Archive for the ‘Minimalism’ 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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A few years ago I started to see the light about our overconsumption.  At the time I was unemployed and broke so, admittedly, my initial reduction of consumption was out of necessity.  But money aside, there were some other daily occurrences that gave me an inkling that I had more than I needed.

Zen copyright of Josefe aka Hipnosapo

I never had JUST clean laundry.  This was in part due to procrastination, but it was also because of a major complication involved with having all of my clothes laundered: I had nowhere to put them.  I had a 4-foot wide closet, a chest of drawers, two IKEA Antonius racks stacked, coat hooks at the front door and a space bag under my bed.  But I couldn’t fit all of my clothes into this space.  I used my laundry baskets like storage.

It took me at least 3 full minutes to pick out underwear in the morning.  I had probably 50+ pairs of underwear (and that’s just panties, not bras!) and most of them I either didn’t like or they didn’t fit.  I had a pair of underwear given to me for Christmas a decade earlier.  A DECADE!  It took me so long to pick underwear because I had to sift through all of the ones I couldn’t/wouldn’t wear to find one of the select few that I could.

We lived in constant fear of friends dropping by on short (or no) notice.  Our house was a perpetual pig-sty.  All the time.  It took several hours of non-stop, team-effort cleaning to get it respectable enough for guests.  There was just so. much. stuff.  There was, in fact so much stuff that we also had to skip a lot of opportunities to do fun things with our friends out of the house.  We often found ourselves saying no to outings because we needed to devote the entire weekend to making a dent in our household upkeep.  We knew if we didn’t, it would only get worse by the next weekend.

But the thing that really nagged at me the most was how utterly immobilized I was by all of the stuff.  I didn’t enjoy my home.  I couldn’t use my space.  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t deal with any of it, so I would come in my door, walk the narrow pathway through the stuff to the clear spot on the couch and watch TV until bed.  I never wanted to cook a nice meal.  I had a sewing machine I rarely got out because I’d have to clear the desk first.

I decided it was time to make a switch, a minimal switch.

So when I got a job, I made sure our spending stayed reigned in.  In under 3 years, we’ve quintupled our net worth.  We bought very little for the baby before he was born.  In fact, our biggest single expenditure in that department was the $1000 lawyer fee to have our wills done.  I no longer sift through undies.  All of my underwear, bras, socks and cloth pads fit in ONE dresser drawer.  The remaining 3 drawers house the rest of my everyday (i.e. not fancy or special-function) clothing.

I’m working on getting my home to the point of containing things that make me feel happy, inspired, even a bit zen.  There’s no upper limit on how many things will be in our house, just as long as the stuff doesn’t take me past my upper limit of stress.  I’ve made a lot of progress so far, but there’s still a lot to be done…

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