Friday, May 28, 2010

Poverty meeting leaves premier looking bad

Liberal MLA Joan McIntyre didn't likely intend to take a shot at Premier Gordon Campbell.
But she did.
McIntyre chairs the legislative committee on children and youth, which held a session on child poverty this week. It was the premier's idea, sort of.
Last June, Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond asked for a meeting with Campbell and NDP leader Carole James to talk about child poverty.
B.C. has had the highest proportion of children living in poverty in Canada for the last six years, Statistics Canada reports. The recession likely increased the problems. The meeting, Turpel-Lafond said, would allow a non-partisan discussion of what is being done, and could be done, to help children.
"The premier and the opposition leader need to sit down together and think about how we're going to work on the child-poverty issue," Turpel-Lafond said. "Are we addressing it? Are we doing enough? Can we do more and work more collaboratively on it?"
The goal was action. "The issues are quite daunting, but I think good people working together can make change," she said.
James said yes. Campbell refused. He didn't want the issue to be politicized, he said. And the children's representative reports to the legislative committee. She should take up the issue there.
The result was this week's meeting.
But McIntyre's introduction set out clearly - even painfully - how little resemblance the session bore to the meeting sought by the representative almost a year ago.
McIntyre said she wanted to take time to make sure people didn't have "unrealistic expectations" about the outcome. The committee's focus is "strictly" on children at risk or receiving services from the government.
"I also wanted to clarify that developing a strategy or even providing a written analysis does go beyond our terms of reference and crosses over into the realm of government policy making," she said.
So the experts could talk. The MLAs could ask questions. The transcript would go up on a website.
But there would be no action, no recommendation, no report, not even a summary.
It's an anemic interpretation of the committee's role. Its mandate includes increasing awareness about the child welfare system. A report on the impact of poverty could be part of that role.
And it makes the premier's refusal to meet look entirely unjustified.
Especially as the alternative he suggested - going to the committee - was apparently guaranteed to produce no concrete results.
That's too bad. The risks of the meeting were minor and entirely political. The representative might point out problems Campbell would rather not see. James might use the occasion for partisan advantage.
The problems are real. StatsCan has reported B..C. has the highest rate of child poverty in Canada for six straight years. Any improvements have not been great enough to change that standing. (Poverty definitions are tricky; but StatsCan was comparing provinces using a standard approach.)
Across Canada in 2007, 9.5 per cent of children were poor. In B.C., 13 per cent of the children fell below the poverty line. That's some 126,000 children.
There's a good moral objection to needlessly subjecting children to a life of poverty in such a wealthy and skilled province.
There is also a strong pragmatic one. We love rags to riches stories because they are encouraging. But we pay attention to them because they are rare.
Children who start poor tend to stay poor. Poor children have less success in school and are less healthy.
That's not genetic or an indicator that poor parents do a bad job. It's a reflection of poor living conditions, inadequate nutrition and a host of other factors. Research indicates that poverty even affects brain development.
By leaving children in poverty, we are increasing the risk of a tougher adult life for them. And we are guaranteeing higher costs for society in future, while squandering a chance to benefit from these peoples' fullest contributions.
The government doesn't want to commit to a plan on child poverty.
But surely a meeting with the children's representative shouldn't have been impossible.
Footonote: The presentations to the committee were excellent, on everything from the costs of childhood poverty to plans in other provinces to measures that could provide immediate benefits. I'll present some of the highlights in a coming column.


DPL said...

Gordo would never sit down with the Representative and the leader of the Opposition unless he held all the strings, and he wouldn't. always has to be Gordo's way and nothing much else counts.The guy is a control and power freak.

Kim said...

If I may add that the last thing he wants to talk about is poverty, especially in children. Mostly, I think it says "I don't give a s@#t about the F%&#ing children!"

Anonymous said...

Plain and simple by keeping so many children 'poor' it opens up more spaces in technical schools, colleges and universities for the "Creme de la creme' kids. That comes directly from a lawyer father in Calgary who stated on CBC that he would write a cheque for whatever amount necessary to keep his two children ahead of the rest and it was just the rests tough luck for being born poor. And that is the present situation here in BC.

Norman Farrell said...

Why would anyone expect this government to care about poor people, even poor children? That attitude would run contrary to the thrust of Campbell's last decade.

If those kids really wanted to help themselves they could apply for fish farm licenses, create green power proposals that BC Hydro could fund or maybe start a lobbying company.

Anonymous said...

Dont wait till fall...recall them all.

Anonymous said...

Gordon Campbell does not care about the childen in this province. He gave lip service to caring when he appointed the Representative for Children and Youth but that was only for appearances. He refuses to listen to her and tries to take her power away. Six years in a row BC has the highest child poverty rate in the country and studies reveal that poverty leads to poor determonancts of health and crime. But does Gordo care??? Of course not!

Sleepless said...

The uninvestigated child in care deaths should have brought another raid on the legislature. Negligence equals abuse and these folks seem deliberately negligent.
The stench coming from Victoria is beyond belief.