Need help? Don’t look to Ottawa
TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Tue Mar 15 2011. By Carol Goar, Editorial Board
They call her Diane the Dinosaur. They remember every judgmental remark the human resources minister has made about the poor, the unemployed and parents desperate for child care.
But community workers still harboured a slim hope that Diane Finley would show some humanity in her response to the poverty reduction plan produced by Parliament’s all-party committee on human resources.
She quickly snuffed that out, rejecting all 58 of its recommendations. “Our Conservative government believes that the best way to fight poverty is to grow our economy and get Canadians working,” she told MPs.
When pressed by New Democrats about the shortage of child care that prevents single mothers from working, she responded: “Few governments have ever done as much as we have to support families.”
When asked by the Liberals how she could ignore the voices of Canada’s churches, food banks and child welfare agencies and 3 million Canadians living in poverty, she was indignant. “Our government has taken several steps to reduce poverty in Canada, including introducing and increasing the working income tax benefits and creating jobs. We believe that lower taxes create jobs.”
Her attitude wasn’t a surprise. This was the minister, after all, who refused to extend employment insurance benefits to laid-off workers during the recession on the grounds that “we do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it.”
But it was another setback in the increasingly forlorn battle against hunger, homelessness and deprivation.
The advice Finley spurned wasn’t radical or left-wing. Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada was drafted by a committee chaired by a Conservative MP. It had six Tory members, two Liberals, two members from the Bloc Québécois and one New Democrat.
Nor would it have broken the bank. At least a third of the recommendations — proposing ways to use existing resources more effectively — would have cost nothing at all. The rest — including a federal transfer to support provincial poverty reduction initiatives, a national housing and homelessness strategy, a basic income program for Canadians with severe disabilities and an increase in the child tax benefit — were meant to be phased in over a number of years.
None of that seemed to matter to Finley. She couldn’t find a single proposal worth accepting.
The Simcoe businesswoman would not still be minister of human resources, after four years, if her words didn’t reflect Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s wishes. He has said repeatedly that he wants nothing to do with the design or delivery of social programs.
But Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is no champion of the poor, either. Since taking the reins in 2008, he has disowned his party’s comprehensive poverty reduction plan and replaced it with three measures (so far): a modest caregiver’s benefit aimed primarily at middle-class families, a small increase in funding for school nutrition programs and a still-to-be-unveiled national child-care strategy.
Things aren’t much better at the provincial level. All of the premiers have decided, to varying degrees, that reducing poverty is unaffordable. Dalton McGuinty’s poverty reduction plan for Ontario, unveiled with great fanfare in 2008, has degenerated into a succession of studies, deliberations and excuses. The province’s social assistance rate ($592 per person) now stands 59 per cent below StatsCan’s low-income cut-off.
In Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford is promising to slash spending and get the city’s hands out of taxpayers’ pockets.
Politicians at all levels are taking their cue from the public. Canadians either want them — or allow them — to overlook those tossed aside by market forces.
It is easy to condemn Finley. She is brazenly callous and self-righteous about it. But the heart of the problem lies closer to home.
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