Archive for the ‘Giving back’ Category

As promised the other day, here are my policy ideas to make the country better.  In case you’re wondering, I have no credentials, no formal political training and no party affiliation.  I’m just a common-sensical mama with a brain and this is what’s been rattling around in it.

By the way, these are not my top-priority, dream-come-true policies.  Those would be too radical to speak out loud.  These are policies that I think would have better than a snowball’s chance in Hades of passing, should someone in power propose them, and that I think would be good first steps to making a better country.

1.  Change charitable donation taxation from a tax credit to an off-the-top deduction, similar to an RRSP contribution.

The Government employs countless people and spends countless dollars deciding which Canadian charities should be funded, and how much to give them.  I used to work for a federally-funded non-profit so I’m acquainted with the machinations of grant-funding.  So much waste just trying to decide where to send the money.  Why not give the citizens a bigger role in deciding which charities are important to us?  Canadians want to help each other and we already do – the Red Cross alone collected $100 Million in private donations for the Haiti earthquake.  And the donors all got a non-refundable tax credit worth only a sliver of what they donated.  Why not encourage us to help each other more often by granting a bigger tax incentive?  More private charitable donations would minimize the need for bureaucracy, not to mention the opportunity for fiscal mismanagement by government, all while allowing Canadians choose their charitable priorities.

2.  Increased maternity benefits for low-income parents.

We have fabulous maternity benefits in Canada.  Fifty weeks paid at (up to) 55% of your regular salary.  But still, not everyone can afford to take it.  Imagine you work full time at a minimum wage job in Ontario.  You earn (before tax) about $420 per week.  Can you afford to drop down to $230 for a full year?  Probably not.

I would love to see an additional sliding scale in the maternity benefit calculation.  If your regular income was less than the $447 per week maximum currently granted, then your benefits should equal your total income, not just 55% of it.

This is more than just a social issue, it’s a public health issue.  Low income women are less likely to breastfeed than their higher income counterparts.  Likely because they have to return to work.  Bottle-fed infants are less healthy, and they become less healthy children and adults.

3.  While we’re at it, more midwifery please.

The midwives may not have wanted me (this year!) but I still want them.  To the tune of 25% of Canadian births.

Estimates about the cost savings from midwifery care over physician-led care vary, but a Ministry of Health study put it at $800 saved for an in-hospital birth by a midwife, versus a family physician (to say nothing of the cost with an OB-GYN).  So let’s say that one quarter of Canada’s 360,000 annual births are cared for by midwives, in hospital.  That’s $71 Million annually just for the birth.  That does not include the cascade of other cost reductions like fewer repeat cesareans (because there are fewer first-time cesareans), fewer hospital re-admissions in the neonatal period, better breastfeeding rates and the subsequent better health associated with that.

It seems like a no-brainer to me.

4. Stop padding corporate pockets with broad tax-cuts and instead target hiring incentives for small employers.

I’ve spent years doing childcare and earning a decent amount of money for it.  But the government doesn’t know that, because I was rarely officially employed while I did it.  I didn’t protest at the time, but the reality is that working under the table hurts us all in the long run.  There’s no EI for the worker if they suddenly get cut, there’s no CPP contributions to support our ageing population, no RSP eligibility to support our own retirement, and women can’t claim maternity benefits if they weren’t ’employed’ in the first place.  But it’s expensive to hire someone on the books.  Adding employer CPP and EI contributions into the mix makes it unreasonable for a lot of people.  The one family that did hire me on the books had to stop using me after a few months because they couldn’t afford it.

I would like to see the government keep corporate taxes level and instead foot the bill for the employment expenses for employers with 5 or fewer staff.  Let us hire members of our community to staff our small businesses, to provide our childcare and domestic services.  Let’s work together to actually get working again instead of giving oil investors bigger dividends.

