Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Where in the World is Tommy Douglas?

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There is a mendacity in politics today that is fuelling demands for the return of politicians like one of Canada's heroes. Tommy Douglas understood the wealth of a nation, of a society, can't be measured purely by economic factors. Tommy Douglas understood the need for a social democracy. Tommy Douglas understood that healthy people are essential if you are to have a truly great nation.

He understood the scale the United Nations now uses, the Gross National Happiness Index, to measure the success of societies.

In our quick-fix mindset of today, where we get our news through Twitter, social media and sound bites of the hot issues of the day, it is difficult to have the kind of discussion about where our country, province and city needs to be, needs to go.

Politicians and business leaders do not want to enter into dialogue about the unfairness and inequalities of current economic policies.

"In today's Great Recession, the rich seem much more complacent. They can afford to be. We're not experiencing a recession for the rich, only a recession for the rest," the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a report titled Inequality Rising Faster than Ever.

Canadian and American politicians and business leaders want us to believe everyone has an equal opportunity to be successful. Over the past 25 years, the mobility between lower-class, middle-class and the wealthiest Americans and Canadians is minimal. The poorest citizens have gotten poorer, the middle class has been hit hard during times of economic crisis while the top one per cent of the wealthy have got richer. During the economic crisis and recession of the early to late 2000s, it was the working class that lost its pension investments and houses and spiralled into debt. Seniors are working longer as private pensions go belly up. Fewer workers have private pensions, meaning working longer for most people is essential. Bankers and businesses were bailed out or often bought out as the wealthiest financially benefited from the recession.

Canada did not suffer to the same degree as our southern neighbours, mostly because of our regulations that provided protection for our housing market. There is an untruthfulness to the rhetoric that we must remove red tape, that we must develop policies that make it easier for business to be successful. Social democracies (based on the United Nations Happiness Index) work because they create a society with a balance of power, a power to create strong and healthy economies as well as healthy and educated societies -- societies that provide regulations to protect us from business leaders and politicians wanting us to be concerned about the day-to-day issues rather than the true economics of what is happening.

We need look no farther than at what is happening politically in our city to recognize the untruthfulness of the rhetoric. A removal of the safeguards (red tape) essential to doing business with our city has led to city contracts that appear to be more concerned with friendships than with what is good for the people of Winnipeg. A series of mismanaged and over-budget projects have resulted in a mistrust of politicians and a need to raise taxes. There is an untruthfulness to the idea that having the private sector take over essential government services will provide savings. How can a for-profit business provide as low-cost a service as a non-profit?

A social democracy recognizes what those essential services are. These social services, be they health, education, water, road repair, city planning and structural organization, must be available and affordable to everyone and not fall victim to supply and demand.

So where in the world is Tommy Douglas or the people like him who will stand up for a civil society and be the conscience of the government? Where are the newspapers and media providing the truth to the propaganda our politicians spin when they tell us that when we make things better for big business, we make things better for everyone?

Social democracies may have higher taxes, but they also have less crime, fewer mental health issues, higher life expectancies -- and, according to the United Nations, are happier.

"In any capitalist society, most people are bound to be part of the middle and working classes; public policy should focus on raising their standard of living instead of raising their chances of getting rich," James Surowiecki says in The Mobility Myth.

Our current answers to our societal problems can be defined as quick fixes at best, but are reinforced by the untruthfulness of politics. A strong society, a strong city needs to develop policies that support healthy, educated people. A strong society needs to have strong and vibrant communities. A strong society needs to heed the voice of one of Canada's heroes. We need a voice for the people. We need someone to be a conscience to our government and bring truth to the mendacity of politics. We need a Tommy Douglas.


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2014 A1

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