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May 14, 2008

Mel Hurtig might be the angriest man in Canada. He's angry at our "myopic" politicians, he's angry at our "selfish" big business, he's angry at our "continentalist" media -- and if you aren't angry at them, too, then he's probably angry at you. Hurtig has just released The Truth About Canada, which he claims is "one of the most anti-establishment books published in my lifetime" -- no small feat for a man of 75.

But don't call him pessimistic, he'd prefer patriotic. While The Truth About Canada may be the angriest book released this year, Hurtig's aim is didactic. "Canadians are incredibly proud of their country, with justification," he says. "Just look at the space we have, the resources, the people. The main point of my book is to show people that we're losing it."

We met in Hurtig's Vancouver home, where he was relaxing on the eve of an extensive book tour. His lifetime of Canadian pride was written on the wall: honorary degrees from six universities, the Lester B. Pearson Man of the Year Award, and the Order of Canada -- an award he remembers best for the reception, where he watched his four daughters dance with Mounties.

A native of Edmonton, Hurtig operated one of the largest book retailers in the country, then his own publishing house. From 1980 to 1985, he oversaw the creation of The Canadian Encyclopedia -- now a staple of the Canadian classroom. Then in 1991, Hurtig hit the bestseller lists with an indictment of the Mulroney era, titled The Betrayal of Canada. Hurtig's titles since then reveal his increasing apprehension: At Twilight in the Country, The Vanishing Country, Rushing to Armageddon.

The Truth About Canada is the culmination of his fears. With a flair for the dramatic and an eye for the harrowing detail, Hurtig fiercely argues that "we are no longer the country we think we are, and no longer the people we think we are." After years of intensive research, Hurtig's brain is crammed with damning statistics casting a bleak light on such subjects such as health care, immigration, and the status of Canadian women.

Rather than simply comparing Canada to the United States, Hurtig pits Canada against the other 30 nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD). Suffice it to say, we don't fare very well in most categories. Hurtig is happy to ruffle a few feathers, but even he admits that this is his most controversial work.

Yet Hurtig thinks his anger will set Canada free. Only once the ugly truth is revealed will effective change commence. Does he fear retaliation for bursting Canadians' self-satisfied bubble? The angriest man shrugs and seems downright cheerful. "I told a friend that if my body is found on Bay Street, he'll know what happened."

As we conversed, here's what else Hurtig had to say...

Mel's appalling fact #1:

"The poorest 94 per cent of Canadians own three per cent of the wealth in Canada."


On the embarrassment of Canadian child poverty:

"In 1989, the House of Commons passed a unanimous resolution, claiming that they would end child poverty by the year 2000. This was considered a major breakthrough. Nineteen years on, and where are we? Child poverty today is exactly the same as when they passed the resolution. So what happened? The GDP has more than doubled since that resolution. That's about $900 billion.

"With child poverty still a problem, you would think our social spending would be at least on par with other European countries, but no. Of the 30 OECD countries, we're 25th in social spending. There are developed countries that have a quarter of the child poverty that we do, and they're still more competitive in business than us. Their taxes are higher, and they're still ahead of us. Where did all of our money go?

"Beginning with the Mulroney government, there's been a huge downgrading in the role government plays in combating poverty. Right now, the level of welfare in Canada is far below the level it was back in 1980. Meanwhile our largest corporations have charted all-time record profits for four consecutive years. Of the 30 OECD countries, we rank 21st in citizen taxes, while we're 27th in corporate taxes. So it's the people who bear the high cost of poverty and taxation. That's no way to run a country."


On the illusion of Canadian peacekeeping:


"Canadians are incredibly proud of their peacekeeping, but the truth is that we're now a war-fighting nation. Our military actions abroad are not peacekeeping efforts, they are aggressive efforts. Canada ranks 33rd among the world's peacekeeping nations. There isn't a single Canadian officer in the UN peacekeeping headquarters in New York. No wonder people ask us, 'What's happened? Where have you gone?' We used to be on the forefront, but the truth is we've changed what we think we're best known for."


