Recently a friend sent me one of those chain letter emails that get passed from friend to family member to friend to stranger to. . . You get the picture.
Usually, the emails he sends are humourous so I opened it up expecting some sort of joke. What I got instead was a message that bothered me. There was something wrong with the argument presented and it had me wishing I could talk to the email's original author. I dearly wanted to explain where I felt he or she had gone wrong in their thinking.
With the author unknown, I sat down and pounded out a response anyways. I couldn't help myself. To tell you the truth, it just felt nice to write with such purporse about something that means a lot to me.
Then I sat on it for a while, which is always a smart thing to do in these days of instant (mis-)communication.
Next, I talked with the friend in question and warned him that I might publish a reply. I didn't want him to take offense as his views may or may not differ from mine. He actually seemed more bemused than anything, so I decided to run with it.
First, the message I received:
"CANADA PENSION - A
Must Read & Only in Canada.
Do not apply for your old age pension...
Apply to be a refugee. It is interesting that the federal government provides a single refugee with a monthly allowance of $1,890.00 and each can get an additional $580.00 in social assistance for a total of $2,470.00. This compares very well to a single pensioner who, after contributing to the growth and development of Canada for 40 or 50 years, can only receive a monthly maximum of $1,012.00 in old age pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement. Maybe our pensioners should apply as refugees!
Let's send this thought to as many Canadians as we can and maybe we can get the refugees cut back to $1,012.00 and the pensioners up to $2,470.00, so they can enjoy the money they were forced to submit to the Canadian government for those 40 to 50 years."
It concludes by asking the reader to send the message to every Canadian they know.
Instead, I wrote this:
Alas, the logic here is flawed. For a moment, consider the fact that the money the pensioners were "forced to submit" was probably repaid to them in the form of medical care (not perfect, but better than the alternative), education for themselves and their children (we only assume that grade and high school should be free), infrastructure, and a social safety net for when we suffer troubles. Not so unbalanced, when you look at it that way.
Besides, if that money is what it takes for us to get someone to move halfway around the world, leave behind their life and savings (because moving halfway around the world is not cheap) and then work the jobs that people born in Canada feel too good to do, then that's fine by me because, without the immigrant, our country would collapse.
I mean, are we really so foolish as to believe that the immigrant has it easy? In addition to a life of crap jobs for crap wages, they often have to deal with social isolation, language barriers and a culture that is blind to how dependant our country is on people from other countries.
When I was working on the rail gangs in eastern Ontario years ago, I went with my co-worker to visit his aunt. She was spending the growing season in a series of rickety shacks planted on the edge of farm fields. She comes to Canada from Jamaica each summer and follows the harvest across Ontario. By doing the backbreaking work that natural born Canucks reject, she earns the money that lasts her through a winter at home.
Fine. Even the editors at the Toronto Sun would probably applaud this as long as the workers made sure to go home when done.
What I saw, though, was something different. I saw a shack overfilled with workers and empty of most furniture and furnishings. Let me tell you, the only difference between that place and the pictures one sees of the darkest days of the Great Depression is that this place had a power line. A decade later and I am still trying to answer the questions raised by that evening. How can we, the members of an extremely affluent nation, turn such a blind eye to how our food is produced and how it is produced? It goes beyond wilful ignorance. It is hypocritical. It is cold and calloused. It is, well, un-Canadian.
So, heck, if nursery tales about spoiled immigrants and hard done to Canadians are you thing, then. . . Uh, now there's a problem. I can't say hard done to Canadians, because some of the proudest Canadians I know were born in other countries. In fact, I feel proudest as a Canadian when I talk with immigrants because they generally appreciate and value their citizenship far more than those of us who were born in Canada. They are proud to be a part of this country, even if it means doing such things as working seven days a week in a suburban sub shop (as one woman I talked to from Iran does).
Oops, another hole in the logic there because, behind the rant, is the unspoken notion that Canadian born Canadians are somehow more deserving or entitled than Canadians who started life elsewhere. Personally, I think the opposite may be true. I feel that a person who has to choose and work and sacrifice to be Canadian is probably better overall for the country than someone who is going to sit back and whine and snipe and complain. In my more radical moments, I feel that natural born Canadians should have to take a citizenship test on their eighteenth birthday before being granted the full range of benefits we reap from living in this great country. Maybe then we could learn to appreciate what we have rather than whining about what we do not.
As for the money disparity, no one mentioned the fact that it is usually far more expensive to be an immigrant than it is to be a senior. The majority of immigrants wind up living in Canada's three largest cities. Two out of three of these cities often show up on lists of the most expensive places to live in the world. Furthermore, the immigrant usually does not have the network of friends, family and relatives that Canadian-born citizens have. Immigrants need the helping hand to get started, sure, but that's not where it ends. Soon enough, this helping hand gets paid back in sweat and taxes, keeping our country running.
I'm not saying the Canada Pension Plan is perfect. I'm not saying the immigration system is perfect, either. What I'm saying is that it is far more complicated than taking the money from the immigrants and giving it to the seniors. What I'm saying is we do a disservice to ourselves and our country by substituting simplistic griping for reasoned thought.