Corporate Tax

GRANT FROST: #BellLetsTalk – corporate altruism or mandatory evil? | Native views | opinion

Last Thursday was the 11th anniversary of Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” day. The campaign, which is being promoted to get people talking about mental health issues, calls for the company’s giant to donate money to health organizations for every social media mention that uses the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. According to the latest figures, well over US $ 100 million have been donated to psychosocial groups across Canada, including those who support children and youth, indigenous communities and military families.

The initiative was not without its critics. There are quite a few experts who see this as a particularly stressful example of the Canadian company benefiting from the suffering of others.

In 2017, a CBC report dwarfed Bell, suggesting that many Bell employees were experiencing great stress and anxiety due to so-called “high pressure” sales tactics. These particular allegations have been vigorously denied by the company. It should also be noted that in a 2019 report, Bell was praised by researchers from Deloitte Canada as a role model for the mental wellbeing of workers.

However, that’s not the only criticism that Bell has thrown into Bell’s lap. Last year, criminal defense attorney Michael Spratt shared his views on how Bell benefited from prison inmates. The company owns the exclusive rights to the telephone systems in prisons in Ontario and charges usage fees that critics have described as exorbitant. According to Spratt, this hampers inmates’ ability to talk to family members or seek advice, which is not particularly conducive to improving mental well-being. This seems particularly distressing, as battling mental health problems was likely a key factor in why many of these same people ended up behind bars in the first place.

One of the worst criticisms of the initiative recently came from a student in the University of Windsor’s communications, media and film department who caught the attention of the National Post in 2019. In this case, writer Jasmine Vido argued (quite successfully, I thought) that the whole thing was more about branding than altruism. The paper indicated that using the company name in the associated hashtag enabled Bell to garner millions of media mentions for one nickel apiece. Vido goes on to claim that if Bell really wanted to focus on mental wellbeing as opposed to branding the company, the company name would be dropped in favor of a simplified “#letstalk” and invited other media giants like Rogers and Telus to the party long way to appease critics.

A decade ago, Bell stepped into a vacuum. Prior to Let’s Talk, there was little discussion of the general psychological wellbeing of Canadians.

I suppose some people see this as a “damn if you do, damn if you don’t” puzzle. Bell’s making money on the backs of some of Canada’s most vulnerable citizens and shamelessly advocating for himself is an impossible position to defend. The other, much brighter side of the coin is that it’s hard to argue that the campaign didn’t do at least some good. Mental health awareness in Canada has certainly seen a lot of mainstreaming, thanks in part to Let’s Talk.

A decade ago, Bell stepped into a vacuum. Prior to Let’s Talk, there was little discussion of the general psychological wellbeing of Canadians.

As someone who has spent much of their professional and personal time in the past few years focusing on the spiritual wellbeing of teachers, I have certainly seen a change. Recently, the Canadian Teachers Federation released a pinpoint pandemic research report with recommendations on how to help teachers and students cope with the current prevalent mental health problems. One group that I am more closely associated with, the EdCan Network, has made the spiritual wellbeing of teachers a focus of their work over the past few years. It’s hard to argue that the collective comfort necessary to drive these conversations is much more common today than it was 10 years ago.

Regardless of some of Bell’s arguably questionable corporate phenanigans, we may have to postpone our outrage for now and hope that the ends actually justify the means until another unit of equal size shows up.

The solution to this moral dilemma, of course, lies in this “increase”. We have certainly heard enough about corporate tax loopholes and exorbitant CEO salaries. All major airlines in our country may be charged a five cents per interaction tax once a year forcing them to donate nickel to mental wellbeing initiatives if one of their customers uses CanadaLetsTalk as a hashtag. A nice first one Step.

If that were the case, I’m not sure if you would even get me off my phone that day.

Grant Frost is an educational commentator who has been teaching for 25 years. You can find more of his comments at frostededucation.com.

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