Monday, 28 March 2016

A good budget for the poor

There has been a lot of talk in the past week about the latest federal budget. Some are apoplectic that it increases the government’s deficit. Others say it hasn’t gone far enough. My experience suggests that when neither polarity likes a budget, it’s probably a reasonable Canadian compromise.

Like you, I depend on the media for understanding these kinds of events. But for the first time, I attended a post-budget briefing offered by one of our local accounting firms.

I learned a lot. And it wasn’t dull or dry, either. This was the kind of expert opinion that is really useful. The devil, as they say, is always in the details, but I want to share with you some of my learning about the effect of the budget on ordinary people.

The Universal Child Care Benefit and the Canada Child Tax Credit are being replaced a new Canada Child Benefit. It’s universal, geared to income and tax free. The Child Disability benefit, which you have to apply for, will be continued.

Family income splitting is removed except for seniors with pension income.

Education and textbook tax credits are gone, but more student grants for tuition as opposed to loans are available.

Seniors at the lowest end of the income scale will see an increase in their Guaranteed Income Supplement by 10%. That will be adjusted quarterly and linked to changes in the cost of living. Eligibility for Old Age Security and the GIS starting at 65, reversing the plan of the previous government, is being phased in by 2023.

Another important measure, and one which will make low income taxpayers and my friends at the United Way of Bruce Grey happy is that amounts received from the Ontario Electricity Support Program will be exempt from income calculations in any social assistance plan in Ontario. This starts in 2016 and will apply to the subsequent tax years.

Another change which affects many people is that the HST has been removed on insulin pens and pen needles, as well as on intermittent urinary catheters if prescribed by a medical professional.

Is this a good budget? I think so. More support is promised for indigenous communities, affordable housing and public transit. People on the margins and edges of society will see positive change. Of course all of that is dependent upon filing a tax return. It makes sense to do that. Help is available in the community if you need it. Just call 211 and ask.

And the deficit? I don’t believe it is the end of the world as some politicians like to say it is. Bank economists are suggesting that in times of record low interest rates and high need it makes a lot of sense to increase government spending. Time will tell us if that opinion is right.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Call for charity tax change

It’s tax time. If you have ever paid attention to your tax return, you may recall that there is a tax credit for contributions to political parties. There is also a tax credit available to anyone who contributes to any registered charity. But did you ever look at the actual amount of the tax credit?

If you were to give, as an example, $400 to any political party in Canada you would have received a tax credit of $300 or 75%. The actual cost of your donation would be $100. If you were to give that same $400 to any charity, you would receive a federal tax credit for $88.00 and a provincial tax credit of 33.30 for a total of $121.30. The actual cost of your donation would be almost triple that or $278.70.

This has always bugged me. Why do political parties skim the cream to raise funds for their particular political purposes?

Recently I received an e-mail from a Conservative Member of Parliament, Ted Falk, who represents the riding of Provencher in Manitoba. Falk is proposing a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons which will level the playing field for charitable gifts. The bill, C-239, titled The Fairness in Charitable Gifts Act, needs all party support to receive First reading in the House of Commons. And it may not proceed to Second and Third reading unless our Member of Parliament agree.

Falk says in his e-mail, “...federal tax credits for political contributions far exceed the federal tax credits for donations to registered charities in Canada. That's just not right.”

I agree. His proposal is to bring the tax credit for charitable gifts in line with that credit for political parties. He says, “... charities all across Canada will benefit greatly as more dollars will be freed up for donations. This will make it easier for small donors to become larger donors, and for people who do not currently donate, to start.”

This would be good news for any charitable organization in Canada, no matter what cause they serve. Cultural groups like the Tom Thompson Gallery would benefit. So would the United Way, the Salvation Army, OSHaRE and many, many more.

Charitable giving, according to Statistics Canada, has been in steady decline since 1990. If we are to continue to have the charitable sector be a part of our community, that trend has to change. This bill is the perfect way.

Please take a moment and call or e-mail your MP and ask then to support Bill C-239, The Fairness in Charitable Gifts Act. You can also e-mail the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition as the Leader of the NDP and Green parties.

This has the potential to change our community for the better. And you can make it work. Just do it.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Mincome is the way forward

If you didn’t catch it, there was a very significant paragraph in the last Ontario budget which bears our attention.

While the fiscally conservative are bemoaning the state of the Ontario deficit, the radical revisioning of social service supports in Ontario was largely overlooked.

The budget said, “One area of research that will inform the path to comprehensive reform will be the evaluation of a Basic Income pilot. The pilot project will test a growing view at home and abroad that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market. The pilot would also test whether a basic income would provide a more efficient way of delivering income support, strengthen the attachment to the labour force, and achieve savings in other areas, such as health care and housing supports. The government will work with communities, researchers and other stakeholders in 2016 to determine how best to design and implement a Basic Income pilot.”

In other words, Ontario will be doing the basic research for a system to replace the current broken social assistance system with a “mincome” system. Mincome is a general term which means that every person or family unit receives a guaranteed amount of money, higher than the pittance of social assistance. That amount is gradually clawed back as work income increases.

