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Kudos to the Feds for dental care plan...but...

A step forward to becoming an even fairer country
Smile | Caroline LM on Unsplash
Smile | Caroline LM on Unsplash

By the time I moved on after 25 years as a business owner, the company had 200 employees. One thing I insisted on, against the resistance of our chief financial officer and our insurance broker's advice, was no dental care deductible. It was expensive, but I was not budging on it.

Why did this matter so much to me?

I never wanted any employee to have to choose between taking proper care of their child's teeth and getting a car fixed, buying groceries, or even taking a well-deserved vacation. I cared about this because, in my observation, bad teeth in Canada are a tell, an indication that your parents were low income. Possibly the only significant class marker we have in our country. And that is to say nothing about the confidence a nice smile gives or the fact that dental health plays into overall well-being. That is why I am so supportive of the new Canadian Dental Benefit.

At the Dentist | Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash
At the Dentist | Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

Your parents' income is not your fault. Where you were born and to whom is out of your control, and it should not limit your opportunities.

In so many countries, the station of one's birth is a pretty good predictor of one's life achievement. Only truly determined and able people break through the class or even caste barriers entrenched in many societies. And in these countries, there are signifiers of caste or class that, regardless of your talent, will make others hold you back, consciously or unconsciously.

In England, where I was born, accents, table manners, and school ties open and close countless doors, often without the perpetrator or the victim being aware. (Oddly, in England, bad teeth are notoriously not a class marker at all: people in the most privileged of families often have terrible teeth!) Other countries have even more overt systems, to the point that the Toronto District School Board has even had to develop a program to combat caste-related bullying among certain new Canadian populations.

My parents left England for Canada specifically to go to a country without such a class system: to a country where our determination and ability, and not our accent, would determine our success. 

Often the focus in such countries becomes class conflict and a justifiable rejection of the free market by a substantial portion of the population. (In Canada, productivity stagnation and a decline in overall prosperity are more likely to give rise to populism and political polarization, and that's the reason for the "but" in my title: our government needs to focus on productivity improvement, as well as improving the social support system. Otherwise, we won't be able to pay for it.)

It would be a pipe dream to think that any country can eliminate the effects of the accident of birth. Parental resources, education and contacts will play a part, as everyone tries to give their children the best opportunities possible. Despite our best efforts, there is always hereditary inequality, and short of taking people away from their parents (the misguided nature of this approach was vividly illustrated by our infamous residential school system), our best efforts cannot eliminate it.

In Canada, far more people move up and down the social, political, academic and financial ladders in a single generation than in many other countries. Our strong public education system, generally homogeneous accent, and relaxed attitude to form mean that able people rise more according to effort and ability than to socio-economic origin, gender, ethnicity or religion. The many different cultures who succeed here set role models that there is no one "right sort of chap" for leadership roles. (For just a little insight into how hereditary opportunity works in England, I recommend The Bank of Dave, an entertaining but insightful movie currently available in Canada only on International Netflix.)

Like lots of people, Liberal, Conservative or otherwise, I have my quarrels with our current prime minister. But recently, when he was challenged about the new dental plan, her reportedly replied,  "Do you want people to know how much your father made by looking in your mouth?"

This response, so quintessentially Canadian in its desire to ensure as level a playing field as possible, made me proud of my country. 

Our market-based economy and social democratic society, with its remarkable freedom to make of your life what you wish, produce some enormous differences in outcomes in wealth and power. Without a level playing field, without making every effort to achieve equality of opportunity for all, the divergences in outcome are morally unconscionable. Ensuring everyone has opportunity is essential to preserving both freedom and widespread prosperity.

Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau and their parties have taken one more step to preserve and strengthen that principle in our country. Kudos to them. Now let them focus on encouraging the ingenuity, energy and entrepreneurial spirit that help to improve productivity and sustainably ensure the prosperity that makes such programs affordable.