Poverty strategy: Tories display apathy on issue

Posted on November 21, 2010 in Social Security Debates

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TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Published On Sun Nov 21 2010.

After three years of study, a House of Commons committee has put forward solid recommendations to combat the scourge of poverty suffered by more than 3 million Canadians.

The federal government has 120 days to respond to the report, which calls on Ottawa to create a national poverty reduction plan, a long-term housing strategy, and boost income supports and tax credits for low-income Canadians. Unfortunately, by filing a supplementary report, the Conservative committee members have already signalled that the government has little interest in tackling poverty.

In their supplementary filing, the Conservative MPs said they “strongly support the intent of the report” but expressed concerns over costs. “Canadians need to comprehend what impact implementing the report’s recommendations will have on their pocketbooks and their ability to provide for their families,” they said.

What Canadians can’t afford is to continue ignoring poverty. Indeed, to drive home that very point, the report references a food bank study that pegged the annual cost of poverty to the economy at more than $72 billion. Those costs include increased spending on social services, health care and criminal justice, as well as lost productivity and tax revenue from the underemployed.

The Conservative MPs also argued that the best strategy to fight poverty is “sustained employment.” Few would disagree. But there are employment barriers, particularly for single-parent families. The government should be working to lower those barriers with measures like a national daycare plan. However, the Conservative MPs dismissed the cost of such a plan as “astronomical.” They overlooked the report’s finding that lack of access to child care significantly reduces the employment prospects of single parents.

The Conservative MPs also pat the government on the back for existing anti-poverty programs. But a Senate subcommittee — with Conservative Hugh Segal as its vice-chair — recently concluded that many of our existing programs are so badly designed that they actually hold people down.

In 1989, parliamentarians voted unanimously to eliminate child poverty, but they didn’t follow it up with a specific plan. They still haven’t. Until they do, as this report urges, there is no hope we will ever achieve that goal.

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