Canada has had one mincome experiment, in the 1970's, in Dauphin, Manitoba. Under the Liberal Trudeau government and the NDP Schryer government, the mincome experiment ran for five years. The election of the Lyon Conservatives and the Clark Progressive Conservatives terminated the program. Even the data was not released for twenty years. But by 2011, the data had been analysed and the results were clear. Mincome made an amazing difference.

The only negative effect observed was that employment dipped slightly, which was largely attributed to mothers staying home longer with children and people returning to school to upgrade their skills. Positive results included a lower dropout rate in the school system. Hospital visits dropped 8.5 percent, with fewer incidents of work-related injuries, and fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. In addition, there was a reduction in rates of psychiatric hospitalization, and in the number of mental illness-related consultations with doctors.

For decades we have operated under the neoliberal ideology that no one has a right to a government benefit unless they have proved themselves to be deserving or worthy or have earned it. Mincome tosses that outdated idea out the window and rightly so. Our assumptions about poverty and government benefits are about to be turned on their head. Simply put, mincome works. People are better off.

For all the whining and complaining of the fiscal conservatives, this will have a beneficial effect on our community and our province. I’m looking forward to it because it’s the right thing to do.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

ARC will have ripple effect

Like many of you, I have been watching the Accommodation Review process conducted by the Bluewater District School Board with some interest. A lot of interest, to be truthful.

I have seen these reviews come and go over the years. I think the first school closure in the city, Victoria, happened shortly after I arrived here. One of my children was part of the last class at Strathcona, when it was closed by the Accommodation Review process. Now all the schools my children have attended in Owen Sound are proposed to be closed.

When I think of these changes, I don’t just see the dollars and cents. I see the people, the kids and the community environment.

We haven’t heard all the details of the plan, but it looks like it will happen very quickly. Students will be going to new schools in the coming year or so.

But there is another factor at play here; one that is, for me, entirely self-serving. I live within a block of two of the schools which will be staying open and changed; Hillcrest and West Hill Secondary. And I am worried for student safety.

One of the things I have noticed about the traffic on my street is that at certain times of the day it is incredibly heavy. As the buses arrive, delivering students to both schools, the traffic volume increases significantly. And that can be risky for anyone out walking.

What is most risky is being a pedestrian and crossing the street. And that’s when you cross at a four way stop.

I’m not worried about the school buses. Their drivers are professional and watch out for and respect pedestrians. But it seems everyone else in Owen Sound, including city bus drivers, are completely ignorant of what a stop sign means.

In case you missed it in the Driver’s Manual or failed the driving test, a big red octagonal sign with the word STOP on it means you must come to a full, total stop. California rolling stops are not legal in this province. That seems to be completely lost on most drivers in Owen Sound. City police watch those four way stops in my neighbourhood and speak to drivers who forget their responsibilities. Business, they tell me, is good. Too good.

The impact that the accommodation review will have on the neighbourhoods around the schools affected will be significant. I trust plans will be made for the traffic changes the review results will bring.

Many years ago I conducted the funeral of a woman who had lost her husband who had been a crossing guard at the corner of 3rd Ave West and 10th St. West. He died when a car didn’t stop at the stop sign at the corner and hit him. Traffic lights were installed shortly thereafter.

I hope it won’t take the death of a child at a four way stop intersection around a local school to make a difference. And if your daily travels take you near a school, watch out. Remember, stop means stop.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Friday, 4 March 2016

The Pope and The Donald

Oh my. Pope Francis and Donald Trump have gone at it hammer and tong.

It had to happen. Pope Francis, when asked by a reporter about Donald Trump at his traditional end of road trip press conference said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,”

One of Trump’s signature policies is that he wants to build a wall along the US Mexico border to keep Mexicans out.

Francis made a point of celebrating Mass a stones’ throw from the US border in the city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Before the Mass he walked to the edge of the Rio Grande, watched by American border officers, and laid flowers at a new memorial commemorating those who have died trying to cross the border.

Trump, in turn, called the Pope’s remarks “disgraceful”. He also accused the pope of being a pawn of the Mexican government before dismissing him with “Now it’s probably going to be all over the world. Who the hell cares? OK? I don’t care.”

Trump’s religious crudeness has been evident throughout his campaign. In a speech at the evangelical Liberty University he referred to “Two Corinthians” rather than “Second Corinthians”, and later that month he tried to put cash on a communion plate while attending a Presbyterian worship service in Iowa.

While in the great scheme of things this doesn’t amount to much, the polar opposites of the two men is evident.

Francis, on one hand is an inclusive, theological liberal. His call for compassion and care across all of the global community is modelled on a regular basis, whether it is in his practice in worship or  living in a Vatican hotel instead of the private Papal apartment.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. He is richer than Croceus, successful (although he has been through multiple bankruptcies) and preaches isolationism and exclusivity. His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” resonates with voters who fear loss of privilege both at home and in the world.

Against Trump, Pope Francis has Christian Scripture and the words of Jesus. The Great Commandment says, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I suspect Donald Trump wouldn’t know much about those ideas. Nor would he understand these words of Jesus; “... for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ ... ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

His response would probably be, “You’re fired!”

Pass the popcorn.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.