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What Middle Class?

(Note: This column was first published 20 Oct. 2014)

[Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is signalling the tax cuts promised by the Conservative government could lead to a political showdown ahead of the 2015 federal election.

Trudeau suggested in an interview today with CBC’s French-language service Radio-Canada that a Liberal government would prioritize investment in infrastructure, education, and research over any tax relief.

He says he’s made a promise as leader of the party to build an economy with a strong and growing middle class.

Trudeau made the comments in response to a question on Radio-Canada’s Les coulisses du pouvoir about the cost of those planned investments, and whether it would be politically difficult for him to reverse any cuts given to taxpayers…] excerpt from the article.

I am not convinced that a ‘middle class’ exists. Let’s admit it; most people think they are middle class. If class distinction is defined by income, one might be tempted to use the median income from Stats Canada, but that is an average, which may have a statistical value, in a formula or mark centre on a graph. Class has to be something you can actually see, a social strata that defines your place in relation to others. It is tough to find that sort of class in the middle of society.

One can see the extremes; homeless people, or the rich who flaunt their millions for everyone to see, but the middle class, the edges that define it, are far less obvious. The average home price is $405,000 (last time I looked) but this too is an average, skewed by expensive real estate markets in Vancouver and Toronto. One can’t argue that the middle class is defined by the value of their homes, particularly when one considers that most of these homes have rather large mortgages.

We think a middle class exists, that it has been under attack, but our society is increasingly divided between rich and poor; two classes, worlds apart but, from another perspective, the social safety net that has sustained us since the mid 1960’s, has re-distributed income and blurred the lines between classes. Attacks on unions, incomes, and social assistance are the battle lines and as long as you and I are not in the line of fire, we can imagine that our lives mark the middle class.

In the years since the mid 1960’s, families with 4 children, a home with 4 bedrooms, 2 cars only a year or two old, and one wage earner, usually male, were familiar contours of middle class life.  Jobs at General Motors, Firestone, Stelco, and other manufacturing businesses kept food on the table, yet like Simpsons Sears, and the famous catalogue that once graced the front steps of the middle class, lives have been changing.  The two income family, born along with Tim Horton’s restaurants in 1964, changed the perception of middle class.

Today, most families find two incomes a necessity, not the luxury it may have been, ‘once upon a time’.  Pensions, particularly ones sufficient to sustain a very old age, have replaced income for so many who remember forty years with one or two employers and the loyalty exchanged between them.  Perhaps middle class has always been a matter of perception.

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Professional. Retired. Canadian.

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