I heard a pernicious argument from a Conservative commentator on Rosemary Barton’s morning show yesterday. In between condescending remarks (“now look, Rosie”) the argument ran as follows:
We are in a time of inflation so we should not pass measures that increase consumer spending. So we should oppose pharmacare and dental care. By contrast, though, large expenditures like the purchase of F-35 fighters are good because so little of the money remains in Canada. So goes the argument, which is currently being broadcast on all the usual channels.
This is all a part of the Conservative broad front against the agreement made by the NDP and the Liberals whereby the former would support the latter in confidence motions until 2025 so long as key NDP priorities were passed, and specifically, pharmacare and dental care. The budget this week will be the first test of that.
I also read in passing of a plan to offer high speed internet at $20 per month to low income seniors, as well as a tax on the banks, and this too seems to be part of a realization on the part of the Liberals post-pandemic that we need to take care of people who are not in a position to care for themselves. No doubt the Conservatives would oppose this too on the grounds of being ‘inflationary’.
But there is a price to the Conservative argument that they’re not prepared to admit. And it is this: there is a direct correlation between being poor and death. We saw this clearly when poor people died at a much higher rate during the pandemic than the wealthy. The less we help poor people, the more they die. That would be the cost of the Conservative’s anti-inflationary stance.
Of course, that stance is unreasonable in the first place. The poor contribute very little to inflation. The drive to higher prices, when it results from consumer demand, comes from spending by people with money. I mean, d’uh. Creating a more equitable society doesn’t cause inflation. Quite the opposite: the less equitable the society, the more vulnerable it is to inflation.
That said, in the current circumstance, inflation isn’t being caused by high consumer spending at all. Rather, the problem is at the other end of the spectrum: supply. We are, because of the pandemic, and now because of the war, facing shortages. The price of oil is especially at fault here, as it always is during wartime. And the labour shortages are another cause; it’s not only the deaths, but also the people with long Covid, and the people who decided minimum wage isn’t worth risking their lives.
For in the battle against Covid, just as in the battle against inflation, it is poor people who take the brunt. Higher prices don’t really hurt the wealthy; they can just spend their way through it, and perhaps salt a little less in their overseas nest egg. The poor are expected to work, to suffer higher prices and lower wages, and to take the risks. They become desperate, which is music to a Conservative’s ears.
That’s why the deal between the Liberals and the NDP is important. It is a recognition on the both parties that, at least for now, it’s time to put the needs of those most at risk ahead of those with greater means. And the way things have been going, that means more and more of us every day.
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