Friday, February 18, 2011

When Did Caring Become Defined as a Left-Wing Issue? Help Me David Croll.

I rarely miss Bill Maher, though envious that the U.S. actually has progressive commentary, and this week one of his guests (via satellite) was Arianna Huffington.

There has been a lot of chatter about the recent acquisition of the Huffington Post by AOL, and a suggestion that the media could take a leftward swing.

In the discussion of this, Huffington asked when caring about the middle class became a left-wing issue. When caring about the unemployed and underemployed became a left-wing issue. And when concern for a crumbling infrastructure became a left-wing issue.

And she's right. Like myself, she has been a lifelong conservative, though as a Republican she supported Newt Gingrich. He has always been far too right-wing for me. I felt lucky that in Canada we had a Progressive Conservative Party with centrist views. At least until Brian Mulroney came along, but even Mulroney at least pretended to care.

In Huffington's bio it says that she has in recent years moved to the left. But has she? Or was she like me, pushed to the left because she no longer had a viable conservative alternative.

Because to be conservative these days, means having to leave your soul behind.

Senator David Croll

"The poor do not choose poverty. It is at once their affliction and our national shame. The children of the poor (and there are many) are the most helpless victims of all, and find even less hope in a society where welfare systems from the very beginning destroys their chances of a better life."
Those words came from a senate report presented by the late David Croll (1900-1991) entitled "Report of the Special Senate Committee on Poverty". Tabled in 1971, it prompted Pierre Trudeau to triple the family allowance benefit and later introduce the Child Tax Credit, designed to reach those who needed it the most.

The Canadian Senate has just finished their own study on poverty in Canada, that took 2 1/2 years to complete, but the Harper government barely even gave it a passing glance before spending our tax dollars to tour the country promoting more corporate tax cuts instead.

They braced for a disappointment, but the brush-off was more callous than they anticipated. This week, the government delivered its response to the Senate’s 2009 report, In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness. It rejected every one of the report’s 74 recommendations. It ignored the senators’ evidence that Ottawa is spending $150 billion a year on social programs that merely perpetuate poverty. It concluded with these all-too-familiar words: “The best long-term strategy to fight poverty is the sustained employment of Canadians.”

The glimmer of hope that anti-poverty activists, people with disabilities and overburdened charities had nursed since last December when the Senate’s social affairs committee released its comprehensive plan to eradicate poverty, went out.

Senator Croll also compiled a report on aging in Canada, and his recommendations were adopted by the government of the day. But statistics show that there are now more children living in poverty in Canada than seniors. But in Harperland corporations come before both.

I guess when you have a prime minister who once said, “These proposals included cries for billions of new money for social assistance in the name of “child poverty” and for more business subsidies in the name of “cultural identity”. In both cases I was sought out as a rare public figure to oppose such projects.” (Stephen Harper, The Bulldog, National Citizens Coalition, February 1997)

I thought he was just blowing smoke. I mean who is callous enough to brag about being a rare public figure who opposes money going to child poverty? It boggles the mind.

The late senator Croll also claimed that he was not left wing, but growing up in Windsor he empathized with the working class. Later, serving as their mayor, he'd say that he would rather walk with auto workers than drive around with GM executives. And he meant it, spending his entire life in public service, when being in public service meant something.

In their new book Persistent Poverty, Voices from the Margins, Jamie Swift, Brice Balmer and Mira Dineen discuss Senator Croll and the problem of child poverty.

Much has changed since Senator Croll's 1971 report on poverty, but much remains the same. Other nations, notably those in Northern Europe and Scandinavia, have in the intervening years tackled and almost eliminated rates of poverty among seniors, working-age adults, and young families. Canada has had success with seniors, but largely ignored the plight of the disabled, unemployed, working poor, Aboriginal peoples, and children ...

Poverty among children leaves the longest legacy and saps the future potential of societies and economies alike. And it is among children that it becomes devastatingly clear that fighting poverty requires more than strong labour markets alone. (1)

Of course Stephen Harper who once called Canada a 'Northern European Welfare State in the worst sense of the term", wants us to be more like the United States where their child poverty rate is a whopping 22%. And while Canada's situation was improving, the latest corporate greed induced recession "promises to undo that slow and wholly inadequate decline in child poverty."

I don't know about you, but I'd rather emulate a Northern European welfare state, where they have "almost eliminated rates of poverty among seniors, working-age adults, and young families", than the U.S. with a 22% child poverty rate, and a Tea Party holding their president hostage, to make sure he does nothing to change that.

Since the recession we have seen not only unemployment rise, but underemployment, which used to be a term that applied to professional immigrants, and recent university grads, having trouble finding positions in their field.

Now it applies to those who lost good paying jobs with benefits, and now work two or three part-time, minimum wage jobs just to make ends meet. The ranks of the working poor are growing, while our wealthy continue to get wealthier.

And our government would sooner ride around with executives, than walk with the rest of us.

I've never considered myself to be left-wing, but I care about things like that, and feel that in a country with such vast natural resources, no child should have to go hungry if it can be prevented. I don't know where that puts me on the political scale, but it sure no longer defines conservatism.

Next election we have to put eradicating poverty on the table. There is a new grassroots group called Dignity for All, that is striving to bring this back into the Canadian consciousness. They have a list of all federal politicians who have pledged their support. If your MP's name isn't there, call them and ask why. (If they're Conservative, you already know why)

This is something we all need to get behind.


1. Persistent Poverty: Voices From the Margins, by Jamie Swift, Brice Balmer and Mira Dineen, Between the Lines Toronto, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-897071-73-1, Pg. 15