The conservation conversation

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Why Conservatives get a bad rap

By Adam Tatelman, Staff Writer

About a week before the Canadian federal election, I asked my nephew whom he would vote for if he were old enough: “I don’t know,” he said, “but I wouldn’t vote for the Conservatives, because they just want everything to stay the same.” I was rather surprised. My nephew, at the ripe age of 11, had already decided that the Conservative government is for shit. It’s a simplistic analysis of course, but one that sounds eerily familiar.

All political parties have a habit of strawmanning one another in the image of their most radical respective supporters; that’s just politics. However, a strong cultural bias against the right has evolved. Conservatives are routinely regarded as out-of-touch fossils who are too greedy to share their ill-gotten gains with those less fortunate. When your average person’s perception of a political party sounds like an attack ad, I start to think that the seeds of this popular opinion are planted early on.

The difference between Liberal and Conservative ideologies is essentially the dichotomy between social welfare and self-reliance and the financial practices resulting from it. This is not to say that Conservatives would like to abolish all social welfare; rather, they want minimal government involvement in such things. Where a Liberal government would universalize these welfare programs, Conservatives are biased towards “user-pay” models.

Consider the Canada Pension Plan. Like income tax, unemployment insurance and medical services pension premiums are a payroll deduction. At age 65, retirees are entitled to reclaim this money at a monthly rate. However, if your yearly income exceeds a certain limit, you will be prohibited from reclaiming the funds. As with all welfare plans, no Canadian citizen may opt out, meaning that the Canadians who pay the highest income tax also pay for a service they are not permitted to use.

The fundamental difficulty with social welfare plans is, once they are instated, they become immortal. The more numerous and readily available they become, the less incentive there is for people to save their own money since the safety nets are so wide and deep. Higher taxes also make for greater welfare reliance, further de-incentivizing personal financial responsibility. This setup both assumes and ensures that no one can save any meaningful amount of money without government assistance.

Furthermore, there is much to suggest that expanding welfare plans is a self-defeating measure. The more social welfare plans are institutionalized, the higher spending budgets climb. This means that income taxes must be hiked in order to maintain the welfare plans. So it’s not free money, and despite constant Liberal advocacy for the working class, their proposed minimum wage hikes would be unnecessary without the tax burden created by their own welfare policies.

A certain amount of social welfare is necessary for those who cannot help themselves: the physically or mentally disabled, for instance. This is where the more conservative idea of user pay comes into play. Since those who need welfare services will be taxed anyway, allow those who wish to save their own money to opt out of any and all welfare plans. Non-compulsory insurance would go a long way toward minimizing the pitfalls of excessive welfare institutionalization by reducing the number of people who rely on it.

When Conservative governments vote down expansions to social welfare plans, it is not done out of some Scrooge McDuck motive, but rather a desire to slow the downward spiral of national indebtedness. Nobody likes to pay income tax, and yet nobody seems to recognize that, in the end, they will always pay for someone’s insurance as long as social welfare continues to expand. The Conservative goal is not to take people’s welfare away, but rather to reduce the need for welfare in the first place.

The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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