Binkley - A caring Canada


A new take on poverty

Economic arguments promote long-term vision to provide action plan 

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

Kudos to Canada Without Poverty for marking its 40th anniversary with a new approach to convincing the federal government to get serious about eliminating poverty. Instead of well-worn moral arguments, the charity is using economic arguments for making its case for an action plan.

Its message, to a cost-cutting government, is that the current price tag for dealing with poverty across Canada is already $25 billion-a-year and climbing, with no improvement in the situation. A new way of dealing with the problem is essential if Canada is ever to live up to its potential for all its citizens.

In a call for action, the organization quotes Nelson Mandela and Jack Layton and cites Prime Minister Harper and Governor-General David Johnston in promoting a long-term vision that identifies resources to reduce poverty and ways to measure progress that is actually being made.

Canada needs “a national commitment to a common purpose (through which) Canadians can overcome many policy frustrations of the past decade and help meet critical public objectives, such as economic recovery and balanced budgets, by addressing the root of most evil in society — the poverty on the streets around us and within homes and communities from coast to coast to coast.”

Canada has no choice but to reduce poverty, the charity says. “Poverty is too expensive: it costs us more to maintain and contain it than to invest in eradicating it. A fiscally responsible government understands that investing in poverty elimination creates tremendous savings for everyone. In addition, eliminating poverty means living up to our human rights commitments and honouring the social legacy that has become a defining marker for Canadians, such as an inclusive public healthcare system and our public pensions.

“Poverty has been studied to death. Why push more paper?” the charity argues. MPs and Senators have presented Parliament with plenty of good ideas.  “This is a great opportunity at a great time in Canada’s history to show the world that we aren’t just good at numbers, but at people too.”

Scandinavian countries “have achieved much lower levels of poverty, and income and wealth inequality, through strong investment in social protection and development, while building the most economically vibrant economies. The values that got us this far in Canada will carry us forward to make sure no one lives in poverty. And remember that we are only calling for a feasibility plan. No one need be held to account for anything until a discussion is complete and Canadians draw their own conclusions. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

The organization took its case to the Commons finance committee, which is in the midst of hearings in advance of the 2012 federal budget. “Our recommendation is simple yet significant,” Executive Director Rob Rainer told the MPs. “That is for the federal government to set targets and timelines for poverty reduction and elimination and to study all fiscal mechanisms, federal as well as intergovernmental, available to help reach these targets and lay out options for the committee’s consideration and consultation.”

The bottom line is, “poverty — the overarching determinant of health and a critical determinant of crime — undermines the nation’s economic and fiscal well being. Sick people work less, die younger and draw heavily on health care systems. Desperate people sometime turn to crime, drawing heavily on criminal justice systems. Success in health promotion and in crime reduction will strengthen Canada’s economy and improve public finance."

“The government need not start at square one,” added Harriett McLachlan, the charity’s board member for Quebec. “Major reports on poverty and its solutions, like that of Senators Hugh Segal and Art Eggleton in 2009 (which called for stronger action on poverty) and of the Commons Human Resources committee in 2010, set the stage for action.”

There’s no surprise in the organization’s basic proposal—“expand Canada’s existing system of basic income guarantees which more than anything have reduced poverty somewhat, notably for seniors.

“The government is well positioned to determine the right methods to ensure all Canadians have equal opportunities for health, employment and safety. Income is a growing concern for all Canadians and will need to be addressed in any larger framework of social protection and development.

It concludes by observing, “We take Prime Minister Harper at his word when his latest Speech from the Throne calls for a more caring Canada.”

Next time, we will explore the charity’s proposals in closer detail.

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