By Dennis Raphae, Morris Komakech, Ryan Torrence and Toba Bryant In developed nations such as Canada, citizens might assume that governing authorities legitimately and competently act to provide them with economic and social security. Citizens…
By Dennis Raphae, Morris Komakech, Ryan Torrence and Toba Bryant
In developed nations such as Canada, citizens might assume that governing authorities legitimately and competently act to provide them with economic and social security.
Citizens provide information to government officials on the adverse effects of the inequitable distribution of income and services with the expectation that they will respond. To name just one example, poverty researchers and food security advocates detail the extent of poverty and hunger respectively in Canada and its adverse health effects, hoping for positive policy responses from governing authorities.
Yet growing income inequality among Canadians and the scaling-back of programs that benefit many of them challenge this assumption. Instead, governments are enacting public policies that primarily benefit economic elites. Our research raises serious questions about government legitimacy and competency due to these issues, and how the dereliction has significant impacts on the health and well-being of Canadians.
The legitimacy of governments is based on processes of democracy and participation and the acceptance of public policy outcomes.
No one doubts that Canada holds “free and open” elections. However, the political process is dominated by economic elites whose calls for reduced taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and for scaling back social programs, are enacted by the dominant political parties.
In addition, the “first-past-the-post” electoral system disenfranchises the political preferences of a significant number of Canadians — usually the majority of voters — while maintaining control of federal and provincial parliaments by business-oriented political parties.
Statistics Canada reports that in 2015 that 14.2 percent of Canadians — or 4,979,000 people — were living in poverty. Among children 17 years of age and younger, the rate was 15.2 percent, or 1,032,000 Canadian children. Statistics Canada also reports people in poverty fall a full 30.5 per cent below the poverty line.
This shows that poverty is not only widespread, but deep. Comparatively, Canada ranks 25th of 34 developed wealthy nations in controlling poverty rates.
Another indicator of legitimacy is the extent to which the benefits of an expanding economy are distributed equitably. Over the past 20 years, the incomes of the bottom 60 percent of Canadians have stagnated, while growing sharply for the highest 20 per cent. Canada ranks 20th among 34 wealthy developed nations in managing income inequality.
A simple definition of competence — “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently” from the Oxford dictionary — can help assess Canada’s governing authorities’ abilities to meet the economic and social needs of citizens.
Employment and Working Conditions: Canada has one of the highest rates of low-paid employment among developed nations. Related to this is growing precariousness of work that’s associated with very limited employment benefits, and in particular, job insecurity.
In addition, Statistics Canada reports that 12.7 percent of Canadian households were in what’s known as “core housing need” in 2016.
Core housing need refers to three criteria: Affordability (households spend 30 percent or more of their incomes on their housing); suitability (the housing is appropriate for household composition and size); and adequacy (the household does not require major repairs, such as plumbing).
The most common reason for core housing need is housing affordability. Canada has been chastised by the United Nations for not meeting its international obligations.
Women’s rights: The United Nations 2016 review found Canada lacked a comprehensive national strategy, policy or action plan to address the structural factors that cause gender inequalities.
It noted the continued high prevalence of gender-based violence against women, in particular against Indigenous women and girls who suffer multiple forms of discrimination in access to employment, housing, education and health care.
What to Do?
Canadian governing authorities wear the veneer of legitimacy and competency despite their pandering to economic elites and their unwillingness to fairly distribute resources.
The failure of Canadian governments to respond to these problems requires mobilization of the public to literally force them to act.
Canadian public policy may be creating order, and, currently, peace. It is certainly not good government by any stretch of the imagination.