On protecting Canada's Arctic:


"If Stephen Harper announced tomorrow that he's really going to build those two armed icebreakers, and he's really going to establish decent bases in the north, I think Canadians would be in favour. Canadians have always looked at their maps, and at the top of the world they see a big mass of pink. We've always felt that's a part of our country. But the Americans say, "We can sail through there any time we want, it's international waters." Now I'm not anti-American, but there's nothing wrong with defending your own territory from people who are aggressive."

Mel's appalling fact #2:

"Aboriginal people constitute about three per cent of the Canadian population, but they make up about 20 per cent of all prison inmates."


On the danger of foreign takeovers:

"Since Brian Mulroney abolished the Foreign Investment Review Agency and replaced it with this Mickey Mouse, incompetent, do-nothing organization called Investment Canada, there have been 10,924 takeovers of Canadian companies. The total value of those takeovers is $847 billion. Now here's a question: what percentage of that money was for takeovers, and what per cent for new business investment? 2.4 per cent was for new business investment, the rest for takeovers. As a result, our levels of productivity have plummeted, and we're now the 13th most competitive country in the world.

"You would think big business would take their all-time record profits and invest in new machinery, especially since the dollar has strengthened, and so the cost of equipment would be significantly lower. But what are they doing? They're sending their money out to tax havens. No other developed country in the world would allow this to happen.

"How is Canada going to be a competitive country if we sell ourselves off like this? I've got grandchildren. I have no intention of letting my grandchildren grow up in a world where they're tenants in their own country."

Mel's appalling fact #3:

"In 2005, over $22.3 billion of foreign-controlled corporate profits left Canada."


On the day of the 'bag man':


"I was a member of the Liberal Party from 1967-1973, and we used to have a guy we called the 'bag man.' He'd go east once or twice a year with a big, black satchel. When he'd come back, I'd ask, 'How much have you got this time?' and he'd say something like, '$650,000.' Then I'd ask, 'How do we know you didn't collect $750,000?' He'd look me square in the eye and say, 'You'll never know.' That was the 'bag man' attitude, back when there were no receipts for donations to political parties. I blame those days for a lot of the problems we have now. Covert funding of political parties has had a profound effect on Canadian policy.

"Thank God we've made that change, at least. That's one of our only hopes: no corporate or trade union donations to political parties."


On the failure of a Canadian education:

"The educational establishment has not done a proper job of teaching young people what this country is all about. We've developed a caring society, a tolerant society, and a compassionate society, but students have never been taught why it's important to know our history and values. As a result, young people don't know why it's important to participate in Canada. It's not that they're afraid to be patriotic -- people love their country instinctively -- but why it's important to participate has never been properly explained to them. This is an unacceptable situation. I really do fault our educators for not teaching Canadian history and Canadian values. But then again, what can they do without the necessary funds? Canada, for public spending on education as a percentage of all government spending, ranks 91st of the world's countries. Ninety-first, for Christ's sake!"

Mel's appalling fact #4:

"For social spending as a percentage of Canada's GDP, Canada ranks 25th of the 30 OECD countries."


On the vanishing Canadian identity:

"Canadian performing arts have more revenue than all of our sports put together. This boggles most people's minds. All you have to do is open up the daily newspaper and see how many pages are devoted to sports, and how many to performing arts. Yet there are more jobs in Canadian cultural industries than in agriculture, mining, and forestry combined. Despite this, we're still not doing a good job of protecting Canada's cultural industry. Would you live next door to the world's most powerful culture-exporting country in the world, and then agree to sell-off major components of your cultural industry? Eighty-nine per cent of Canadians say the CBC helps distinguish Canada from the United States, but we decide to cut the CBC's budget by $400 million. This is no way to maintain the Canadian identity."


Mel's five steps to fix Canada:

"Step 1: Reform the way we elect members of government. This is absolutely the top priority. The system we have now does not reflect the true will of the people, and it exacerbates regional tensions. Many other countries have better results in their elections than us, and all of them have a mixed-member proportional representation system. These countries have a very high proportion of votes that count. Canada's system, on the other hand, has a low amount of votes that count, so people feel powerless.

