Take from the rich to give to the poor: the Robin Hood Tax and its implications for Canada and the world at large


So, here in Canada we’re lobbying for something called The Robin Hood Tax to be put into place1. The basic idea of the tax is this: every day banks and financial institutions have tons of transactions, right? Well, what if we put a small tax — only .05% — on each transaction, payable by the institution? Economists estimate that this will earn around 650 billion dollars per year that can be then put towards things like ending poverty and climate change (both here and abroad), making sure banks pay their fair share of the economic recovery, and help to curb the recession.

Banks are obscenely wealthy, and they make that wealth by charging people like you and me. The Robin Hood Tax forces them to give something back, so that people can get some food in their bellies and a roof over their homes — in environmentally friendly ways. Awesome deal, right?

Well. The current Canadian government doesn’t seem to think so, which, honestly, isn’t surprising. They are adamantly against implementing this global bank tax, because, well, they’re a bunch of rich folks.

Let’s get real here, people. When your elected officials come from rich backgrounds, you get a system that continually reinforces the idea that poor people are criminal, and that rich people are the ones who must be protected at all costs. It’s called privilege, and our EOs have it in spades (most of them white, cisgendered, heterosexual, rich men). Stephen Harper and his cronies have no idea what it’s like to be your everyday Canadian, trying to pull in a living though the system is stacked against you because you weren’t rich to begin with (how dare you).

It is because they have no idea what it’s like that I take it upon myself, as an active, informed, citizen, to try and let them know how important this tax would be to Canadians — not only to help us out, but to help us not be embarrassed on the global stage yet again.

So. I sent an email to our Prime Minister Harper and our Finance Minister Flaherty. This is what I said:

I am writing to urge you to support a tiny fee that can make a world of difference.

Economists estimate that a 0.05 per cent tax on speculative banking transactions – such as bonds, derivatives, currencies and hedge fund trading – could raise more than $650 billion each year. To protect consumers, this tax would be limited to transactions between banks and other financial institutions.

This money could be used to support much needed public services and to fight poverty at home and around the world. It is important Canada honour its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, commitments made at previous G8 and G20 summits and help countries adapt to climate change.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have all stated their support for the Financial Transaction Tax, as have many renowned economists and financial experts.

As the co-chair of the upcoming G20 Summit, Canada can help to ensure world leaders take steps towards adoption of the Financial Transaction Tax.

I have copied my Member of Parliament on this email. As a constituent, I urge them also to support this policy.

I have no idea if it was read by the ones who were supposed to get it or not. And for the record, this is the suggested email at the Robin Hood Tax site that they let you send out; I sent it because, well, it said all I wanted to say.

I received a response from John Weston, MP for West Vancouver — Sunshine Coast — Sea to Sky Country. He’s a successful West Vancouver lawyer — that says it all.2

Thank you for your letter regarding the proposal for a financial transactions tax. Our country in no way contributed to the Global Recession, and throughout the crisis, our banks have maintained healthy leverage ratios and largely avoided exposure to toxic assets.

No major Canadian financial institutions failed and none required bailouts from our Government, unlike the situation that was present in the US and several European countries. The strong performance of our banking sector showcased the effectiveness of Canada’s regulatory approach. As we host and chair the G-20 this year, we will encourage the adoption of similar regulatory processes globally.

The strong performance of our banking sector showcased the effectiveness of Canada’s regulatory approach. Our government is committed to reducing taxes, not to imposing a global tax on daily financial services. Modest and responsible regulation is the answer, not additional taxation.

Thank you for taking the time to write.

Ugh. This just pisses me off royally, especially as the BC Liberals are trying to get the HST implemented (that will hopefully fall apart; we’ve got people all over the province signing the petition against it) — so, taxation is fine if it’s against the citizenry, but not against banks who are so bloated and rich off our hardworking money they are inert, sitting in their greed like fat ticks feeding off the populace?

I wrote him back, a bit politer.

Dear Mr. Weston,

I urge you to step outside West Vancouver from time to time and see how the rest of your constituents live — the ones who aren’t already rich, who have to live on a minimum wage that is so low it should be criminal, who get no funding because they dare to live unconventional lifestyles, or work in the arts.

Not to mention students who are starving because there are no jobs, and even less funding.

Even though Canada may not have contributed directly to the recession, we as a country have made ourselves so dependent on the US economy that their recession hits us just as hard. Not only that, as our major trading partner sinks further into recession, it’s going to get worse.

Canada is not an island. You think things may be fine now, but we are part of the global community. What happens in other countries affects us too.

Banks make obscene profits while your people are suffering. What is the downside in taxing the rich to give to the poor?

It’s called the Robin Hood Tax for that very reason. You know that old story, of course — everyone does. Who would you like to be remembered as? The people’s hero, or the Sheriff of Nottingham?

Today was declared a national day of action for the tax:  24 hours for the tax.

I have done as much as possible today to let the world know how important it is that the RHT gets pushed through — I even called the office of the prime minister.3

Hello, Mr. Prime Minister. I’m calling to urge you to reconsider your stance on the Robin Hood Tax and to work towards implementing it. Though Canada has not contributed directly to the recession plaguing the states, we still have made ourselves so dependent on our neighbor country that their economic crises hit us just as hard. Now more than ever Canada needs to be a leader and a friend to our allies, and you need to be a hero to your people. The Robin Hood Tax will make that difference, especially for those in this country who lack the financial means to feed or clothe themselves. How do you want to be remembered? As Robin Hood, or the Sheriff of Nottingham?

Some repeats of my letter to Mr. Weston, but I think they’re sentiments that bear repeating.

Anyway, this is only the beginning. It’s so important that Canadian citizens take a stand — while we do nothing, our government works to embarrass us in front of the rest of the world time and time again. There’s this false idea here that Canadian politics aren’t that interesting, or important — who cares? We’ve got free health care!

Well, free health care isn’t enough. We also need a health care system that works (did you know birth control isn’t covered? Neither is dental. And if you’re lucky enough to have a doctor, your appointments are super-short, because there’s so much demand and not enough supply), and a system put into place to end poverty before it begins. People in Canada are starving. They have to choose between electricity or rent, or rent or food. Just like people in the United States have to choose between meds or food.

I for one am tired of being poor and being unable to fix it (no jobs + no funding for the arts + student loans + career choices all underfunded and suffering budget cuts = I will die before I’m 30). This tax? Will fix things — not only for me, but for people who are worse off than I am.

Take a stand. Not only for yourself, but for your fellow Canadian.

-Katje van Loon
writer and activist

1. This isn’t a Canadian idea. It’s a global idea that Canada’s government has rejected, which doesn’t sit too well with some of us.
2. To my American or non-BC or other friends who may not get this, West Vancouver is the richest area of town, and Vancouver’s cost of living is record high right now. Generally speaking, if you live in West Van, you’re loaded, and you’re not a member of the lower-class. You’re probably not even a member of the middle-class.
3. Sweet Horus that was scary.