Political powers do not prioritize the poor

By Pat Watson Wednesday June 11 2014 in Opinion
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The management of a country’s affairs is characterized by having to answer to competing and conflicting interests. Looking at the real interests and supports that the current federal government focuses on gives the sense that they have little concern for the poor, the elderly, those who need affordable healthcare, the province of Ontario. The interests those in power listen to and support most typically do not speak for the vulnerable members of society.


When the concerns of the poor and the powerless are given any attention, it is always in half-measures; programs never go far enough, for long enough. The easy conclusion is that a government, once in place, has a hidden agenda to do as little as possible for the needy or to do as much as it can to show contempt for that sector of society. Social Darwinists rationalize that poor people are lazy people. The fact is that working hard is not exclusively or intrinsically a recipe for wealth. There are people who work hard all their lives yet never edge into the high-income bracket.


This region was very important when it was sending billions to the government so that it could dole them out in transfer payments to the have-not provinces. But Ontario has fallen on hard times and now the flow from the feds has shifted. Ontario has its hand out and the feds have met that extended hand with its typical contempt for the poor.


It shouldn’t come as a shock since there has been a well-established pattern. Recall the change in employment insurance rules that would have people driving hundreds of miles from home and family to get low wage jobs instead of receiving the money deducted from their wages to support them during down times. Federal ministers heaped contempt on those who would choose the latter instead of the former.


Maybe the governing party should change its name to the Party for Contempt for the Poor (or PFCF the Poor).


During the recent election campaign to convince us here in Ontario that we should vote for one set of ideas or another, there was so little said in the way of solving the problem of growing income disparity that it has to be understood that it is an unspoken non-issue among decision-makers.


The buzzword these days as politicians try to cast their wide net is ‘the middle class’. What they don’t want to say is that they know the middle class is sliding inexorably into the collective of the poor. The difference being that these new poor – the so-called middle class – have the values, beliefs and education that characterizes that group, but not the means. The reality is many working people spend far more than 50 per cent of their income on housing, so there is no money to be saved in those tax-free savings accounts that the feds put forward as a feel-good plank in their budget a couple of years ago. There is no money to pay for music lessons for children or for them to join a hockey team, so offers of rebates for such activities are lost on the new poor.


The new increase that raises the minimum wage in Ontario to $11 might be good news for the kid working part-time, but for a full-time adult worker that wage still has him/her living below the poverty line. It isn’t as if people aren’t trying to move into jobs with better wages, but the feds have a program in place for temporary workers from other countries to fill in and make even low wage jobs more competitive.


We are due for a paradigm shift. We are where we are today in no small part because of what generations before us have done and what they expected from their political leaders. We must see what we do today in that context and drive to change systems that crush the poor and the new poor now and will affect those to come.

A note on the ice storm after effect…


Now that the trees are showing their green the devastation of the ice storm that hit in December is becoming more evident. There is a lot less shade this spring compared to the last one. Some trees aren’t even coming back.

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose

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