"Step 2: Increase taxes on large corporations. Right now corporations are not bearing enough taxation, so they have no incentive to do anything meaningful for Canada. Only 3.8 per cent of Canadian industrial revenue is spent on research and development. Let's make them work a bit. I would give them a tax incentive to do meaningful research.

"Step 3: Curtail the foreign takeover of Canadian corporations. I would do this tomorrow if I could. Canada does not need any more foreign ownership or foreign control. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives might say, "Foreign investment is the foundation of the Canadian economy!" but they don't present any evidence, they have no facts. Here's a fact: I once went to a Canadian Gulf Oil refinery, and before they could let us in the gate, they had to phone Chicago to get permission.

"Step 4: Increase social spending. It's absolutely essential to increase spending on education and health care. Thirty-three per cent of university students can't remember the third line of the national anthem, and we rank 54th in the world for number of doctors per 100,000 citizens. One piece of good news is that public-opinion polls, time after time, show that most Canadians think a top priority in this country is the support of social programs. If only our CEOs thought the same way.

"Step 5: Eradicate child poverty. We have to do something meaningful about this. It is unconscionable for us to have the levels of child poverty that we have in this country. There is terrible human misery in Canada, and it is a huge injustice."




http://thetyee.ca/Books/2008/05/14/MelHurtig/
 

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Salad Days Are Here
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Thanks for doing nothing, Mr. Hurtig. Feed us more of your plattitudes and polemics, acting holier than thou. Your solutions are not solutions because they are so antiquated that they have proven themselves to fail over and over. A new plan has to be devised and just throwing money at social spending is not going to do one iota for the country, going to not not one iota for the First Nations, and not one iota for the impoverished of the nation.

He is also under the delusion that Canada is bleeding capital investments but turns a blind eye to the rampant purchasing of the engineering companies and other entities.
 

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of creative minds!
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Your solutions are not solutions because they are so antiquated that they have proven themselves to fail over and over.
Well...clearly we need solutions to those problems. Cutting social spending has done nothing but increase social problems and crime rates.
I would not be so sure that those solutions would not work. It seems to me that those solutions worked much better than the NO solutions we have now.
It is not just about the creation of wealth....it is about people.
 

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While his points on peacekeeping and sovereignty may be a little iffy, his other points are spot on. Simply put, Canada HAS been slipping and slipping in comparison to other OECD countries. I've read reports with similar conclusions. In health care, child care, education, poverty... Canada fares very, very poorly... except against the United States.

To improve things, we have to look at why Europe, Scandinavia in particular, is so successful. NOT how we are compared to our friends down south.

I wonder if Hurtig read The New City by John Lorinc, as it talks about quite a few of these issues in Canadian urban centres.
 

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I've read reports with similar conclusions. In health care, child care, education, poverty... Canada fares very, very poorly... except against the United States.

Not only are we only rank high against the States, because of that we feel so great that we all think Canada is doing "alright" or "okay".
 

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This is scratching the surface...Canada is full of ailments that maybe too late to fix. I've began to recognize, Our Canada is a very shitty excuse for the real Canada that once existed.
Well, that's perhaps very unfair as well. There is no golden age to look back on. All nations develop, and have to continue adapting to our changing globe.

Not only are we only rank high against the States, because of that we feel so great that we all think Canada is doing "alright" or "okay".
Well, in a sense we are. The situation for the average Canadian is pretty good. One must recognize first of all that we are competing with the top 30 nations for economic development, not the middle of the pack nations.
 

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Canada does not need this kind of angry, anti-corporate, protectionist rhetoric from Mr. Hurtig. Most of his "solutions" are exactly the sort of policy that will weaken the country's competitiveness.
 

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Well, that's perhaps very unfair as well. There is no golden age to look back on. All nations develop, and have to continue adapting to our changing globe.

There's no excuse why Canada cannot be THE Greatest Nation on earth. We have the wealth (that disapears), the Technology (that's never used), the Resources (that we sell and buy back for more money), and the people (who complain, but NEED to make a change).

Canada is living on its former good name, good graces, and good reputation that the rest of the world (THANK GOD) still thinks. FOR NOW.

