A fundamental purpose of the Harper Government’s ideologically driven income-splitting tax scheme is to undermine women’s equality, Queen’s University tax law professor Kathleen Lahey told the Parkland Institute’s annual fall conference yesterday.
That’s a statement that may cause some readers to react with skepticism – but if you’re one of them, let me suggest it’s because you haven’t really been paying attention.
But powerful neoliberal and social conservative forces have been pushing back against gender equality ever since through such agents as the Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance and most recently the Conservative Party of Canada under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Not to mention, of course, the scores of neoliberal “think tanks” and lobby groups financed by deep-pocketed corporations to repeat Harperite talking points.
“While women were working so hard to get equal rights” – and, in Canada, succeeding more than in most countries of the world – “there was a rearguard action taking place,” Dr. Lahey observed.
“From the moment those laws hit the books, social conservatives have been pushing back as hard as they can” – and the reality is they have succeeded, continue to succeed and the result is there is real deterioration of gender equality in Canada today.
A key tactic in the Tory gender-inequality project, in Mr. Harper’s characteristic incremental style, has been to use a large number of small tax measures to return wealth to where he and the social conservatives who back him believe it belongs – the pockets of already well-off men.
The scheme works in two directions: Outright tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals, of which we’ve seen plenty, deprive civil society of the financial oxygen it needs to survive.
And while civil society suffers the death of a thousand cuts, scores of ideologically inspired tax breaks direct that money to places where it will encourage the kind of society the acolytes of Harperism want to build. And that’s not a society, let it be understood clearly, that values equality between genders.
“Almost half of Canada’s remaining fiscal capacity (after tax cuts) was given away through these little tax termites,” Dr. Lahey said. “The whole system is designed to be available only to people at the top of the income curve, and those are mostly men.”
If the expensive income-splitting dodge diverts $2.7 billion from tax revenues in 2015, 88 per cent of that will end up in the pockets of men, 12 per cent in the pockets of women, and nothing in the pockets of single parents, who have no one with whom to split their income. Poor and moderate-income couples will get little or no advantage either if they’re in the same tax bracket.
Conservatives, of course, spin this another way. They call it “putting money back in the pockets of families” and allowing “the real childcare experts – Mom and Dad – to decide how best to raise their kids.” (Both quotes are from Conservative fund-raising letters sent to the party’s supporters, and they make a lot of superficial sense to many Canadians who haven’t bothered to count up all the beans.) And if there’s no dad, I guess they just don’t care.
The reality is, in Dr. Lahey’s words, “very little of this money actually goes to the people who need it. … Forty per cent of women have income so low, they can’t take advantage of a tax cut.”
The Harper Government knows perfectly well how this will play out: Canadian so-cons have had the example of income-splitting tax measures in the United States to observe since 1948, and the results, said Dr. Lahey, has stopped millions of American women from achieving their full potential in order to protect their family’s income-splitting benefits.
“It’s a totally toxic tax measure, and it is the plan for Canada,” she stated, and it is being adopted – the propaganda notwithstanding – for purely ideological reasons.
“It’s being done as a marriage-promotion project. … It’s being done to maintain a ‘Christian home.’”
None of this is exactly news. Dr. Lahey has outlined her arguments in an excellent op-ed story in the Globe and Mail, which is well worth reading, and the consequences are well known to tax experts. Still, in the absence of much critical coverage in the mainstream media, it’s always worth hearing the obvious stated clearly: The Harper Government is doing what it can to undermine gender equality in Canada and redistribute wealth upward.
If you’re concerned about gender equality – and as a father of daughters who may have to survive in the wretched neoliberal dystopia Mr. Harper longs to build, I sure as hell am – you really shouldn’t support Conservatives come voting day!
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.