As a research project committed to rural social justice in New Brunswick, RAVEN (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment) is compelled to respond to an editorial cartoon by Greg Perry published Feb. 11 in all three Brunswick News daily papers and an accompanying editorial on the so-called “double tax.”
The cartoon depicts a rural New Brunswicker holding a “Welcome Immigrants” sign who has been run over by immigrants on their way to urban areas.
What message does the cartoon send?
The cartoon suggests immigrants are a problem for underserved rural New Brunswickers.
The cartoon suggests that while rural New Brunswickers are welcoming, they are being trampled by immigrants. The cartoon puts rural New Brunswickers last in an imaginary queue that deems some people—urban people and immigrants—more worthy of social services than rural people.
This cartoon is dangerous. It perpetuates racist stereotypes of immigrants as ungrateful people who take advantage of services and programs offered to them, only to move on to other places.
We know that many immigrants stay, and some move on. All of us have the right to move, to stay, leave, or to return home. Immigrants have the same choice. Still, the cartoon does raise a question: why would immigrants choose to stay, when the provincial newspapers deploy the racist dog whistles of ungrateful immigrants hurting rural people?
The cartoon accompanies yet another editorial by the Irving-owned Brunswick News on the “double tax.” The article beats a drum for creating a tax rebate. It’s a facile, incoherent argument that goes like this: giving a tax rebate for non-owner-occupied dwellings will create affordable housing.
The New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights and ACORN have both pointed out that people who own more than one property are not eligible for the tax rebate on owner-occupied housing, which is what the Irving newspapers insist on calling a “double tax.” Giving landlords a tax break on their non-owner-occupied rental properties won’t guarantee they will stop raising rents. It will just line their pockets. If the goal is to prevent rent increases and create affordable rental properties, rent control would do the trick directly.
In fact, giving landlords tax breaks would simply create an even more landlord-friendly environment in New Brunswick, that would increase rents further as it would incentivize housing speculators and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) in their profitable takeover of rental properties across New Brunswick. The issue is housing speculation, and not tax relief for landlords.
Indeed, giving landlords a tax rebate—that is axing the illogically branded “double tax”— would drain public coffers. In 2010, the fact there was no tax rebate kept $60 million in public coffers, which is what the landlord lobby is fighting to eliminate. Do we really want to give landlords rebates of millions of dollars, rather than putting that money towards health care, education and other social services for all New Brunswickers, urban and rural?
Rural New Brunswick are definitely underserved. Rural communities lack access to health care, including reproductive health care. For example, the Higgs government has further cut to the bone rural hospital services. Many rural residents complain of unsafe roads and poor infrastructure that makes their communities unsafe. Many people have no access to reliable Internet, which is especially challenging during a global pandemic when education and work have moved online.
In 2019, RAVEN conducted a study of editorials in Irving’s three major newspapers, Telegraph-Journal, Times & Transcript and The Daily Gleaner, about rural issues. The study, published in the Journal of Rural and Community Development, found that the editorials, published between January 2013 and December 2017, largely depicted the idea that the decline of rural communities is inevitable without the corporate development of extractive industries.
Furthermore, we noted the almost complete absence of concerns over Indigenous rights, pollution, and environmental impacts related to corporate development of rural regions in the editorials.
In fact, the one time that Indigenous people were mentioned in the 46 editorials we examined, we found a disparaging portrayal of the Elsipogtog First Nation to serve the interests of shale gas exploration: “The First Nation of Elsipogtog has been criticized because 85 per cent of its residents draw welfare, while the community opposes seismic exploration that could lead to a domestic shale gas industry and job creation (“No future’s built on entitlement,” Oct. 23, 2013).
We were not surprised. The racism entrenched in Canadian news corporations is well documented. Absent again from the public conversation about the impoverishment of an Indigenous community are the root causes of that impoverishment, namely the dispossession of Indigenous people from their land.
The Irving-owned Brunswick News bolsters a corporate agenda for the province, which sees the value of rural New Brunswick as places of resource extraction. At the same time, neoliberal government policies ensure that rural communities remain dependent on extractive industries and are starved of the resources they need to build strong and sustainable rural economies.
What is driving the economic and social policies resulting in an underserved rural New Brunswick? The same forces that have strangled public services. This is a race to the bottom for the most economically disadvantaged people in the province, and a race to the top for the richest.
If New Brunswick is not bringing in enough tax revenue, it is because our tax system is designed to enrich the richest and impoverish the poorest. The plan to eliminate the tax rebate for landlords would just exacerbate the problem.
As pointed out by tax haven scholar Alain Deneault, the Irving family of companies has not paid its fair share of corporate taxes, and has thus amassed huge amounts of wealth for the Irving companies, while impoverishing the province. Yet, without even an ounce of irony, the Telegraph-Journal cartoon implies that it is immigrants who are running over rural New Brunswickers.
Are rural New Brunswickers being run over? Yes! But, those in the driver’s seat are not immigrants.
Rural New Brunswick is being run over by corporations that engage in practices of reckless resource extraction, such as clearcutting and glyphosate spraying of the forest, without the consent of Indigenous and local populations.
Rural New Brunswick, like the rest of the province, is being run over by large investment trusts buying up people’s homes, increasing rents and evicting tenants who can’t pay.
Rural New Brunswick is being run over by editorials and cartoons that tell us that New Brunswick is a dying and backwards place that can only be saved with resource extraction.
Rural New Brunswickers know that our province can work for us all instead of just the ultra-rich.
Rural New Brunswickers know that holding a welcome immigrants sign does not run anyone over, and that immigrants create more vibrant rural communities.
Rural New Brunswickers know that holding a welcome immigrants sign does not run anyone over. It actually lifts us all up.
Tracy Glynn is a collaborator with RAVEN, coordinating editor of the NB Media Co-op and assistant professor in the environment and society program at St. Thomas University. Susan O’Donnell is the primary investigator with RAVEN and a researcher and adjunct professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick and of environment and society at St. Thomas University. Daniel Tubb is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick and a co-investigator on the RAVEN project.