In her budget speech two weeks ago, Finance Minister Selina Robinson noted that her government had adopted “five foundational principles” to guide all aspects of policy making.
They are, in order: “Putting people first; lasting and meaningful Aboriginal reconciliation; equity; a better future through fighting climate change; and a strong, sustainable economy that works for everyone.”
Some of this is uncontroversial, if not banal. If you’re not putting people first, who or what are you putting first? Aliens?
Some of it is revealing. Building the economy is this government’s last priority, not its first.
But one aspect is disturbing. Note the third principle —“equity”.
Now why should that concern us? Isn’t equality one of the basic rights built into our constitution?
Yes, but the government isn’t promising equality. It is promising equity, an entirely different notion.
Equality is about the rights of individuals. Equity is about the rights of groups, whether they be gender-based, ethnicity-based, age-based, or whatever.
To promote equality, you outlaw discrimination. To promote equity, you champion discrimination.
Here’s an example. In her budget, Robinson wanted to foster entrepreneurialism. She set aside $300 million for this purpose.
But it turns out not everyone qualifies equally. For Robinson specifically earmarked the money for female and minority entrepreneurs. This is “equity” at work.
Why should this bother us? Shouldn’t we want to see female and minority entrepreneurs succeed?
Yes, of course. But it matters how you go about it.
By all means level the playing field by removing unfair obstacles that affect some groups more than others. If women or minority would-be entrepreneurs can’t get bank loans on the same terms as men, for instance, put a stop to that.
If landlords won’t rent store space to them, put a stop to that.
In other words, tackle discrimination at its roots and remove those obstacles.
But that’s not what Robinson is doing. She’s using the power of the purse to selectively advance the interests of one group over others.
One of the dangers in this style of thinking is that it tribalizes society. We are not to see each other as individuals and entitled to equal treatment.
Rather we are to see ourselves as members of a demographic or racial group with historical grievances to settle, or unearned benefits to surrender.
But down this road there will never be peace. If your status in society is group-based, then the group must survive even if, in practical terms, substantial progress has already been made.
In this view of things, past grievances are never fully righted. The beneficiaries of past injustice, such as colonialism, can never fully atone.
You see this in the emergence of terms like “microaggression,” “microinequities” and “unconscious bias” to keep ever-diminishing grievances alive.
The embracing of equity theory is no accident. Rather, it is the foundation of identity politics.
You win elections not by appealing to the needs of individual voters, but by sorting them into persecuted groups, then telling them you will spurn their persecutors.
Why adopt such a divisive strategy? Because, to the extent practical, the original goals of progressive parties have been largely accomplished. Unemployment insurance has been introduced, universal health care enacted, income supplements set up, and publicly funded pensions installed.
But with equity theory, a fertile new field for political activism has been opened. This was the disguised intent of last week’s budget.