“The most common way people give up their power,” wrote Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, “is by thinking they don’t have any.” Faced with an extensive catalogue of challenges, British Columbians are told that their options are to stay the course, continue as usual, and ultimately vote into power one of the two parties which has done the most to get us here. But with even a cursory look at our situation, we can agree that the status quo just isn’t good enough.
British Columbia’s taxes, for one, are the lowest in the country. This isn’t something to feel too good about. “Significant cuts to personal and corporate income taxes, combined with increases to regressive taxes like sales tax and Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums,” states a recent report by the Centre for Policy Alternatives about B.C.’s tax system, “have produced a tax system that is much less fair. Taxation has been shifted from corporations to families, and from upper-income families to middle- and modest-income ones.”
We’ve seen unwelcome changes not only in where the money comes from but also in how it’s spent. Stock of affordable housing has diminished dramatically over the past decade. Now, the provincial budget proposes funding cuts for Community Living B.C., the agency supporting citizens with disabilities.
These changes are creating a fractured, unjust society. Increasingly, we rely on poorly paid temporary foreign workers who are withheld basic legal rights many of us take for granted. Even as 1.3 million Canadians are unemployed, one in 50 jobs in B.C. are occupied by unprotected foreign workers. Our exploitation of these workers parallels the treatment of the rest of British Columbians. It’s not surprising that, according to a report published last year by TD Economics, British Columbia has the highest level of income inequality in Canada, with the top 20 percent of income earners securing 44.8 percent of after-tax income, while the bottom 20 percent receive only 4.5 percent, the smallest share in Canada.
Amidst the human story is an environmental one. Though coal produces the most greenhouse gases of the many dirty fossil fuels, B.C. remains its largest exporter in Canada—and continues plans to expand, with intentions to build 10 more coal mines, doubling its coal exports. When Enbridge presented the Northern Gateway pipeline to the public, its animation of the region erased 1,000 square kilometres of islands which are on its route—our ecosystems were an inconvenient detail. The B.C. Liberal government’s February 12 speech from the throne assured us of a $100-billion profit from developing liquefied natural gas (LNG) and that over the next 30 years, the taxes and royalties will pay off the provincial debt and fund social services. Due to the volatility of the Asian market we intend to sell our LNG to, however, British Columbians will probably subsidize the industry, rather than profit from it, let alone see this $100-billion windfall.
Concerning these, and many other pressing issues, the two parties poised to win the most seats maintain lamentably similar policies. Their differences are of degree rather than kind. And that’s the problem. We need new tools and new voices. We need to recognize that we still have the power to bring about positive change. Building a better B.C. depends on it.