Liberals refuse to face poverty problem

A Victoria Times Colonist editorial thought it “baffling” that the government has repeatedly refused to set out a plan to reduce poverty.

Any competent manager understands the need for plans, the editorial observed, and the Liberals have campaigned on claims of competence.

It’s not baffling. I’ve been a manager. I was keen on plans for people who reported to me. If they set out their targets and what they would do to achieve them, I could look at results and assess their effectiveness.

The government wants to avoid that kind of accountability.

It’s a shabby position. Especially for a government that, after a decade in power, has still left more than 500,000 people – and 87,000 children – living in poverty.

There has been progress in reducing the number of people whose lives are blighted by poverty.

But, objectively, not much. The B.C. Progress Board, set up by Gordon Campbell to provide reports on government effectiveness, tracks the poverty rate.

It has found B.C. has ranked tenth among provinces every year since the board was created in 2002. More people live in poverty here, year after year, than in any other province. Their numbers have been reduced, but not enough to move B.C. from last place.

B.C. has also had the highest rate of child poverty, according to StatsCan, for seven straight years. The number of children living in poverty has decreased, but, again, not fast enough to move B.C. from its ranking as the worst in Canada.

That’s hard to reconcile with Gordon Campbell’s claims about the best place on Earth, or Christy Clark’s talk about families first.

This should be a fundamental issue for any government. Research has shown that growing up poor greatly increases the likelihood of a lifetime of problems. The Progress Board notes that “people with low income may experience more physical and mental health problems, rely more on charity, attain lower levels of education or have higher secondary school dropout rates.”

Leaving aside the human cost and suffering, poverty loads costs on to future generations just as surely as large government deficits do.

The Campbell government repeatedly refused to accept the need for a plan to reduce poverty, and Premier Christy Clark has so far taken the same position. The Liberals say they are doing lots of things that reduce poverty, from policies to increase employment to tax cuts.

But it’s striking that when the government decided climate change was an issue, it set legislated, specific targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and developed a plan to meet them.

As it’s striking that, after 10 years, progress hasn’t been enough to raise B.C. from its ranking as the most poverty-ridden province.

The editorial was right. “Any competent manager” knows a plan is the first step toward achieving goals.

In this case, it would start with an analysis of the current situation – the causes of poverty, the demographics, the policies that have been tried.

It would look at anti-poverty efforts in other jurisdictions and learn from success and failures.

And then it would set targets and action plans with timelines, accountability and budgets. Progress would be assessed and the plan adjusted.

It’s an obvious, necessary approach to dealing with any problem.

Such a review would identify easy first steps. About 37,000 children are in families living on disability or income assistance. There are among those living in poverty; a single parent with two children who is deemed employable gets up to $660 a month for housing and another $623 a month for everything else.

That’s poverty.

Addressing that -by letting parents earn some income without being cut off, or increasing rats for families – would cut child poverty by 40 per cent.

But the first step is a plan. And by refusing to accept the need – and the accountability for results – the government is ensuring too many British Columbians remain mired in destructive poverty.

Footnote: The New Democrats introduced the Poverty Reduction Act on the last day of the legislative session, which set out a reasonable approach to developing a poverty plan. The Liberals won’t support it, but if Clark is serious about “families first,” they should announce their own plan.