Sunday, April 27, 2008

Look out! Here comes money!

Oh! Hard times, come again no more©

By George Epp

Yesterday’s Saskatoon StarPhoenix carried a bold, front-page article with the headline: Making money hand over fist. Record oil and potash prices mean that royalties paid to the provincial government will bring in some 265 - 475 million in unexpected revenues. That’s roughly 250-450 dollars for every man, woman and child in the Saskatchewan. That’s additional; not total.

In the words of song writer Ian Tyson, it looks like we may be “Alberta Bound.”

But looking at these indicators means different things to different people. The “additional” hundreds of dollars obviously won’t be handed back to the citizens in greeting cards that say, “We didn’t plan on this money in the budget; we don’t need it; it’s rightfully yours so we have enclosed a cheque. Be happy!” (Ralph Klein’s Alberta Conservatives actually did this at least once; the Bush administration is planning something similar to kick-start the economy in the USA.)

And it might not be a bad idea. We are certainly paying-in the additional amount: not in taxes, but in gasoline, diesel and food price increases. What to our finance minister looks like a lottery-winnings windfall, looks like trouble to all but the few for whom an increase of, say, 20% in the cost of living isn’t threatening.

The other, sad part of the news involves the crush on urban housing. Landlords eager to cash in on the record-breaking real estate prices in Saskatoon are evicting tenants, slapping a coat of paint on the apartments and selling them as condominium units at horribly inflated prices. People on social assistance, small fixed incomes of other kinds and the working poor and the labourer/waitress/McJob class in our culture can no longer find accommodation they can afford.

A story on page 3 of the same paper is headlined, Priced out of the market. It’s about a grandmother raising three grandchildren on social assistance cheques and child tax credits. The rent on the house they live in is going from $550 to $900. If the provincial government were to share their windfall with the grandmother, she could actually afford to stay in her home for at least another month.

She claims she’s cut her personal meal portions in half to trim what she can from her escalating grocery bills. The article goes on to tell us that food bank use has jumped by nearly 10% . . . in the last month!

Around the world, the rising cost of grains, fuel and fertilizer is creating a crisis: poorer countries can no longer afford our food commodities, period.

How can it be that prosperity can cause such hardship? Why are we so elated to see the housing boom, the rising population in the province, the overflowing government coffers?

Maybe we’ve been conditioned over time to measure our security by the pronouncements of those to whom prosperity does mean a great deal, i.e. the investors in the stock market, the holders of commodity shares, the political culture, etc. For the working stiffs, the seniors on fixed incomes and the poor, good times can be hard times.

Prepare yourselves; you’re going to be fleeced again of the little you may have, while the shearers who don’t need it will be laughing all the way to their brokers’ offices!

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