Incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau has an amazing opportunity to leave his mark on Canada just like his father who ushered in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Perhaps our new federal leader can introduce a new national "social inclusion and social mobility charter" to ensure that everyone in Canada whether rich or poor has the services and supports they need to reach their potential.
Who knows how many Nobel Prize winners could never reach their potential in Canada because they were hungry or homeless? This is a huge waste of our human resources. We need to tap into the greatness of all our citizens and watch the country flourish.
So how can the government increase social inclusion and social mobility?
This got me thinking about the great American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, who developed the concept of the "hierarchy of needs." This theory stated that humans need to have their basic physiological needs met such as food, water, sleep, and sex before progressing onto more advanced levels of human development such as safety which includes personal, financial, and health security; love and belonging which includes friendship, family, and intimacy; esteem which includes self-esteem and self-confidence, and finally self-actualization which is where creativity and problem solving take hold.
Interestingly, Maslow published his theory in 1943 shortly after WWII and was the descendant of Jewish immigrants from Russia. Who better to describe what humans need to survive and function and develop to their fullest ability than someone connected to the horrors of war in his homeland and coming from a community devastated by the Holocaust.
So how can we apply Maslow's ideas to social inclusion and social mobility?
Well, the Canadian government can develop and fund strong national programs to ensure everyone has their basic needs met in order for them to progress to higher levels of development, achievement, and innovation.
A new collective social contract and understanding that it's in the national interest for all levels of government to invest in its citizens for the greater good would need to become a top priority.
So what are some ideas and who will pay for them?
Nutrition - Millions of children, youth, and families live in poverty and cannot afford nutritious meals. The government can legislate that all grocery stores and farmers markets have to donate their unused food to breakfast clubs, hot lunch programs, community kitchens, and food banks in their local neighbourhood. Non-profit organizations can partner with culinary schools to prepare and deliver the meals.
Education - Post-secondary education is one of the best predictors of improved social outcomes. Unfortunately, many bright students cannot afford to do graduate studies or research due to the high burden of student debt and basic living costs.
The government can peg the cost of post-secondary education to a percentage of a family's income. This would make it affordable for everyone. Families that earn less money would pay less and families that earn more would pay more. However, the percentage would remain the same for everyone. This would be truly progressive and increase opportunities for all. Families experiencing undue hardship could apply for an education grant.
Daycare - The shortage and cost of daycare is a huge issue throughout Canada. Most parents need daycare because they are going to work or school. The government can develop incentives, therefore, for employers and educational institutions to develop day care centres at worksites and include day care subsidy as an employee benefit.
Health - Our health-care system is falling apart due to increased pressures and lack of funding. I support new and innovative approaches to deliver health care such as through increased public and non-profit and technological sectors.
In terms of funding, it makes sense that a universal health care "insurance" program have "premiums" like all insurance programs. I would peg these premiums to the rate of inflation with premium assistance for the poor. The government can also expand health-care services to include dental, vision, and professional social work, psychological, and clinical counselling to support the mental health and wellness of the nation.
Recreation - Children and youth need to engage in fitness and sports at an early age to stay healthy, develop social skills, and learn to work as part of a team. Many families cannot afford to send their children to baseball, soccer, hockey, or swimming teams in their community.
A national athletic program has to be developed to nurture athletics in youth. Funding for this program can be obtained by introducing a junk food tax and increasing taxes on all private corporations who would directly benefit from an expansion of the national sports and athletics program such as sports clothing, sports drinks, sports shoes, and other similar corporations.
There are many other ideas such as investing in the arts and culture, libraries and schools, developing mentorship and youth programs, safeguarding our natural environment, and introducing a guaranteed annual income for the needy. The ideas are endless.
Let's just hope that our new prime minister will make social inclusion and social mobility a reality for those that are currently neglected and not a priority for our political class.
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