In the current squabble over improving drug coverage and child care in this country, it’s crucial that the social programs provided in Canada be compared with the far superior benefits that are provided citizens of most European countries.
Apart from the United States, Canada is the only advanced nation that confines its public health care to the services of physicians and hospitals. In Europe, coverage is universal and comprehensive, incorporating dental and vision care as well as pharmaceuticals.
The latest OECD report on the social spending of its 34 member states ranks Canada 24th for its relatively low 17.2 percent of GDP expended on social programs. Most of the countries that surpass Canada have social spending rates higher than 24 percent of GDP, and several, including France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland, and the three Scandinavian countries, have rates that exceed 28 percent. Incredibly, even the United States ranks above Canada with a rate of 19.3 percent of GDP.
As for child care, the last Canadian census found that 1.2 million Canadian children are living in poverty, a disgrace that drew a sharp rebuke from UNICEF, which ranked Canada 37th among its 41 member countries for the number of its malnourished children.
UNICEF also put Canada in dead last place for its inadequate child-care services. Unlike Canada, most countries in Europe provide a guaranteed ECEC (Early Childhood Education and Care) place for their children shortly after birth, either by legislating a legal entitlement or by making attendance available and mandatory. In chiding Canada for falling so far behind these countries in caring for its youngest and most vulnerable citizens, UNICEF stated bluntly, “It is a myth that Canada is the best country in the world in which to grow up.”
The more progressive European countries were not dissuaded by the costs entailed in establishing their all-inclusive social programs, as Canada’s governments unfortunately have been. Through their equitable income tax systems, their commitment to enhancing all their people’s welfare, and their willingness, if necessary, to incur temporary fiscal deficits in the broader public interest, they prevailed over the protests of corporations and conservative political parties.
Canada’s federal and provincial governments should follow the resolute example of their European counterparts. Concern over costs should not be a deterrent to improving our health care and child care programs. If our governments stopped financially coddling corporations and the super-rich elite, funding for better social services would not be a problem. Instead, they squander $29 billion a year on needless subsidies to our largest business firms, including $3.3 billion lavished on the big oil companies.
They also continue to permit corporations and wealthy individuals to stash away an estimated $250 billion annually in offshore tax havens. That colossal amount, if taxed as it should be, would swell our government treasuries by at least $10 billion a year, possibly as much as $15 billion.
These are some of the “inconvenient truths” Canadians should keep in mind next time they go to the polls.