If we can Separate Church and State, why not Corporation and State?
One of the cornerstones of democracy is the separation of church and state. In principle, this separation relegates religion to the private sphere allowing it to flourish in many forms and giving individuals the freedom to worship the God or Gods of their choice. As former Chief Justice Dickson wrote, “a truly free society is one which can accommodate a wide variety of beliefs, diversity of tastes and pursuits, customs and codes of conduct”.
Thus, the religious and non-religious can go their separate ways and peacefully co-exist even if they have fundamentally different ways of seeing things. The separation of church and state is not explicitly affirmed in the Constitution. However, the freedom of conscience and religion is guaranteed in the Charter of Rights—so not just theism but also atheism, agnosticism, and indifference to religion are protected.
At this point, you are probably asking why churches are allowed tax-exemption? The idea is that so long as they are not discriminatory, things like charities, non-profits, and churches are seen as creating a public good or benefit. Of course, the reality is that many churches are indeed discriminatory—the Catholic church has long discriminated against women and today continues to discriminate against LGBT communities.
Nevertheless, according to the Government of Canada Churches can maintain tax-exempt status so long as they “use their resources for charitable activities and have charitable purposes that fall into one or more of the following categories: the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion, [and] other purposes that benefit the community.” However, even this is changing. In Nova Scotia, the provincial government has assessed taxes against churches that have fee-for-service daycares in their halls and basements. This is an interesting point which I will come back to.
In many countries that have separated church and state there exists a new kind of confederacy and collaboration between for-profit corporations (or unaccountable private tyrannies to borrow Chomsky’s phrase) and government. Indeed, the cult of neoliberal corporate capitalism, which has all the earmarks of religious fanaticism, is so inextricably woven into the fabric of Canadian politics and policy that ‘public interest’ and ‘corporate interest’ are no longer distinguishable. The phrases public good or Indigenous rights now have meaning and application only through the lens of propaganda.
Canadians did not vote for this shameless partnership between corporations and government. We never agreed to let rich oligarchs and greedy corporate CEO’s run the country for the sake of private and shareholder profit. We did not give our government permission to introduce policies and create laws that allow corporations to toxify our air, land, and water, emit tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, destroy our rainforests, engage in monopoly corporate agriculture or factory farming. We never authorized the government to give massive subsidies or create financial tax loopholes which, in effect, grant corporations and the monied elite tax-exempt status. We never gave consent to corporate bandits who pilfer the nation's resource wealth and stow their loot in foreign tax havens. The problem is that we did not vote for the corporate oligarchic state as it presently exists, so why should we believe that we can vote them out?
Canadian author John Ralston Saul has accurately described this as an unauthorized corporate coup d'etat in slow motion. And, unlike those taxable for-profit daycares in church basements, corporate churches are not only all but tax-exempt but inextricably conjoined to the political state beyond any uncoupling. To riff on Matt Taibbi’s great metaphor regarding Goldman Sachs, corporate interests take the form of a great vampire squid wrapped around Canada relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into the public commons, and sucking the life out of the country.
We separated Church and State because we believed it was good for democracy to distinguish public interests from a plurality of individual faith interests. If democracy means that those who rule only do so by the consent of the governed, under state-sanctioned corporate capitalism we are no longer a democracy. Democracy can only be restored when we finally separate corporate profiteers from the state--when we segregate in law and policy the private profit interests of corporations from public interests and goods of citizens.