Canada did have a golden age. And it was 1901 - 1991.
:cheers:
 

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Canada did have a golden age. And it was 1901 - 1991.
:cheers:
I don't know about you, but I don't think I would have wanted to be around for either World War, or the Great Depression. The rest would have been okay I guess, minus all our modern comforts. That doesn't really excuse the way things have started to fall apart since the late 80's though.
 

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Every country has issues................the grass is always greener.
Child poverty rates have actually declined slightly in the last two years, although very little and are still are a national disgrace.

The problem is that Canada has been on cruise control for the last 15 years especially during the Chretien reign. Yes, our hands were tied due to our desperate fiscal situation in the early 90's. It is great that it was taken care of, there was no option. Thirty percent of all federal government revenues when Mulroney left office were going directly to pay interest on the national debt and it was growing.

The problem is that now that we are on solid financial ground we aren't seeing any returns. No great plans for the country just coasting by year to year. No vision.
All this cash and all the Conservatives do is cut taxes, the Liberals study everything to death and end up with the middle ground, and the NDP talks platutudes because they know they will never have to actually make hard decisions. I'm ashamed to say that the only federal party with any true vision is the PQ. I don't like what they stand for but atleast have a true vision of where they want to go.

The Green party may be an alternative but the big 4 parties will NEVER allow them into the federal election debates.
 

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^^you mean BQ

Child poverty in Québec is much lower than our Canadian neighbours which are much richer, like Alberta and Ontario. It seems higher income taxation are the solution for this problem, this money is redistributed to those who need it.

The 'bag man' issue was mostly solved with René Lévesque reforms he started in Québec, which were copied much much later at the federal level, did the author do any researches?

Duplessis was a visionary with bill 63, then René lévesque followed with bill 101 to protect our identity, canada needs something similar to protect its from american influence, its harder and harder to distinguish both imho.
 

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I don't believe its strictly poverty, in Québec, the number of homeless people exploded after patient with psychiatric problems were released from wards, those released were able to survive on their own but had alot of problems living in society... this happened after the federal transfer cuts to reduce the defecits.
 

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Despite BC's "boom" and low unemployment, BC has the largest gap between the rich and the poor in the country. It has the two lowest income postal codes in the country........both in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside.

Calgary also has a booming homeless population.

Montreal has one of the highest poverty rates of any major metro in the country and Toronto's homeless problem is the stuff of legends.

All this said, the reason why Canada ranks so low on many socio-economic fronts is due to the diplorable state of out one million natives. Just look at the reserves, many still without running water and a life expectancy nearly 15% below the national average, poor education levels, high rates of HIV, diabeties, and suicides. When arriving in the cities, poverty and social isolation is a way of life.

As much as Canadians like to feel high and mighty against their American counterparts, African Americans are far better off than Canadian Natives by almost all measures.
 

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There was a great feature on The national a couple of weeks ago. Victoria is looking at implementing the Portland OR solution to homelessness: providing housing. Who would have thought?

Off the Streets
April 23, 2008 (Runs 21:48)
Portland, Oregon has had immense success at reducing homelessness. Now, the city of Victoria is trying to learn and apply Portland's methods
http://www.cbc.ca/national/blog/video/healtheducation/off_the_streets.html

In Montréal, Mayor Labonté of Ville-Marie borough has opted for a typical non-solution which is to legislate homelessness out of existance, get rid of the homeless while doing nothing to get rid of the problem of homelessness itself.

http://spacingmontreal.ca/2008/04/07/ville-maries-war-on-the-homeless/

April 7th, 2008
Ville-Marie’s war on the homeless
Posted by Christopher DeWolf

Under the leadership of mayor Benoît Labonté, Montreal’s downtown borough has done everything it can to push its social problems into the closet. New laws preventing people from being in public squares at night and walking more than two dogs at once are recent attempts to expell the homeless from downtown’s public spaces; panhandling, noise and jaywalking laws are others that are often arbitrarily applied by police to target marginal people.