5. Last but not least, put our carbon tax to better use.

Carbon is consumption, consumption is carbon.  Taxing consumption is, therefore taxing carbon.  We already have a national consumption tax, the GST, so let’s use it.  For starters, it needs to be higher.  And I don’t just mean back to the 7% it was, I mean higher.  Ten per cent, maybe 12.  Then, broaden the exemption list.  You see, there is already a giant list of exempt and ‘zero-rated’ goods and services.  In order to transform the GST into a great carbon tax, simply add to that zero-rated list to favour carbon-friendlier alternatives.  Some examples:

  • All resale goods.  Currently you pay GST on used items unless they’re sold by a charity.  What’s more carbon-friendly than reusing?
  • New cars that meet really ambitious fuel efficiency standards.  Wouldn’t you seriously consider a vehicle that was $3000 cheaper than the others (assuming 10% tax on a $30k car)?  Wouldn’t you get even more serious if you knew it would use half the gas of the similar versions?  I think you would.  And I think companies will build that car if that incentive existed.
  • Mass ground transport.  City transit and international mass transit (including air!) are GST-free, but I think all mass ground transit should be.  Get everyone who didn’t buy the above-described car off the road!
  • Canadian-made foodstuffs.  Basic groceries are already GST-exempt, but we might as well broaden that to all made-in-Canada food.  Heck, all made-in-Canada anything, really.
  • Green energy.  Pretty self-explanatory.
  • Sports equipment.  Get people out of their cars, off their couches and onto their feet.
  • Digital services.  Why manufacture plastic discs and paper books if you can download the lower-carbon digital version cheaper?
  • And the list could go on, really.

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This month Dionna at Codename: Mama put out a challenge – to spread kindness daily through March.  I was totally up for it so I made my list of kindness goals.  I ticked off most of them, or at least made dents in them.  But as it turned out, March became a month of trying to be kind enough to myself to get through the day.

We moved here from Calgary in October and since then it’s been a whirlwind.  We moved into a sublet apartment, then 2 weeks later bought our first house that we moved into just after Christmas.  So it’s taken until this month for the full effect of the move to really sink in.  And boy, did it.

I’m completely alone here.  I mean, we know people.  Every weekend we have relatives visiting.  But as a mom, I’m so desperately alone.  In Calgary I knew so many moms.  And not just any moms, but moms who didn’t look at me like I was insane for doing things the way I do them.  Moms who were actually just like me.

I also had places I could go to and things I could do.  Here, not only do I not yet know where kid-friendly stuff is located, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get there if I did know.  This city is so huge that if you don’t have a car, most of it is out of reach.  The zoo is two and a half HOURS by transit.  Driving Mr. Fair so I can use the car means $30 in 407 charges… a bit steep just to get out of the house.

I’ve applied to the midwifery program for this September.  If I get in (I did get invited for an interview, yay!) I’ll need flexible childcare from someone I trust.  If I don’t, we’ve agreed I’ll offer childcare to cover some bills while I start doula/childbirth educator training.  In Calgary, thanks to those moms I knew and the fabulous local attachment parenting community, either situation would have been a snap.  Here… not so much.  I decided to put some ads out offering my dayhome services just in case I don’t get in.  After 3 weeks, I haven’t had a single reply.

I know I’m wallowing here.  I’m trying to focus on enjoying the time I have with Little Man.  If I get into school I’ll be thrust back into the world so fast I’ll probably be wishing for this quiet isolation.  But the magnitude of what I left behind just sort of hit me like a ton of bricks.  And add to that the fact that I have to sit here and wait for an admissions committee to decide my future.  I feel trapped, lonely and powerless.  So I spent March holding out for a new, better season.

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This is going to be a 2-part post about microlending for the public. This part will be for a bit of a background on microlending, and the next segment will get into how I to do it and how I choose the recipients of my loans.

Microlending, invented by the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, is exactly what it sounds like.  Small amounts of credit, given to people of low income so that they can generate more income and get themselves out of poverty.  Microfinance is a bit more than that – it usually includes credit, but also includes other banking and financial services to people who have smaller sums of money than would normally be accommodated by a bank.  These services are usually provided directly by financial institutions, but thanks to a wonderful group called Kiva, every day Joes like you and me can get involved!

Ok, but first, why is it good to give loans instead of charity? Well, there are a bunch of reasons.  But for me, I like that it gives the loan recipients the opportunity to design their own livelihoods.  Sure it would be good to give someone a job, but unless they happen to love the job you give them, it’s not going to be a permanent solution.  Letting someone create their own job also gives them the power to change that job in the future to meet their changing needs.

Moreover, what if the job you choose for them creates its own set of obstacles for the worker?  Going to a factory might give a salary, but if there’s a baby at home, mom now needs to hire a babysitter out of that salary and buy formula out of that salary.  And mom and baby get separated which, as an attachment parent doesn’t jive for me.  But, if you let mom start her own business – maybe she can open a small shop at home – then she’s more likely to be able to earn money while meeting the needs of her baby.

