Op Eds 2015

John A. Macdonald showed Canada its strength

Published on: January 9, 2015Last Updated: January 9, 2015 12:12 PM EST

Canada is an improbable nation. Beyond the strains of geography, climate, or cultural diversity, the greatest challenge to those who dreamed of a united Canada was reconciling two languages. Without the gifts and insights of Sir John A. Macdonald, the language divide might have doomed Canada from the outset.

Indeed, when Lord Durham wrote about the rebellions in British North America in 1839 he discovered we were “two nations warring at thebosom of a single state … a struggle not of principles, but of races.”

Yet, Macdonald’s greatest gift to us, then as now, was to show us how we can be stronger as a nation when we celebrate and respect our diversity.

When prominent journalist and politician George Brown attacked the notion of religious schools, Macdonald instinctively defended the historical rights of French-Canadian Roman Catholics.

Writing to a reporter for the Montréal Gazette, Macdonald boldly lambasted the prevailing Anglophone attitude towards the French: “The truth is that you British Lower Canadians never can forget that you were once supreme — that Jean Baptiste was your hewer of wood and drawer of water. You struggle … not for equality, but ascendancy — (but) you have not the honesty to admit it.”

Macdonald’s moderate and respectful views enabled him to build bridges between Canada West and Canada East. He was ahead of his time when he declared, “(We) must make friends with the French, without sacrificing the status of his race or religion or language; (we) must respect their nationality. Treat them as a nation and they will act as a free people generally do — generously. Call them a faction and they become factious.”

To George Brown, a federation was the means to achieve both representation bypopulation and a diminished influence by the French over Canada West.Macdonald disagreed with Brown’s intent to isolate the French, but he agreed with the design. For Macdonald, uniting British colonies both affirmed Canada’s independence from America and assured its connection with Great Britain.

With Confederation George Brown triumphantly declared, “constitution adopted …a complete reform of all the abuses and injustices we have complained of. Is it notwonderful? French-Canadianism is entirely extinguished.”

In Canada East, Quebecers viewed Confederation as a means to control their owndestiny. Editors at La Minerve proclaimed, “As a distinct and separate nationality,we form a state within a state. We enjoy the full exercise of our rights, and theformal recognition of our national independence …. In giving ourselves a complete government we affirm our existence as a separate nationality.”

For his part, Macdonald offered us this enduring maxim and challenge: “Let us be English or let us be French … but above all let us be Canadians.”

When the Imperial Parliament was asked to pass the British North America Act, Macdonald was chosen conference chair. Sir Frederick Rogers of the Colonial Office commented on Macdonald’s mastery, calling him the ruling genius: “The slightest divergence from the narrow line already agreed on in Canada was watched for — here by the French and there by the English — as eager dogs watch arat hole; a snap on one side might have provoked a snap on the other; and put an end to the accord. He stated and argued the case with cool, ready fluency, while at the same time you saw that every word was measured, and that while he is makingfor a point ahead, he was never for a moment unconscious of any of the rocks among which he had to steer.”

In addition to being knighted, Macdonald was chosen by Queen Victoria to be Canada’s first prime minister in advance of our first election. It gave Macdonald an enormous advantage he did not fail to exploit, winning six of the seven elections he fought. Through his vision and example Macdonald remains as relevant to Canadian unity today as he was at the most crucial moment of our history

Don't punish people for saving


Published on: March 23, 2015

James Gordon made the point in these pages recently that the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) program is never going to help the uber rich fund their next yacht. Yet the fledgling program for the masses continues to get a rough ride as a sop to the wealthy.

In the category of nothing virtuous goes unpunished we now hear from those who argue that Canadians who do the right thing by saving for their futures through a TFSA should be penalized by government.

On the same day the Parliamentary Budget Officer panned the TFSA program as “regressive,” the Broadbent Institute, a think tank with a social equality slant, released a paper that concluded there was no case — on either economic or equity grounds — to support the unconditional doubling of TFSA contribution limits. The report’s author declared the growth of TFSA assets could turn the program into a “ticking time bomb.” A looming weakness was that accumulated TFSA assets are not taken into account when the government calculates who gets to keep Old Age Security benefits (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).

It’s true that a Canadian senior with, say, $50,000 tucked away in a TFSA today might enjoy the same seniors’ benefits as someone with no savings. Yet TFSA critics seem to prefer a system that punishes those who save responsibly for their retirement by constricting government benefits.

If the argument prevails that TFSA assets should be drawn down before government benefits kick in, then what about other assets that seniors have on their hands, such as the equity in their homes? Keep in mind that from a tax perspective, a TFSA functions much the same way as the investment Canadians make in their homes: after tax money goes in and tax free money comes out.

If we succumb to the argument that TFSAs are regressive and should be attacked, then why not do away with the tax exemption for a principal residence altogether? Indeed, doing away with that tax preference would add about $5 billion in federal capital gains tax in 2014. (Forgone federal tax revenue from the TFSA program in 2014 is estimated at only $520 million).

Yet the tax exemption for a principal residence almost never comes under attack by think tanks and income equality advocates because of the obvious societal benefit to home ownership.

If we didn’t care about how tax preferences affect our economy or responsible personal financial management, there is a long list of policies we could ditch. For example, we tax only one-half of capital gains (cost $5 billion); we exempt from tax the gain on farms and fishing operations (cost $525 million); and we give preferential treatment for employee stock options (cost $750 million). But all of these activities are supported through our tax policies because they promote economic growth, help to create jobs, and encourage personal financial accountability.

Saving through a TFSA and our homes is simple, mostly safe, and is a place where after-tax earnings can be invested without the taxman taking a cut. In an era when people are living longer, when the government is pushing back the age at which OAS benefits will be paid, when corporations are scaling back on pension benefits, and when personal debt is at an all-time high, then mechanisms that enhance individual and family savings are not only sensible, but virtuous.

We are at a time and place in our society when we should be making it easier and simpler for people to save, not more taxing and complex.