Layton says money will make poverty go poof – opinions/Full Comment – Kelly McParland: Layton says money will make poverty go poof
Posted: September 30, 2008. Kelly McParland

There is a beguiling simplicity to Jack Layton’s pledge to end poverty in Canada by 2020.

Mr. Layton would deal with the problem by the simple imperative of giving people money.

The NDP views poverty as the result of people being broke. It’s all very straighforward: If you have no money, you’re poor. Therefore, to solve it, you just give people money.

Problem solved. On to world peace.

Mr. Layton’s plan is to give up to $5,000 a year per child to low-income families, declining to about $100 a month for wealthy families, tax free. He would also create 220,000 new daycare spaces, spend $1.5 billion on grants to post-secondary students, and implement the $5 billion Kelowna Accord.

The NDP leader says his child-benefit plan would eat up $17.4 billion in a $51.6 billion platform, which also includes more spending on transit, the environment, and healthcare. The child benefit budget, he notes, is just $4.4 billion more than the Tories are spending.

Is that it? So we’re only $4.4 billion away from ending poverty forever. Kind of makes you think, eh? Makes you think the Conservatives must be doing some great work if they’ve already allocated three-quarters of the money needed to settle the issue. Poverty must have taken one giant whack in the ribs from all that money the government’s been spending, not to mention all the spending under previous governments in the decades before that. Poverty must be on its last legs by now. Poverty must be bent over on a stool in its corner of the ring, wheezing and gasping and squinting through its one good eye, wondering where this Harper guy learned to punch like that.

But wait a minute. According to the NDP, poverty is still a huge problem. It’s still out there, subjecting tens of thousands of children to illness and hunger. It’s not wheezing at all. It’s not even wounded. It’s bouncing around the ring, up on its toes, waiting for the next challenger.

What gives?

Don’t ask the NDP, because they’re immune to logic. If simply handing over money helped to solve poverty, it would long ago have been driven from the land. But that approach doesn’t work. How many billions — could be trillions for all I know — have been poured into Africa in the past 40 years, to little effect? If just upping budgets was the answer to the problem, why is it that Canada’s First Nation reserves remain so spectacularly awful despite federal spending of more than $10 billion a year? Come to think of it, Ottawa already spends almost 60% of the budget Mr. Layton is proposing, just on programs for Aboriginals. So by NDP thinking, native reserves should be flourishing, filled with contented, thriving people bursting to get on with the wonder of their lives, models on which to base a program for all needy Canadians. Needless to say they’re not.

Quizzed on the issue Monday, Mr. Layton didn’t have an answer. How would the NDP’s $17 billion be different than the Conservatives $13 billion? Well, the NDP’s approach would be more “progressive.” Why will big spending work now, when it’s never worked on First Nation reserves? That’s just it, says Mr. Layton: “It’s time we started treating these people and communities with some respect. And that’s where I’d start.”

It’s not an answer. It’s a sensibility. And perhaps that’s why it seems so naive — maybe the word is obtuse — for the NDP to be suggesting to Canadians that if we just opened the vault a little wider, all would be well. If only it was true. But it’s not.

National Post

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