You all must be pretty fired up about the Government of Canada’s 2015 federal budget – sure know I am. The Conservative’s budget entitled, “Strong Leadership: A Balanced-Budget, Low-Tax Plan for Jobs, Growth, and Security was tabled in the House of Commons on April 21st, 2015 by the Honourable Minister of Finance, Joe Oliver, P.C., M.P (his friends just call him “Oliver”). And never before has a boy wanted more… of your tax dollars to spend on things you do not really need. Shall we take a look at what Oliver plans to spend your money on during this financial year?
Well, as you know, Canada is a pretty big military power. After all, given our vulnerable geographic position – surrounded by three oceans and closely aligned with the world’s biggest military authority directly to the south – we have a lot to enemies to fend off. Thankfully, our government is committed to enhancing national security to protect us Canadians from renegade Polar Bears and angry dairy farmers in Minot, ND. So committed, in fact, that they are going to spend more than $20 BILLION (more than 3% of the total budget) of your hard-earned tax dollars on defence. Additionally, 11.8 BILLION will go towards “strengthening the Canadian Armed Forces” over the next 10 years; $360.3 million in 2015–16 to keep ISIL off our streets; $452 million over two years to improve military infrastructure; and $296 million over the next five years to fight terrorism. Further $60.4 million is going to enhance security on Parliament Hill alone. Boy do I feel safe!
If you are a patriot, fear not. Oliver has committed to spending $210 million on activities and events to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. Nothing says “Oh, Canada” like crippling debt.
But worry not, unimportant things like the environment, health, post-secondary education, and First Nations People will not be a burden on Canada’s public purse. For instance, a whapping $75 million over the next five years is being allocated to implement a “Species at Risk Act”; just over $30 billion will be divided up among all the provinces and territories to fund healthcare; $10 billion (less than half of what the Armed Forces get) will be spent on post-secondary education; and a generous $30.3 million will be spent over the next five years to foster economic development on First Nation’s Reserves.
Now, don’t worry if you are a little bit upset about how Oliver wants to spend your money. The budget does have a lot of ‘goodies’ in it. For example, if you are patron of the arts in Toronto, you can expect $25 million towards promoting arts and culture – but there’s a catch. In order to get this treat, you have to elect Oliver and his boy Steve this October, as funding for the arts in Toronto (a strategic group of ridings for the Conservatives) comes into effect in the 2016 budget. The act of withholding attractive portions of the budget until after the federal election is kind of like your mom telling you that you have to clean your room before you can go out for ice cream: coercive and unfair.
I don’t know about you, but this budget leaves me saying to Oliver, “Please sir, I want some more… funding towards sectors other than the Armed Forces.” Here is a PDF version of Oliver’s budget for you to peruse at your leisure: http://www.budget.gc.ca/2015/docs/plan/budget2015-eng.pdf
If you haven’t already realized, I have spent a lot of time thinking about government budgets lately. My guess is that about half of you probably are rolling your eyes right now thinking, “what a pretentious donkey fart” while the other half are already asleep – but the fact remains, this is important shit. After all, it is YOUR money being spent by the people YOU elected. The sad truth, however, is that Canadians are apathetic and acquiescent when it comes to politics. For example, by show of hands how many of you actually plan to take five minutes to check out the PDF I posted; to see the budget for yourself? More, how many of you even knew the name of our Minister of Finance before reading this post? Well… I see my Dad’s hand up but he is old and listens to the CBC…. Anybody else? Anybody?
You see, the problem with Canadians is that we take our democracy for granted. That is, we mindlessly toss away all of the opportunities we have to influence the way our country is governed. When it comes to politics, our core assumption is that we are powerless in a complex system and that our voices do not matter. As a result, young people do not vote because they are apathetic and old people do not vote because they are cynical. If a law is passed that we do not like, we simply share an article on facebook, shrug it off, and move on with our lives. Unfortunately a hashtag is not a movement and a like does not replace a vote.
Worse, most of us do not even take the time to see what our government is doing because most of us simply do not care. And why do we not care? Because we are spoiled brats who have forgotten what it is like to live under the tyranny of an absolute dictator. We have forgotten the millions of people that died throughout history just so we could check off a name on a ballot box; just so we could protest on the street; just so we could see how OUR government spends OUR money. Further, our carelessness stems from a false sense of comfort that, no matter what happens, we will continue to live a happy and comfortable life. But that is simply not true. As you read this, our Prime Minister is consolidating power in the PMO, attempting to pass legislation that allows for Canadian citizenship to be revoked without a federal trial, and creating attack adds to stomp out political opposition. Not to sound like the guy who parks his Winnebago outside 7-11 and wears tinfoil on his head, but if Canadians continue to shrug off politics, the “true north strong and free” will soon become Mike Duffy’s personal pocket book… oh wait that already happened.
The more I think about it the more I realize that most Canadians are strangers in their own country, living carelessly under the veil of a forgotten political history. 1867 was so long ago that we cannot remember what it was like before we had a constitution; 1918 was so long ago that women and girls forget the struggles of suffrage movement; heck, most of us today assume that we are naturally entitled to certain rights and freedoms without realizing how hard our politicians fought for them in 1982.
Here is the thing. The dominant idea among people my age (at least) is that politics is an inaccessible creature controlled by a select few. Young Canadians are not apathetic because we are stupid or lazy; quite the opposite. We are apathetic because we feel alienated from a system that does not represent our needs. But why should the political system represent the needs of young Canadians? After all, less than a fifth of us vote, less than 1% of us run for office, and a small handful take the time to read up on current issues. When tuition goes up, we march for a day in front of an empty building and then call it quits. We do not dare take the time to understand how the Canada Social Transfer impacts our school fess – that would be far too difficult. So is it that young Canadians are really alienated from politics, or is it that politics is alienated from youth? I have a feeling it’s the latter.
Democracies only remain democracies when people participate and engage. A democracy without citizen participation is a dictatorship. Remember, we are all legally endowed with constituent power, and if we fail to use it then somebody (Oliver) will be happy to use it on our behalf.
Things are quite different here in Uganda. The 2015/16 Financial Year budget was read the other day and people cared. Unlike Canada, the budget was read by the Honourable Minister of Finance and President to a convention centre full of civil society representatives. I even watched the budget read on a projector alongside other NGO workers and relevant stakeholders. It was amazing. People were laughing, booing, cheering, and furiously taking notes throughout the reading. My boda driver and I had a good chat about it after as we drove past groups of people huddled around TVs – all, of course, watching the budget being presented.
I will not get into the details of Uganda’s budget this entry, but let’s just say Ugandans are far more fired up about their budget than I am about Canada’s. Why? Because Ugandans are still fighting for the open and accountable democracy that Canada is lucky enough to have. Canadians carelessly shrug off important legislation or openly launch ad hominem attacks at cabinet ministers (Oliver) because we can without dangerous repercussions. Ugandans, on the other hand, live in a much different political climate. Without saying too much, after a month here it is quite evident that Ugandan citizens are fighting an uphill battle against some very powerful people.
p.s. if you want to know more about the ins and outs of Ugandan ‘democracy’, feel free to send me a private message via email or facebook.