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  • Writer's pictureThink Upstream

Do you live in a healthy city?

Here at Think Upstream, we ask the question: what does a healthy city look like?

A bike lane on a city street. Bike lanes are part of healthy city infrastructure.

Trish Hennessy

Think Upstream Plan B podcast host Ralph Benmergui went live at the beautiful Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon to consider what it takes to build healthy cities with this stellar panel:

  • Cory Neudorf, Medical Director of Health Surveillance and Reporting with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and coordinator of the Urban Public Health Network of Canada;

  • Sugandhi del Canto, who is completing her PhD studies in built environments and healthy food access;

  • And Thilina Bandera, a population health researcher who also happens to be on Upstream’s board.

We take for granted the many things that go into a well-functioning, inclusive city: the ability to bike or walk to work, affordable and accessible public transit and child care options, proximity to healthy food options and parks and good jobs.

Often the barrier to well-meaning city councils delivering on the ingredients required to build and sustain a healthy city are constrained by the political desire to keep taxes low.

But how low can we go before we have what economist Hugh Mackenzie calls an adult conversation about taxes and public services in this country?

I moderated a panel on taxes and the social commons at Ryerson University last week, where I had the opportunity to ask Hugh: have we made any progress on that adult conversation? Sadly no, he said, but what’s needed more than ever is radical honesty about what it takes to invest in the Canada we want.

What kind of Canada do we want? Well, I asked the audience and here’s what they said:

Public health care that includes prescription drugs, dental care, and eye care.

Universal early learning and child care.

The ability to bike safely to work.

No more homelessness.

A truly inclusive, united society.

Next time you’re talking with someone who is feeling down about the divisiveness of Canadian politics, about public service cuts, about the future, try asking them: what kind of Canada do you want? Let’s spark a new energy in this country. Let’s talk about what’s possible; what we’re really willing to work towards in common cause.

And then let’s have that adult conversation about taxes—how we can use our collective

purchasing power to build the Canada we want, one tax at a time. Radical honesty.

To kick it off, let me share with you former Privy Council Clerk Alex Himelfarb’s 5 principles for taxation:

  1. We all have to pay our fair share—that means broad-based taxes;

  2. People who have benefited most from the economy should pay their fair share;

  3. Given the increased concentration of wealth in Canada, we have to get at that wealth through taxation;

  4. A dollar is a dollar and we should not privilege money made by investment over money made through work (CEO stock options, we’re looking at you);

  5. Tax most the things we like least so that people pay for the damage they do, for the common good (carbon, SIN taxes for eg).

There’s a conversation starter for your next dinner party.

Trish Hennessy is a senior communications strategist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the director of Think Upstream


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