Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/11/2017 (687 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It wasn’t the screaming headline of the week. But take a close look at the news over the past seven days, and you will find an unusually large number of stories which have, at their core, concerns about Canada’s chronic inability to address poverty.
It all started with the release last Monday of the Campaign 2000 anti-poverty coalition report card on how each of the provinces, and the federal government, are faring in delivering policies to reduce poverty. More than 1.2 million children and families remained mired in poverty.
In Manitoba, the report was prepared by a coalition of local academics and social-service agencies. There was a slight decrease in the child poverty rate, but Manitoba still has the highest rate of children living in poverty of any province.
The Manitoba edition of the Campaign 2000 report also contained a challenge to the current Progressive Conservative government to follow through on a pledge contained in its 2017-18 budget. It was back in the spring that the Tories promised to review the Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Strategy and launch a new initiative by the end of 2017.
Which brings us to our second major news event: the day after the Campaign 2000 report card, Premier Brian Pallister’s government delivered a Speech from the Throne to kick off a new sitting of the Manitoba Legislature. There was only one reference to poverty, and then only to acknowledge that it was a "complex social problem" connected to issues of health and mental health, addiction, crime and homelessness.
Government sources said the speech was focused on "better outcomes for kids and families to break the cycle of crime and poverty using innovative approaches." To that end, there were pledges to help foster children, a new affordable and social housing strategy, new child-care spaces and a new co-ordinated strategy to improve the quality and quantity of mental health and addiction services.
These are all positive initiatives that would help improve life for the poor. Unfortunately, they mostly respond to the symptoms of poverty, not the root cause — income inequality.
This inability to get to the root of the problem outlined by the Campaign 2000 coalition is hardly a shortcoming of the Pallister government. Previous governments share in the blame here. As does the federal government, which has taken positive steps of its own, but with much less impact than estimated.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has lived large on the enhanced Canada Child Benefit that was supposed to reduce child poverty rates by up to 40 per cent. Has he been successful? Campaign 2000 noted that the rate of child poverty across the country is still higher now than it was in 1989.
And that dovetails nicely into our third major story of the week: the federal government’s pledge to introduce a new $40-billion affordable and social housing initiative.
Although there are elements of the strategy that would definitely mark a step forward in dealing with one of the most-pressing needs of lower-income Canadians — a lack of decent and affordable housing — it is scheduled to unfold at a glacial pace, with most of the major parts coming after 2020. It also hinges on provincial cost sharing, a difficult sell after Ottawa unilaterally slowed the rate of growth in health care transfers.
The gap between what Trudeau says he wants to do, and when he wants to do it, is a good example of exactly why poverty is so stubborn. Government is always promising to find a fix for poverty, but never quite gets there.
Perhaps it would help lawmakers to simplify the issue. When you do that, you arrive at this harsh reality: poor means being unable to afford basic necessities, and largely being unable to earn enough money to pay for those things through minimum-wage employment. You can slice and dice the issue any which way you choose, but the fact is that poor people can’t afford basic things, and society is very bad at providing solutions that improve their overall economic capacity.
All of that brings us to our last story of the week, a tale that in its simplicity tells us all we need to know about all of the huffing and puffing that governments do about addressing chronic poverty. Late in the week, NDP MLA Bernadette Smith revealed that several schools in her Point Douglas riding — thought to be the poorest in the province — had to rely on donations from food banks to supply breakfast and lunch programs, despite government support, private donations and fundraising by the schools.
Smith said it costs about $7,000 to provide breakfast for one year to 250 students. Lunch is about $17,500.
It is hard to believe that with all of the wealth in this country, and the billions upon billions of dollars we spend on the social safety net, and that as a society we could somehow fail to provide something that is so simple and can do so much good.
Our failure has no explanation. And that’s the real story here.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.
Updated on Monday, November 27, 2017 at 7:35 AM CST: Adds photo