Saturday, November 25, 2006

Politics and poverty

While the Libs' leaders look for ways to get Canada's federal government to do less, the Star asks the fair question of why multiple levels of government aren't doing more to deal with poverty:
(I)nstead of action, politicians appear immune to the mounting evidence that we are losing the battle against poverty, despite parts of Canada having enjoyed years of prosperity and personal and corporate wealth.

Just this week, that message was driven home in two major reports on poverty. The first, by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, found people living in neighbourhoods in Toronto and other major cities with higher income and education levels were far more likely to say they are in very good health than those in poorer ones. The second was the annual Campaign 2000 report card, which found the national child poverty rate stands at an unacceptably high level, with 17.7 per cent of all children in this country living in households below the poverty line.

But it was a nationwide poll of 2,000 Canadians conducted by Environics Research for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that should truly prompt politicians in Ottawa and provincial legislatures to take notice. The survey, released this week, indicated that many Canadians saw the growing rich-poor gap as a symptom of moral breakdown, with people becoming greedier and more obsessed with materialism.

Those findings are surprising, given a decade of solid economic growth, nine straight federal budget surpluses and a relatively low unemployment rate. Indeed, 76 per cent of those surveyed believe the rich-poor gap is growing — not shrinking. "There is a very strong sense this is a Canadian concern," said Armine Yalnizyan, research fellow at the centre. "It is not about winners and losers, it's about where Canadian society is headed. It is seen to be part of the bedrock of our value system."

Regrettably, those deep-rooted concerns do not seem even to be on the radar screen of politicians in Ottawa and at Queen's Park.

For example, in spite of a $7 billion surplus, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty opted this week to cut taxes and focus on debt reduction, rather than giving back to those in true need through measures such as an income supplement to Canada's 650,000 working poor.

And provincially, the Liberal government of Premier Dalton McGuinty refuses to make up for past damage by the previous Conservative regime by raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, ensuring hard-working families can rise out of poverty. And it steadfastly refuses to stop clawing back the National Child Benefit Supplement from families on social assistance. Or to increase welfare payments to those same families...

All that is required is the political leadership to do what is right for Canada's poor. For instance, as the Campaign 2000 report card points out, the poverty gap — the amount of money needed to bring all poor families with children up to the low-income cut-off line — is about $5.7 billion, an amount that could have been covered by eliminating the GST tax cut this year. Tax cuts or reducing the poverty gap? That's a political decision.
Based on the CCPA poll, it appears plain that the problem isn't a lack of public recognition that many have been left out of Canada's growth on paper. But with the Libs having drawn the conclusion that the problem is one in need of less discussion rather than more action, it's equally clear that neither the Libs nor Cons are interested in doing anything to ensure that Canada's wealth reaches those who need it most - leaving only one party willing and able to actually deal with the problem of poverty in Canada.

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