Monday, 20 October 2014

Canadians Need to Complain Louder and More Often

If there's one thing that I can't stand about Canada, it's the "shut up and take it" mentality that many of us seem to have.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that whenever a government or private interest in this country tries to screw us, we usually take it lying down.  This is especially true when it comes to how often we get dinged in the wallet because a government or private company sees fit to make another cash grab.  But I'm not too surprised that we behave like this.  After all, Canada was created on the basis of not rising up in revolt like our American neighbours, who did so in part because they refused to pay taxes without representation in the British government.  "No taxation without representation!" was one of the slogans that America's founding fathers used to justify their revolt against the British.  Here in Canada, however, we're used to governments and private interests reaching for our wallets, no matter how unjust it may be.

Is it any wonder, for example, that Canadians pay some of the highest rates in the world for wireless services?  How about those ridiculous fees that the banks charge for you to get access to your own money?  Perhaps I should also mention the ludicrous charges that we have to pay whenever we need to fly somewhere - you know, the kind of fees that send thousands of would-be travellers in Toronto running to the airport in Buffalo so that they can avoid being gouged at Pearson Airport?  I could go on about how many dumb charges Canadians swallow every day, but I don't think I have to because those of you who are reading this and live in Canada know exactly what I'm talking about.  In fact, CBC's Marketplace has recently done a program on what Canadians believe to be Canada's Dumbest Charges.

Unfortunately, it is very likely that Canadians will continue to get dinged with dumb charges because most of us just grin and bear it.  But it doesn't have to be this way if we would simply start standing up for ourselves.

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

The truth is that some Canadians do complain louder and more often than others.  And it is these Canadians who ultimately pay less.  It often depends on the province you happen to live in.  In British Columbia, for example, when the government there tried to harmonize the GST and PST taxes to create a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), residents of the province rose up in revolt because they didn't want extra taxes put on nearly everything.  Eventually, a referendum was held.  The people of the province resoundingly rejected the new tax and forced the government not to implement it.  Contrast this with what I like to call Status Quo Ontario, the province in which I reside.  Ontario's provincial government introduced the same HST tax that its counterpart in British Columbia tried to implement.  But there were no mass demonstrations, nor was there any referendum on the matter.  Instead, people in Ontario just shrugged, "oh well" and accepted the new tax.  As a result, nearly everything in this province is more expensive, including necessities like electricity and gas.  Yes, anyone who lives in Ontario knows how expensive powering their homes has become after the HST was smacked onto their hydro bills.  
Indeed, Ontario is the worst example of Canadian complacency when it comes to another important expense: university and college tuition.  Paying for post-secondary education has gotten a lot more expensive in most of Canada over the years, but especially in Ontario, where students pay the highest tuition fees in the country.  So what do students in Ontario do about it?  Well, almost nothing.  Maybe a demonstration at the provincial legislature once or twice a year that's so quite and orderly that you can still hear the birds chirping over the chants of heavily indebted students.  But don't expect the same lackluster response to tuition increases in Quebec.  Back in 2012, when Quebec's provincial government proposed allowing tuition fees in the province to rise to levels at which they would still be the lowest in Canada, Quebec's students poured onto the streets in loud and sometimes violent protests.  The efforts of these students not only delayed the planned tuition increase, but were also instrumental in the fall of then Premier Jean Charest's government.  If only Ontario's students would put in half the effort of their Quebec counterparts, then perhaps they wouldn't be paying the highest tuition fees in the country.

If anything, the British Columbians' revolt against the HST and the Quebec students' uprising against tuition fee increases should teach Canadians that they don't have to be sheep; they can be wolves.  So my message to all of my fellow Canadians, especially those living in Status Quo Ontario, where "shut up and take it" seems to be the provincial motto, is essentially this: Complain more often and louder than you ever have before, until you see the change you want to see. 


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