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5 things Canada could defund to pay for an epic just transition: We could raise $180 billion a year to fund life-giving public goods by defunding five destructive areas of government spending

By Angele Alook, Emily Eaton, David Gray-Donald, Joël Laforest, Crystal Lameman, and Bronwen Tucker - The Breach, January 20, 2023

These days, anyone proposing ambitious new social programs—not to mention a generation-defining agenda like the Green New Deal—is bound to be met with a particular refrain of concern-trolling: “but how are you gonna pay for it?”

The most effective way to combat this is to point to tangible and truly giant expenditures that actively harm our communities—and which too often remain politically invisible. 

For decades, Canadian neoliberalism has ushered in an era of austerity, but the impacts haven’t landed equally. We’ve seen budget cuts for working people and the environment—borne most disproportionately by Black, Indigenous, and other racialized people and communities that are made vulnerable in our society. On the other hand, fossil fuel companies, the military, police, large corporations, and the wealthiest families have all actually received more support from the government. 

We have starved public goods, land, and life in order to feed Big Oil, corporate profits, and the security that capitalist growth requires.

But there are plenty of options to pay for a new direction: taxes on high earners and polluting firms, cutting military expenditure, long-term investment in green infrastructure, to name a few. The real issue is political will and political power. 

The money is there we just need to seize it

Just think about the impressive government policies put in place in the span of weeks when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit. This crisis has shown us that, when it comes down to it, the money and policy tools are there. And it is worth pointing out to anyone who asks this question that what we do not spend on climate action, adaptation, and upholding Indigenous sovereignty today will make this work much more expensive later on.

Including the large flows of public money as part of what’s up for debate helps to open up an accessible and potentially transformative conversation about what we could build instead. By asking tangibly what it would look like for the police to have less power over our communities—and particularly Black and Indigenous communities—we can start a public conversation about imagining and building a truly safe world.

The “refund” part of this strategy would include supporting many solutions, from universal public transit, to direct Treaty-based funding for Indigenous Nations, to affordable energy-efficient public housing, to community-owned renewable energy, to Canada forgiving illegitimate debts and paying reparations abroad to make space for a globally just transition. 

The exact demands can and should be made more specific to communities as they organize. In most of these cases, as we phase out funding for programs that are not serving communities, there are also other programs that will need to be built up at the same time. For example, we need mental health support and public housing alongside the defunding of police and prisons, as many abolitionist groups like Movement for Black Lives and The Red Nation have sketched in more detail.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of $180 billion a year in public money in Canada that could be cut, shifted, and phased out to lessen harm and free up both money and the public imagination towards a decolonial and just transition. 

Winning even one-quarter of this amount in the next few years would free up more than five times what the federal government was planning to spend each year on climate- related infrastructure and programs as of 2021. 

These figures are taken from a 2017 to 2019 average where possible to avoid potential anomalies in government spending during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. For context, in 2019 the federal, provincial, and municipal governments together spent a total of $750 billion a year.

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