Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? Yes, it is

Posted on December 18, 2013 in Governance Debates – opinion – Harsh reality: Minister’s apology displays little understanding of Canadians facing poverty
December 18, 2013.   By Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun

Christmas quiz: “Is it my government’s job – is it my job – to feed my neighbour’s child?” Right answer: Yes.

Wrong answer: “I don’t think so.” (Industry Minister James Moore, salary $236,900; travel expenses since Jan. 1, 2012, $78,023.13; secondary housing allowance, $10,530; car allowance, $2,000; et cetera).

Grade: Fail.

I have not the slightest doubt that the federal minister “deeply regrets” – his words – making his comment to Vancouver radio reporter Sara Norman, especially given the social media firestorm that then descended upon him like biblical fire and brimstone.

There is nothing more regrettable to a politician than finding both feet jammed firmly into his mouth in the presence of a reporter who is actually recording what he says with the intention of reporting it to the rest of us. Reporter. Reports. Get it? However, please forgive my cynicism in entirely doubting the sincerity of his sudden conversion on the road from Twitter to Damascus.

It is politically expedient to abjectly trumpet one’s apoloinvite apologies when everybody from Bob Rae to Sally Six Pack is saying you sound like a character from a Dickens novel – and not one of the nice ones. But hasty apologies in reaction to condemnation always invite questions about how sincere they are.

I note that Moore’s first response was denial. Next, he blamed the reporter, employing that hoary eye-roller of an excuse, “taken out of context.”

Finally, when he was eye deep in the lake of fire, it was oh, so sorry for my insensitive comment. “Caring for each other is a Canadian ethic that I strongly believe in – always have and always will,” he said, contritely. “Of course pov-poverty is an issue that concerns me.” Especially when one’s cavalier comments about it turn out to be politically radioactive.

Alas, I wonder if the minister and his cabinet colleagues really do grasp the idea of poverty and what it does to people, especially people powerless to change their circumstances – small children, for example, who go to school without breakfast because mom, subsisting on a couple of part-time, minimumwage jobs, has to make choices between paying the rent or buying more groceries. Why doesn’t she just get a better job? Here, for the industry minister’s benefit, is what the national organization of food banks says about that: “The causes of low income are well known. Canada has lost thousands of well-paid blue-collar jobs over the past 30 years as manufacturing has fled to parts of the world where things can be made more cheaply. The jobs that have replaced them are more likely to be low-paid, parttime, and temporary.”

Mind you, it’s not just the industry minister’s comment that is insensitive. It is the whole Conservative “blame the victims” ethos – which is how we come to have ministers waxing sanctimonious about the sacrifices wounded veterans made for their country while the veterans themselves must sue their government for adequate benefits. One can see how a $236,900 salary might insulate one from the realities of trying to live on less than $22,000 in a city as expensive as this one. So let’s put Moore’s comments into, ahem, context.

Moore is a member of the exclusive Top One Per Cent Club for income. You have to earn a minimum of $190,000 a year to join that elite group. Moore’s combined travel expenses and car allowance alone would make him a member of the Top 10 Per Cent Club.

Yet, in the country that he is responsible for helping to run and which pays him that very attractive salary, more than 833,000 people went to a food bank this year because the economy he is supervising has been shedding wellpaying jobs and replacing them with part-time, minimum-wage jobs.

In British Columbia, the province for which Moore is the lead minister, more than 94,000 people visited a food bank in 2013. Of those subsisting on food bank charity, one in three is a child. Include teenagers under 18 and the number rises to almost one in two users.

So, Mr. Minister, please go to the blackboard and write 100 times “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Then compose a short essay on the meaning of this saying.

And some advice: Don’t say anything else for the rest of the Christmas holidays, or expect to find a large sack of coal under your tree.

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