t money left for that. We’ve done all we can possibly do, and we’re not able to get ahead.
And my husband works on average 96 hours bi-weekly to try to keep us comfortable. He uses his down time to make whatever he can that he thinks might sell online. He goes through his things on a regular basis and tries to sell them to make extra cash. I use my child tax benefits to cover some bills and groceries.
All this is survival for us. And we’re tired of just surviving. We’re tired of having to field calls with collections and student loans and MSP and tell them that we just don’t have the money to pay back what they want us to. We’re tired of the big corporations taking all the profits and enjoying the tax breaks, while my poor husband tries so hard to get ahead and can’t, because nobody wants to pay him a fair wage and no one can afford to hire him to do their floors. We’re tired of making under $34,000 a year and still being in ‘too high’ a tax bracket to actually get a break from student loans and MSP payments.
So when people say that Trudeau’s vision of taxing the richer citizens and giving more to the middle class is bad, it makes me angry. It’s NOT a bad idea; it’s f***ing brilliant!
If you give more money to the families who need it, then we can have some breathing room. Those of us unable to do so before will be able to afford life insurance, put away for retirement, have emergency savings, be able to budget for maintenance costs on vehicles and appliances, be able to afford to buy a home rather than rent out an apartment in a crappy part of town, be able to save for our children’s education (or ours), be able to repay student loans and other debts without having to go into bankruptcy, be able to invest in businesses of our own! If you give money to families in the middle income tax brackets, we will be able to BREATHE more easily in our finances. We can afford to go back to school, get better jobs or be promoted, be able to give our children the chance to raise their own economic standing when they grow up. My husband, who has worked for someone else his whole life, could finally start putting money away for that shop he’s always dreamed of. He could be his own boss; a dream that so many people have but can’t afford to make a reality except through multi-level marketing opportunities that aren’t as simple as so many involved in them would have you believe they are.
If you invest in the rest of the population and not just the corporations, then yes, a few corporations might decide they don’t want to pay the 3% raise in their taxes. They won’t like that they’re not getting the tax breaks they don’t actually need. And they might leave. But that’s looking at the short term, and those same corporations that only care about the bottom line are the ones who aren’t likely paying their workers a fair wage. They’re the ones who, instead of taking cuts to their own salaries, would rather pink slip hundreds of people who work for them; the faceless “numbers” that are draining their profit margins.
What else will happen is that those who weren’t buying consumer goods beyond necessities, who were therefore “hurting sales profits” by not being willing to spend the money on what the poor retail associates are told they need to sell to keep their jobs, they will be able to AFFORD to buy those things again. The economy will flourish even without those corporations because more people than just those making over $40,000 a year will be able to buy from the local businesses that pop up in their place. More people will be able to start up (or sustain) their shops and offer their services to the public and people will be able to renovate their homes. Remember how I said that my husband couldn’t sustain an income in the flooring industry because there was no work for him? Well, if more people are able to actually afford to renovate their homes (the tax incentive was great, but it missed the mark because not many people have $10,000 sitting in the bank to renovate their home) then those workers will have jobs, won’t they?
As for the deficit, here’s what makes sense to me about balancing the budget in 2019; if you’ve been raising the taxes for the wealthy, and boosting the economy by giving the middle and lower classes more breathing room in their finances AND incentives to invest in businesses and purchase goods and services beyond the basics for survival, then that money is going back into THIS country. If we can afford to buy our groceries here instead of hopping the border to the states, then that’s money back into Canadian treasuries. If we can afford to start up our own shops and offer our own services, then THAT’S money going back into Canada. So many people lament that nobody is investing in local businesses anymore; that big box stores are taking over and pushing people to work less hours and make less money, and that it’s killing our economy because most of those corporations that own (or bought out) the box and department stores are foreign and not putting that money back into Canadian pockets.
Well, how do you expect us to get rid of the box store monopolies and invest in local businesses if 99% of the population can’t afford to start up those businesses or buy those local goods?
How do you expect the economy to flourish if you’re only focusing on the very rich with tax breaks and incentives? Nobody else can afford to buy anything. Nobody else can get ahead. The budget can either balance by increasing the earning and spending power of 99% of the population, or by letting the economy stagnate and continuing to let the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.
Personally I think Trudeau is a genius for seeing what I’ve been thinking all along: raise the standard of living for the many instead of just the few, and there will be a surplus of resources because people will be able to contribute MORE than they could when they were starving. There are so many things I’d like to do, that I can’t. I want to help empower women through setting up an Improving Birth chapter here in Canada, so that more women are informed on what respectful care and informed consent actually ARE and can have access to the resources they need to get that level of care. I want to be able to donate to animal shelters, children’s hospitals and women’s shelters. I want to be able to say YES when worthy charities ask for small donations instead of having to sadly turn them away because we can’t afford to give what we don’t have. I want to be able to donate to cancer research and other currently incurable diseases and disorders. I want to be able to HELP people, and I can’t do that where I am right now. I don’t think very many can. And that’s not helping anyone. The richest corporations tend to give money to popular charities for the publicity and the tax incentives it brings them; I want more of us, who know what it’s like to claw your way up from poverty and hardship, to be able to give back because we know it’s the right thing to do, and that it can be the difference between barely surviving and being able to breathe.
Others might not feel the same way, but I say WELCOME, Mr. Trudeau. I’ve been waiting over ten years for someone with your vision and I’m so happy that so many people have given you the opportunity to change things for the better; even if they aren’t quite sure what that means yet.