This might make sense if the borough was also investing heavily in the social programs, charities and shelters that help people get off the street and into safer and more stable surroundings; it would be a stick-and-carrot approach meant to eradicate homelessness once and for all. But, as La Presse’s Michèle Ouimet revealed over the weekend, Ville-Marie appears to have no interest in getting rid of homelessness — just the homeless. Just as it is doing everything it can to push its most vulnerable inhabitants outside the borough, Ville-Marie has consistently failed to offer any serious aid to the many organizations working to fight poverty and homelessness within its own borders.

«Même si on les a souvent sollicités, on n’a rien reçu de la Ville de Montréal, encore moins de l’arrondissement de Ville-Marie. Ils nous félicitent pour notre travail, mais c’est tout.»

C’est ce qu’affirme le père Sylvio Michaud, directeur associé de la Maison du Père, qui accueille 150 sans-abri par nuit. Le refuge est situé au coeur de l’arrondissement de Ville-Marie, boulevard René-Lévesque.

Le maire de Ville-Marie, Benoit Labonté, a visité le refuge pendant la campagne électorale. «Il n’est jamais revenu», souligne le père Michaud.

Les sans-abri prennent souvent le chemin du centre-ville. Parmi eux, de nombreux cas lourds. «Entre 35% et 40% des itinérants éprouvent des problèmes graves de santé mentale, comme la schizophrénie ou les troubles bipolaires», explique Nancy Keas, chef de l’équipe itinérance au Centre de santé et de services sociaux Jeanne-Mance.

(…) Les sans-abri ne sont pas les seuls à avoir besoin d’aide. Ville-Marie abrite plusieurs groupes communautaires, mais le financement est laborieux.

«Nos relations avec l’arrondissement ne sont pas toujours faciles, affirme prudemment Marie-Ève Hébert, directrice de la Corporation de développement économique, qui regroupe près de la moitié des organismes communautaires de Ville-Marie. Plusieurs groupes ne comprennent pas les critères de financement fixés par l’arrondissement.»

Ville-Marie a un budget annuel de 75 millions. Les groupes communautaires ne reçoivent que 380 000$. C’est peu, trop peu.

Being homeless isn’t a choice — it’s usually the result of a mental illness, drug addiction or some other serious but treatable problem. There are ways of dealing with it in the short term (by providing housing and shelter to get people off the streets immediately) and in the long term (by investing in health and social programs). A number of cities across North America have found creative ways of dealing with homelessness. New York is looking to its old flophouses as a way of giving people who would otherwise be homeless a cheap, safe and clean place to live; Calgary is looking to build an apartment tower that will give homeless people a stepping stone between the streets and a home.

Ville-Marie has no such plans. Its leaders seem to think they can legislate homelessness out of existence. In 2006, when the law preventing people from staying in squares after midnight was first passed, police swept through the downtown core, evicting people en masse. But the city’s shelters were already full and no alternative accommodations had been arranged, so the people who had been sleeping in the squares were left with nowhere to go. If this is the kind of approach our downtown borough is taking, how can we expect to ever deal seriously with homelessness?

The Toronto Housing Authority has become Canada's biggest slumlord according to W 5. While there seems to be endless amounts of money available for flashy Crystals and Cubes, there's no money available for subsidised housing.

http://watch.ctv.ca/news/w-five/canadas-worst-landlord/

Canada's Worst Landlord
Toronto Community Housing Corporation is Canada's biggest landlord. Some complain that it is also Canada's biggest slum landlord. Many of its 160,000 tenants are forced to live in crumbling buildings, where repairs are deferred and vermin infest the suites. Others take their lives into their hands just coming and going from their own homes.

We have to do something as a nation to solve the homeless problem. It's shameful for one of the richest nations in the world to be treating it's most marginal citizens like garbage.
 

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The most cowardly thing society can do is to simply try and push away the homeless. This is the kind of thing that was done in the 1800's- out of sight out of mind. I agree that for such a wealthy nation it is a black mark against us that we have so many homeless people. Many people got on the streets through some bad luck, and once you are on the streets it is nearly impossible to get off without help. The line between having a roof over your head and being homeless is not as great as people would believe.
 
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