Douglas P. Welbanks: Oh Canada, where are we now?

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      By Douglas P. Welbanks

      We’ve come a long way since Justin Trudeau took the helm of the good ship Canada. Although not exactly a scientific revolution that will alter the course of history, the legalization of marijuana does cleanse the criminal justice system of an obsessive pursuit of an illicit drug that merited decriminalization and marketing regulation decades ago. In the face of great mockery, a youthful new Liberal leader boldly went where no federal leader had gone before to rid society of outdated thinking and bad public policy. 

      His gender-balanced federal cabinet advanced the evolution of social justice to the highest offices in the land. To lead by example and not just words infused modern Canadian politics with a flash of new hope and respectfulness.

      And then massive government deficits pounded the drum of modesty with thuds of anxiety that blasted the eardrums of the nation with deafening disbelief. According to an Angus Reid poll published in the Globe and Mail, 70 percent of those surveyed disagreed with the Trudeau government’s decision to run larger-than-promised deficits. Fifty-nine percent of Canadians disapproved of the $10-million Omar Khadr settlement.

      The enormous disparity between the rich and the poor in Canada increased, notwithstanding all of the deficit spending, and recently broke through the veil of complacency with an embarrassing truth about middle- and lower-income families. A recent Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative publication revealed that fewer than 90 families in Canada held roughly as much wealth as what everyone living in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island collectively owned.

      Canada’s most affluent families are, on average, worth $3 billion while the median net worth is $300,000. Meanwhile, one in seven children live in poverty in Canada, as reported by the Conference Board of Canada.

      The fear about household debt in Canada slumbered once again beneath more exciting headlines—until the next time someone pushes the panic button. Consumer credit (excluding mortgages) as reported by the Bank of Canada reached a new summit of $606 billion in May 2018. This highlights a less visible form of impoverishment that smothers the land of prosperity with an unprecedented cloud of debt.

      Student-loan debt contaminated the postsecondary education experience for a significant majority of students as the average Canadian university graduate finished school with more than $26,000 in student debt, according to Statistics Canada (October 2017). Only 33 percent graduated debt-free. Sixty-two percent of those student loan debtors are still paying off the loans.

      Then, without warning or justifiable cause, the Trudeau government announced its decision to spend $4.5 billion to buy the Kinder Morgan pipeline and complete the Trans Mountain Expansion Project—a project that frightened the private sector into withdrawal and stretched the borders of reason for a public takeover to microscopic thinness.

      What does this solve? This purchase changes nothing regarding the valid protests and opposition to the pipeline. How and why would a senior government jump into the hostile water of controversy without a plausible business plan to overcome the obstacles? Governments should set a prudent financial example for others to follow.  

      The egalitarian infrastructure of opportunity from the past that contributed so much to our world-famous Canadian reputation of kindness and generosity has been displaced by one of privilege for the wealthy few, as a generation of young people today can’t afford to buy a house or attend university. World-leading household debt stamps an unforgiving footprint on a dwindling middle class threatened with a lifetime of financial struggle. 

      Oh Canada, indeed, where are we now?

      Douglas P. Welbanks is a former director of debtor assistance and debt collection for the B.C. government and the author of several books, including Unbreakable: The Ujjal Dosanjh Story and Julius Seizure: The Secret World of Bankruptcy, Debt Collection and Student Loans.