Taxes, democracy and our shared interests | Jennifer Keesmaat | TEDxToronto


Translator: Mirjana Čutura
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Paying your taxes … can save our democracy. Now you might be wondering
why I’m talking about this because, of course, I’m not a municipal finance expert. I’m an urban planner. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time
planning this city, working in cities across Canada, working in cities across the world. And one of the things
that I’ve learned in this work is that our shared interests
materialize in our cities. When we get our cities right, they become places
of tremendous opportunity, places of inclusion. When we get our cities right, they become places
where within just one generation, newcomers can become firmly established
as a part of the middle class. I know this in part
because this is my story. My grandparents
came to Canada from Holland after the Second World War, with pretty much nothing more
than the shirts on their backs. I believe that the biggest challenges
we face in the world today – fear of one another, random violence, growing exclusion, and inequality – will be overcome by identifying
and building our cities based on our shared interests. Now, I started out talking
about taxes and democracy, well, taxes and democracy
are the way that we come together. Taxes and democracy are the way that we materialize
our shared interests. But I’m worried. I’m worried because I think
we’ve lost the thread. What are our shared interests? Well, in Canada, we recognize
health care as a shared interest. We can all pretty much agree we all do better when everyone has access
to healthcare when they’re sick; that’s a shared interest. We recognize education
as a shared interest. We pay for education. We subsidize education because we believe that education is something
that matters to everyone. In our cities, particularly
our dense urban cities, we see transit as a shared interest. We know it’s better for the environment. We know that it’s a much less
costly way to move around. And we know that people need access
to jobs and educational opportunities, and having a comprehensive transit system
is a way to get there, so we see transit
as a shared interest in our cities. There’re other things
we see as shared interest as well. Libraries. Libraries are good for everyone,
so we pay for them together. Access to nature. Access to parks. We pay for these things together
because we see them as shared interests. These are the things that everyone needs in order for our society to work. Societies flourish when we recognize
our shared interests, and we’ve even gone so far
as to organize our lives around them. We’ve organized ourselves as a democracy because we recognize that democracy is a way to deliver
on our shared interests. But I’ve suggested to you
that I think we’ve lost the thread. We’ve lost the narrative of our democracy. Nothing makes this more apparent … than fake news. Fake news isn’t about our shared interest. Fake news isn’t about us working
as a society collectively to find truth, to build understanding. No. Fake news is about something else. Fake news is actually about someone
thinking about their own interest, and how they can manipulate
the way people think, based on that interest. But the thing is our shared interests
are so important today because we are experiencing
what some might call our final, last wave of human migration. Mass urbanization began
during the French Revolution, it continued through
the Industrial Revolution, and it resulted in a spectacular upheaval
of politics and social structures. This is over 200 years ago, and I would argue that we’re
in the last phase of this epoch. We’re in the last phase
of people across the globe moving from agrarian societies
into fundamentally urban ones. As this is happening, our cities are becoming
places of great wealth and great poverty. You know, my city, the City of Toronto, is widely recognized
as a wonderful city to live on pretty much any international indice. The Economist Intelligence Unit
every year comes out with a list of most livable
cities in the world; we’re always in the top five. We can pretty much guarantee
to be in the top five all the time. But did you know Toronto is also known as the child poverty capital of Canada? Did you know that one
in four children in this city lives below the poverty line? In 15 neighborhoods in this city, more than 40% of the children live in poverty. So we have mass urbanization. We have growing poverty and growing wealth taking place in the exact same geography. And at the same time
as all of this is happening, we are having an active debate about whether or not
we should pay our taxes. If we no longer want to pay our taxes, we no longer want to share. And if we no longer want to share, our democracy is at risk. A perfect example of this is housing. Housing’s a human right. Following the Second World War, in 1948, the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights was created, and it included housing. Access to safe, stable housing
was identified as a universal human right, something that every person
on this planet is entitled to. And yet, we no longer build
