Thursday, January 4, 2007

The pointless fitness tax credit

There's something perplexing about the Conservatives' new "fitness tax credit" of five hundred dollars (which, at 15.5%, really amounts to a saving of just $77.50). One of the terms of the credit is that a certain amount of physical "exertion" must be demonstrated in order to qualify for the credit.

So I guess that means sports like ice hockey and lacrosse (our national sports in Canada), as well as biathlon, swimming and soccer etc. qualify. Sports that don't require as much (like bowling or table tennis) don't. And it says absolutely nothing about people who aren't physically inclined but like to engage in mental or artistic pursuits like musical instruments, Scouting, ballet or old fashioned community service. They don't qualify period.

This is baffling and not just because of all the questions it raises (and I for one can't wait to read what the interpretation bulletin will say as to exactly what's a "sport" and what isn't). It's also a colossal waste of taxpayers' money, giving a measly at best subsidy to only a small percentage of Canadians. It'd be far better to give parents a real tax break, say a five hundred dollar per year increase in the child tax credit. (I've argued in past columns for much more but a per capita increase that modest would do more good to promote health and nutrition for all, than just giving a King, Betty Windsor and Laurier to a few.)

I understand what the government is trying to do. Canada is an obese nation (and to be fair I do have a few extra pounds myself) and we need to promote physical activity. But why aren't we doing it in the schools already? Arts and gymnastics are the first items to go in any budget cuts by school boards. Not only are we creating kids who don't have the ability to think, they're also fat and they don't even realize they are.

When I was in kindergarten and grade one, Ontario had something called the "Health Hustle" -- a quick, ten minute mandatory stretching and jumping exercise to start the day. (The Gen-Xers who read this will probably remember this one, which included four popular songs from the era -- the two that stick in my mind were Hot Butter's Popcorn and Captain and Tenille's blockbuster cover of Neil Sedaka's Love Will Keep Us Together.) The weird thing was, it actually made us want to seize the day. (It's still used in some jurisdictions, although nowadays more contemporary music such as the Macarena.)

And forget the arts. Music appreciation and visual arts were a big part of my education -- a huge one, and I am convinced it helped make me a more rounded person; even if when it came to painting I was mostly a klutz. (My "masterpiece," if you can call it that, was a bronze engraving I did, copied from a single frame comic strip popular during the 1980s -- and not a totally unreasonable one for me.) Now, kids are just required to take one arts credit in Grade Nine. One.

Is that the way to promote balance with our kids? The provinces don't get it, and neither do the feds.

I hear there's a Cabinet shuffle today. No doubt Rona Ambrose and a few others will be dumped (welcome news to us progressives), but one cannot change outward appearances if there is inner decay. The minority government is just managing the country, it's not governing it. And one of its keynote policy decisions, the fitness tax credit, is rotten to the core. Noble idea, but the wrong way to do it.

Increase funding at the school level, yes (including federal transfers that help the provinces run education). Give a paltry tax break, no.

UPDATE (2:02 PM EST, 1902 GMT): Ambrose is not out of the Cabinet, but she has been shifted to President of the Privy Council. Included in that file is intergovernmental relations -- so she'll be point woman to the provinces. Given most provinces have already taken the lead on the environment, it's hard to see how she'll be able to persuade them on the constittution.

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1 comment:

Torian said...


thanks for the memories- I, too, did the health hustle and we also did the kilometre run. I think I was in gr 5 when it started, because the teacher in charge of both was my gr 5 teacher. Our cleas was not allowed to opt out of the kilometre run at recess time.

As to your points...sure the fitness credit is not much, but how will a tax break help? I'll use the beer and popcorn arguement- who's to say the extra money wont be used to buy mcd's?

I can only speak for york region, but my kid's school has actually changed their schedule and have gotten rid of the 2nd recess in the afternoon- apparently to facilitate literacy. So they have a 20 min recess at 11, dont have lunch until 12:45 and start up again at 1:30. How does that promote health? In a newsletter, they suggested that we pack a bigger snack at recess so they wont get hungry because of the later lunch time. So, the only real time they have to run around- and the school wants them to spend it stuffing their faces.

To my daughter's teacher's credit, she does get in about 15 mins of running around in the gym. My son, in SK in the AM, no longer has recess.

All these kids are driven to school or take the bus- few walk. At lunch time, parents come in with pizza pizza, mcd's, and other unhealthy choices. We have a hot lunch program every thursday- consisting of KFC, licks, KD, and hot dogs. Yum!

It's not the lack of funding at the schools that is the problem- it is the lifestyle choices the schools are promoting.

I like the fitness credit- I wish it were more, but you can add daily activity to your life without it costing money. Walk-a malls, park play, kicking around a ball are all free.