But, can a very poor person handle debt? That’s a really important question.  And as it turns out, the answer isn’t always yes.  Responsible microlenders ensure that the loan will not cripple the recipient, but sadly not all microlenders are responsible.  Also, lending in small amounts costs a lot of money, so the interest and fees charged on these loans can be quite a bit higher than we’re used to.  It’s not unusual to see effective interest rates above 25%, and that’s a lot of money.  How do you know when it’s too much?  There’s really no straightforward answer.

An important thing to remember though is that microfinance encompasses more than just credit.  The financier might make savings accounts available, health insurance, skills training and so forth.  So the loan recipient can get a lot of benefits from their relationship with the lender that might make up for the expensive loan.  It’s important to look at the whole picture.

Alright, I’m in.  So um, what do I do? Stay tuned for the nuts of lending with Kiva and how I’m creating a March of Kindness with microlending!

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A March of Kindness

Dionna at Codename: Mama has put out a great request – to do something kind every day in March and to spread the word about it.  Giving back is very important to me and is something we’re committed to teaching the Little Man so I’m definitely in!

March of Kindness

Here’s my trouble though… I’m a stay-at-home mom in the literal sense of the phrase at the moment.  Having recently moved I find myself in a new city, with only 2 friends, no car (Mr. Fair drives it to work) and still a boat-load of unpacking/sorting/setting up to do in our house.  So I’m home alone with Little Man pretty much every day.  In case you’re wondering, yes, this is partly why I’ve started blogging… a convo with my computer is better than none at all!

What does this have to do with being kind?  Well, it’s a bit challenging to spread kindness when you never see anyone you could spread it to.  So while I hope that I can make 31 kindnesses in total this month, I’m going to commit to at least these 10.

1. Reconnect with friends I haven’t spoken to since I left Calgary. Pretty self-explanatory.

2. Pump every day for one week. I’ve wanted to be able to offer milk on Eats on Feets, but I got rid of my stockpile before we moved and now I get so little when I pump (which I rarely do anyway) that I might have missed the boat.  But I won’t know until I try, so I’m committing to giving it a solid week.

3. Make a Kiva loan. I’m a big fan of microfinance and I love that Kiva lets me get involved.  I’ll be writing again later in the month about microcredit in general as well as specifically how I choose the loans I make.

4. Support a kind business. This one is indirect, but I think it makes a difference to put money in pockets of people who are doing good in the world.  I saw Oliberte on Dragons’ Den and loved it immediately.  It’s along the same lines as Kiva lending – providing people with the power to improve their own lives on their own terms.

5. Support a local. I always try to support local businesses – I am the daughter of a small businessman, after all – so this isn’t too far out of the norm for me.  But for the purposes of this, I’m going to make more of a stretch this month.  I might hire a local for something that I really could do myself, I might buy all of my meat for the month from the butcher I found who specializes in local products.  We’ll see, and I’ll update!

6. Lend something. People don’t lend nearly enough these days.  Buying ans selling on Craigslist is great and all, but it doesn’t build community like lending.  I’m not sure what I have that’s of use to anyone else, but I’ll at least make some offers.

7. Give something away.  Like the local-shopping, this is something I do regularly anyway, especially since I’m decluttering as I unpack.  To make it purposeful, I’ll commit to giving something away for free that I would otherwise list on Kijiji.

8. Sign up to harvest for Not Far From the Tree. I’ll post more about this organization, but they do some awesome stuff in Toronto and I want to help.  This won’t be a kindness that I’ll actually accomplish in March, but signing up will be a great way of keeping the kindness going all year.

9. Support some of the bloggers whose work resonates with me. Another result of moving is that I lost my wonderful group of like-minded parents.  In Toronto, I’m pretty much a pariah, whereas in Calgary I was the norm.  So I’m leaning quite heavily on a handful of blogs that resonate with me to feel like I’ve got a community.  These blogs deserve my support, so this month I’ll pick 2 or 3, contact the owners and PayPal them some money.

10. Plan my dream-kindness. All of these little bits definitely add up, but I’ve been dreaming for a while about a way to make a bigger difference.  I think I’ve found an opportunity, but it will take a lot more planning and it’s definitely a long-term thing.  This month I’m going to work on fleshing out some of the details and I’ll fill you in as I go.

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