Whew! This income splitting is a killer. Actual perfect families as seen by the Harper Government may not appear exactly like Canadian reality. Below: Queen’s University tax law professor Kathleen Lahey.

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.

Dr. Lahey told a plenary session of the conference how, back in 1982 when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was adopted, women were almost full citizens of Canada. Almost.

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.

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  1. – How’s the cloaking device holding up, Clement?
    – Brilliant, Prime Minister! Setting it for 1950 has allowed us to pay off the well to do men while we dig deeper. We’re already at the nineteen aughts.
    – Perfect! Nineteenth century Guilded Age here we come. No environmental protections, child labour, and a British Empire with no limits.

    Or some scene like that.

    1. When I write “neoliberalism” I use what is generally coming to be the accepted definition for that term, market fundamentalism combined with the use of strong state power to enforce market mechanisms, even at the expense of democracy. In Harperism, How Stephen Harper and his Think Talk Colleagues have Transformed Canada, Donald Gutstein writes as succinct and accurate a description of the operations of modern neoliberalism as I have seen: “The ideology the think tanks promote is properly called neoliberalism because, in contrast to libertarians who want a small, powerless state that leaves people alone, neoliberals require a strong state that uses its power to create and enforce markets, and prop them up when they fail, as happened after the 2007-08 financial meltdown. Their utopian dream is a state governed by market transactions and not democratic practices. It’s based on the principle that economic freedom must come before political freedom. Political freedom may not even be necessary. It’s fair to say they believe in government, but not in democracy.” DJC

  2. “…little tax termites.” Perfect. And not only with taxes. They are undermining everything – health care, parliamentary government, Canada’s reputation in the world and our sense of a common identity. Then they’ll drive as many wedges into the munched-upon structure as possible and – ta-DAH! – total collapse. The so-cons will already have left the building by then, though, taking our common-wealth with them.

    And that “perfect family” Con ideal? Nauseating, horrible, a waste of brains and talent, and, as Jim Flaherty, in one of his last public statements before his death, said that it required “…a long, hard analytical look … to see who it affects in this society and to what degree.” and that he was “…not sure that overall it benefits our society.”

    The Cons would love to bring back the days of destructive boredom, perilous mental health and the “Mother’s Little Helper” fix for more than half the population. I knew the place was in trouble when Laureen gave up her own last name and her motorcycle and took on the persona of the surrendered
    wife to please The Base.

  3. Does it make sense to tax households that have a similar rate on income at a lesser rate than those with a divergent rate of income? I don’t think it does. I’m a man, but I make quite a bit less than my girlfriend–if we every got married income splitting would potentially help us but in no way would it reinforce gender inequality. Is there any evidence that Conservatives think men should make more than woman? None that you have presented. If anything, this article suggests the collary–some have the intent to use the tax system to enforce the idea that both partners should work and both partners (despite different skills etc.) should make similar income. When another entity opposes the use of the tax system in this way, they are immediately assumed to hold the opposite intent, when the intent may actually be fairness (i.e. if two households make the same overall income, they should be taxed at the same rate).

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