By Don Hutchinson and guest blogger Rick Hiemstra, Director of Research, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) does not generally engage in the number crunching of the government budget process. Biblical principles inform us, and the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life applies those principles to concepts for public policy initiatives that we believe to be of benefit to the nation. Canada is facing the dual challenge of being recognized by other governments as a leader in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis and maintaining the strong foundation that underlies that leadership through sound governance of the economy at home. Canada’s ability to lead on the international stage is dependent upon, and cannot take away from, consideration of the people and principles that have landed the nation in that leadership role. For that reason, the EFC decided to make a submission in the federal pre-budget consultation process – based on principles rather than numerical recommendations – and we have been invited to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to engage further in the conversation.

As the Government of Canada seeks to set a course for the future through the priorities of the 2012 federal budget, the EFC has urged the Government to consider and address three key building blocks of our nation: families; compassion; and, charities. The stability of Canadian families underlies and evidences the stability of the nation. Our long history of compassion toward the less fortunate, at home and abroad, testifies to the heart of the Canadian people. Canadian charities have been significant in the development of Canada’s health, education and compassionate response mechanisms and continue to be vital to the life of Canadians and Canadians’ expression of compassion toward those in need. We will briefly consider each of the three – families, compassion and charities – in a series of blogs beginning with this one: FAMILIES.

The Bible teaches that the family is to provide physical, emotional and spiritual care for its members as it prepares them to serve God, other persons (including civic responsibilities in municipality, province and nation), and creation. In this way, the family is a microcosm of a healthy society. Families have been and remain the cornerstone of any successful nation, but even a rock can be eroded and lose its structural integrity. As every Canadian knows, given time salt can be as destructive as a sledgehammer.

Canadian families are facing mounting challenges in the early twenty-first century, including the fiscal realities of a challenging economy. We know that the primary stressor on marriage, and by extension the family, is money. Many Canadian families have experienced increasing expenses while either having wages frozen or salary increases that don’t keep up with inflation. Progressively eroding the family budget have been: increases in municipal, provincial and federal taxes and premiums; rising costs of housing and associated expenses such as electricity, telephone service and internet access; and, the realities of climbing prices for food, gasoline and other staples.

The Conservative Party of Canada’s campaign platform from the 2011 federal election proposed the “Family Tax Cut” as a form of household income splitting that will be available when the federal budget is balanced. Current tax laws penalize single income families – the very ones who often struggle the most financially – by requiring them to pay up to 37% more than dual income families earning the same amount (see “Taxing Families: Does The System Need an Overhaul?”, The IMFC Review, Spring/Summer 2008). However, Canadian families are facing pressure today and balancing the budget is an aim for 2014-15 and goal for either 2015-16 or 2016-17, depending on cost savings that can be found in the interim.

Canadian families need the relief today. The EFC has encouraged the government to take this initiative immediately and to give serious consideration to expanding the initiative to a full family household income splitting initiative as supported in the analysis of Jack Mintz, summarized in “Taxing Families”:

Canada has an ambiguous approach to family taxation and no clear application of principle has evolved over time. This has resulted in inequitable tax treatment for families with the same earning power. Raised 40 years ago by the famous 1966 Carter Report, which argued for equal treatment for families, still today, a single-earner family pays much more tax than two-earner families. This is an issue that should be corrected, and this can best be achieved by providing opportunities for families to split in­come more readily.

Government has been, but should not be the beneficiary of fiscal imbalance in household income earners. Income splitting ought to be available to all Canadian families – dual income and single income, those with children (or other dependants) and those without – as a measure of economic fairness. In the current economy, it will also help many who have seen their wages stagnate and then experience erosion by inflation. It could well keep several families from being forced to remove their children from after school activities, such as sports and arts programs; finding themselves unable to keep their homes; or slipping into the ranks of Canada’s working poor, lining up at food banks and soup kitchens to make ends meet.

Keeping Canada’s families strong financially will keep Canada strong. Community, school and church have our parts to play in securing the strength of Canadian families. We call upon the Government of Canada to do its part as well. The economic health of the nation depends on it.

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