affordable housing. Over the last 30 years,
we’ve left housing to the market. We’ve essentially left housing – a universal human right, something that every individual
on this planet requires as a base line – we’ve left the provision of housing to chance. The commodification of housing
in our lifetimes, during my adult life, the commodification of housing
has created a housing crisis. Over the past 50 years, wages have increased across the globe
by approximately 150%. But housing? Housing prices have quadrupled. Housing has increased in cost by 450%. And you might think
I’m talking about Toronto. You might think
I’m talking about Vancouver. I’m not. I’m talking about all the greatest cities on this planet, from Hong Kong to Sydney to Stockholm to Singapore to New York
to Paris to London to the places where we live
in the 21st century. Housing has become commodified. And the outcome of that
is a housing crisis. The Great Recession of 2008 in America – sure, it was a financial crisis, but it was more so a housing crisis. Nine million people over five years were evicted from their homes. And their homes sat empty while they scrounged for somewhere to go, a couch to lie on, a shelter that might take them in. Their homes sat empty while they had nowhere to go. We need to ask ourselves: What is a house? Is a house an asset to be bought and sold? Is a house a stable place
to park excess capital? Or is a house a place
to nourish human life? Is a house a place with a kitchen table, where children come home
to do their homework before they watch a bit of TV,
and read a story, and go to bed? Are houses homes
for the raising of children, places of stability
and security in old age? If we have a shared interest in housing, the commodification of it – does that serve our shared interests? Hey, let’s be clear. If you own a house,
you are entitled to snow plowing. If you own a house,
the odds are you are on a street the snow is going to get plowed when it snows. Oh, and garbage pickup?
You’re entitled to that too. You’re entitled to have
your garbage picked up. But if you don’t have a house? Well, you’re not actually
entitled to that. That’s not something we share. If we believe in sharing, we need to fundamentally rethink housing, not just in my city or in your city
but across this entire globe. The vision, the vision is housing
that is geared to income in such a way that it’s stable. You don’t have to worry. You don’t have to spend your life worrying
that you might get kicked out. It’s also accessible. You can afford to pay it
throughout your entire lifetime. There’s no other premise that can underpin 21st century democracy more critically than that of sharing. On a global stage right now,
we’re having a really big fight. We’re having a big fight
about who’s in and who’s out. We’re having a fight
about who belongs where. And how we provide housing
in our cities will determine whether those most in need of shelter will simply be shunted
from place to place, chased away by famine,
or fire, or political unrest, often from one place to the next,
from one nation to the next, unable to find a place where they belong, told that they’re a burden, that they cost too much, that they’ll be a drain on our economy
and our pocketbooks. This is, in fact, my story. Both of my grandfathers
were resistance fighters fighting the Nazis in Holland
in the Second World War. They lost everything during the war. Their country was devastated. They moved to Canada with a tremendous amount of hope. And they got here, and they worked hard. But they also relied on others. They relied on sharing. They relied on the generosity
of this country. I didn’t have much that was frivolous
when I was growing up, but I always had a roof over my head, and I never worried that I might not. Is this true today? Is this our reality today? Today our democracy is under threat. We will protect our democracy
by creating inclusive cities. We need to rediscover
our shared interests. And we need to start with housing. Thank you. (Applause)

Maurice Vega

13 Responses

  1. We don't mind paying our taxes. What we mind are those taxes being eaten up by government bureaucracy, and misused by central planners that have more power than competence. And if poverty is your gripe, then reducing interference by government should be the goal here, while not conflating what the government does, with what charities should do. You empower people the most, by getting out of the way.

  2. I'm not a municipal finance expert. Please John Tory, put this in an ad, blast it across the 416, and you have won another term.

  3. Another dishonest career politician, only in it for the money.

    If she loses the Toronto mayor race, she will play the victim card, calling everyone sexist.

  4. Tax the big shot millionaires on Bay street, make them pay their fair share to society. Don't tax hard working middle and working class Torontonians.

  5. watching this makes me not want to vote for her even more the socialist entitlement way of thinking is not a smart way to run a society you are owed nothing you do did not earn but a opportunity.

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