Terry Fowler


Don’t Let Them Define the Issues For You

Don’t let anyone else tell you what the important issues are. Exercising your democratic rights means defining problems for yourself – public ones as well as your own (they are connected!)

Before I go any further, I want to stress don’t let me define the issues for you either.

But I would like to illustrate how manipulative politicians can be. Their definitions have more impact than ours on politics, because they have instant access to the media. Reporters hand on their every word.

The Republican presidential candidates and now our own Stephen Harper say that governments are running out of money to pay for old age security and other social services, because those programmes are too generous or because there are too many old people, etc. etc.

This opinion gets big play.

On the fringes you do hear other definitions of the issue. For example, deregulated financial institutions speculated wildly in the first decade of the 21st century, losing trillions of dollars in the search for quick profits, especially in mortgages. Government treasuries have been systematically raided to save these same financial institutions from going belly up.

In addition, over the last thirty years, these same treasuries have been starved of funds by governments who have been lowering corporate tax rates and (this is most important) allowing accumulated capital to be stashed away in overseas bank accounts without being taxed at all in many cases. We’re talking, again, of trillions of dollars here.

That, says the alternative definition of the issue, is why we’re running out of dollars to pay for social services.

Other definitions come to mind. “Not enough people are thrifty enough to save for their old age,” say some people. “Social services are administered by expensive bureaucracies.” “If the private sector ran the health system, it would be cheaper.”

Finally, we might ask the question, If we’ve got less money, why should we be cutting social services? Why not defense? Subsidies to oil companies? That’s a redefinition of the issue as well.

Whatever your take on it, DO NOT ACCEPT the oft-repeated mantra, “There is no alternative.” There are always alternatives. To let someone else define them for you is to give away your power.