by Pauline Kerr
One of the more popular items in the recent federal budget was the so-called grocery rebate, to help families being hit with grocery prices that are rising at an annual rate of 10 per cent and more.
The rebate is actually a GST payback for lower-income people. About 11 million of us will qualify for the extra $467 for a family with two kids, or $234 for a single person, paid quarterly.
The federal budget also tackles what are termed “predatory” lending practices – the payday loans that come with interest rates one might expect from a streetcorner transaction with an underworld kingpin and his band of baseball-bat-wielding enforcers.
These loans are for small amounts – a couple of hundred dollars, to a maximum of $1,500 – for a short period of time, up to a couple of months. They are what someone might need if there were no food in the house four days before payday.
This type of loan is not used by people who have access to other resources – credit cards, family with money, or investments to cash in.
The interest rates are horrendous, because these are unsecured loans, with a high risk of default, or so the theory goes.
A cynic might speculate about the risk in making a loan to a tycoon with a history of bankruptcies, a reputation for shoddy business deals, a valid passport and a private jet on standby, compared to a hardworking guy trying to buy food for his kids, but that is a discussion for another day.
If interest charges are considered predatory when they are much higher than a person with options would find acceptable, what about price increases that are well beyond what even the federal government deems acceptable?
Calling a GST rebate that can be used for anything a “grocery” rebate sounds a lot like an admission of sorts about food prices.
Critics will undoubtedly comment the grocery rebate will not even put a small dent in the average person’s food bill. Those who will get those cheques are not complaining, mind you. Something is better than nothing.
No one expected the budget to offer what is really needed – wages that allow a working family to keep a roof over their heads and decent food on the table. Ordinary working people are increasingly hard-pressed to afford rent, and have set aside any hope of home ownership.
It is no coincidence they are also increasingly opting out of the political process. There is a caution here for elected representatives at all government levels, and those seeking to join their ranks. When people feel those who govern them live in a completely different world, there is a thin line between disinterest in what the leaders say and do, and anger.
Members of her own circle may have been amused by Marie Antoinette’s little quip “Let them eat cake,” in response to information the peasants were rioting because they had no bread, but the peasants found it infuriating – so much so, they chopped off her head.
Actually, the hapless queen, beheaded during the French Revolution, probably never made the comment. For one thing, what was said was, “Let them eat brioche.” Brioche is rich and delicious, but it is bread, not cake. For another, the saying was around long before Marie Antoinette was.
What is true is that she ended up being blamed for the unquestionable excesses of royalty at the time, while the poor suffered, and the “let them eat cake” quip stuck.
Historical references aside, there is something about that our federal government’s grocery rebate that hints at brioche, served with butter and jam, of course.
Food banks are seeing more working families coming in; some of those families are facing homelessness, due to the shortage of affordable rental units.
This is not the time for any government to draw attention to how out of touch with ordinary voters it is, and unfortunately, the grocery rebate may do just that. It is enough for people to notice, but not enough to be of much help.
by Pauline Kerr