Poverty of politics continues

Tom Fletcher's column addresses anti-poverty claims from politicians.

VICTORIA – B.C.’s ritual day of shame over child poverty has come and gone once again, with politicians trading blame and time-worn talking points.

The occasion was an annual gathering staged at the B.C. Teachers’ Federation office in downtown Vancouver. It is organized by First Call, an umbrella group sponsored by the BCTF, the B.C. Government Employees’ Union and a collection of like-minded “anti-poverty activists,” as they describe themselves in their latest report.

The familiar script unfolded. The report misinterprets federal income statistics from two years ago and calls for a long list of uncosted, but hugely expensive measures that they assert will make B.C. the first jurisdiction in human history to eradicate poverty.

A sampling: provide raises for employees and contractors at all levels of government until they are making an unspecified “living wage,” because we all know how public sector workers uniquely suffer from pay and pension inequality.

Raise the minimum wage again and index it to inflation. Establish universal public dental care, prescription drug and eye care programs, and daycare. (Dismiss targeted programs that already provide this.)

Raise welfare rates and expand eligibility for employment insurance. Cut tuition and provide more student grants. Eliminate homelessness.

And so it continues toward a socialist Utopia and certain bankruptcy for provincial and federal governments already deeply in the red.

I wrote about these numbers when Statistics Canada released them back in June. They showed a modest improvement nationally and provincially in what they measure, which is not poverty, but the relative relationship between income groups. First Call dismisses that improvement as “a dismal record.”

My point is not to deny that there are many poor people in B.C. and Canada. There are. But at this point we don’t even have a reliable way of measuring the problem, let alone effective solutions.

The report states: “Statistics Canada said the child poverty rate in Greater Vancouver was 18.4 per cent in 2010 …” No, Statistics Canada didn’t say that. They said what they always say, that “Low-Income Cut-Off,” or LICO figures, are not an accurate measure of poverty.

The political response was equally predictable. Veteran NDP MP Libby Davies led the charge in Ottawa. The government must establish a national anti-poverty strategy with firm annual goals, she said, reciting the identical script of the B.C. NDP.

Davies didn’t mention that Manitoba is among the provinces with such a plan. It’s the only province that finished below B.C. in the percentage of children living in low-income homes. These plans are mainly gesture politics, providing the appearance of action.

Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux spoke on behalf of the B.C. Liberal government, and she, too, stuck to a familiar script. The best path out of poverty is a job, she said. This is true, but also obvious.

Then Cadieux went on about the “B.C. Jobs Plan,” which has its own sorry record of misrepresented federal statistics.

Here’s one of the report’s more blindingly obvious section headings: “Child poverty concentrated in big cities.” No kidding. The whole population is concentrated in big cities.

Herein lies a clue that is missed by “activists” for ever-larger government. Poor people are increasingly crowded into the most expensive places.

If I’m on welfare or working in a low-wage job and receiving a provincial rent subsidy (one of those things LICO doesn’t measure), should I live in downtown Victoria or Vancouver? Shouldn’t I relocate to a smaller community where housing is cheaper?

There are lots of complications to this, but some kind of incentive to relocate could help big and small communities.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press. tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

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