Poverty: PM’s policy is to do nothing
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Sat Mar 12 2011.
More than 3 million Canadians live in poverty but it’s not a problem that requires urgent federal action or, really, any new action at all. At least that’s the message coming from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.
The latest blueprint to reduce poverty — this time produced by a House of Commons committee — was dismissed outright by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley. According to her, Ottawa is already doing what it takes to fight poverty: growing the economy.
The MPs who spent three years studying the matter felt differently. Their report, released late last year, runs to 300 pages. Its 58 recommendations for change include a national housing strategy, increased federal assistance for low-income families and a refundable tax credit for disabled Canadians.
With so many recommendations and so much time and thought put into developing them, how can the Harper government justify tossing it aside with barely a glance?
They’ve had practice, for one. In 2009, a Senate subcommittee released an anti-poverty plan, which, if anything, covered too much ground with 74 recommendations. The government took no action on that report despite its chilling conclusion that, far from lifting people out of poverty, many of our existing programs are so badly designed that they hold people down.
The Conservatives’ response to the Senate report was to sum up what programs the government already has and confidently state that the best solution is “sustained employment.” On Monday, their response to the Commons report was nearly identical. “Our Conservative government believes that the best way to fight poverty is to grow our economy and get Canadians working.”
A job is good. A good job with decent wages and benefits is even better. But what this government refuses to see is that too many Canadians face barriers to getting those jobs and that it is in everyone’s best interests that Ottawa, working with the provinces, helps change that.
Right now there are millions of Canadians who, despite working full-time, cannot lift their families out of poverty. In Ontario alone, there are 142,000 low-income families desperately waiting to get into a subsidized apartment where they can actually afford the rent; some 375,000 people are forced to turn to a food bank each month.
No one is disputing that Ottawa already puts substantial funding into programs that help the poor but the fact remains that more than 3 million Canadians are still living in poverty.
That makes it astonishing that the Conservative government is so ready to dismiss any thoughtful advice on what it can and should do to help those suffering Canadians achieve more productive, happier lives.
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