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Why Do Austerity Measures Always Target the Same Side?

02/23/2015 05:21 EST | Updated 04/25/2015 05:59 EDT

In recent weeks, we have seen that the Couillard government's austerity measures attack workers while leaving the rich alone. It is becoming increasingly obvious that this government doesn't want to tackle the real sources of the waste of public funds and instead intends to dip into the pockets of the middle class over and over again.

Austerity goes hand in hand with reduced purchasing power for workers. It also takes the form of direct attacks on public services, whose mission is precisely to reduce social inequalities. We are being subjected to increases in childcare fees of up to $790 a year. Plus higher hydro rates and municipal and schoolboard taxes. And what about the millions of dollars in cuts to universities, school boards and the health and social services system?

It's plain to see: austerity always targets the same side.

Yet there are ways to save billions of dollars that could be better invested in our public services. The government could also bring in new revenue to give the middle class some breathing room. Here are two examples of solutions for our public finances.

1. A 100% public drug insurance plan

Introducing an entirely public drug insurance plan could save between $800 million and $3 billion. By using its bargaining power, the government could have better control over the cost of drugs and save the province money. Families in Québec would benefit from lower bills for drugs too.

All that's needed is political determination and a decision to rein in the pharmaceutical companies. According to a number of studies, drugs are one of the main causes of rising budgets for health care. It's not surprising, because Québec is the place where drug costs have gone up the most in the last decade.

It's time to do something about this. When you see that these savings would be enough to avoid making cuts to the health-care system, there's good reason to ask: what is the Couillard government is waiting for?

2. Action against tax havens

The Swiss Leaks scandal shows that the wealthy have fewer and fewer scruples, and many of them are more than ready to dodge tax rules so as to pay less tax. It is estimated that more than $34 billion are lost each year to tax havens. Imagine the services we could afford to give ourselves if we managed to have everyone pay their fair share!

Unfortunately, Canada and Québec are not known for being very proactive when it comes to tax havens. While workers are being asked to tighten their belts, we can see that the rich aren't being asked to make any effort. And it's not really all that surprising. As Alain Deneault, author of Paradis fiscaux : la filière canadienne, said in an interview recently, if those in power don't attack tax havens, it's because they benefit from them, either directly or through the powerful lobbies that support them.

Tax havens are an even greater cause for concern because they are at the root of a vicious circle that results in workers bearing the brunt of the pressure to keep public finances "balanced", while the real sources of wealth escape us. It's no exaggeration to say that without tax havens, there wouldn't be any austerity!

Ultimately, some members of the middle class are beginning to get fed up with paying for all the services and increasingly finding that they aren't getting what they pay for. And they're not entirely wrong. But instead of attacking our public services and the women and men who work in them, shouldn't we be targeting the people who profit from this situation? Shouldn't we be demanding that wealth be used to help reduce social inequalities?

Austerity is not the solution

We need to realize that an attack on workers is what lies behind the Couillard government's austerity program. Yet there are real solutions for preserving public services and fighting social inequalities.

Why not work on this?

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