Saturday, March 14, 2015

Bring Poverty to the Debate

With all this talk of the handful of Canadian combatants fighting ISIL and the domestic politics of terrorism/charter of rights, one could be forgiven for forgetting that we do have real, serious and pressing issues that affect a number greater than a rounding error in the general population.  You might not know it right now, but chances are you have never seen a murder, never seen a terrorist attack and will never be injured or personally affected by a turban, a niqab or a winter toque.  But, there is a very good chance that you will be affected by predatory lending, job uncertainty and the stress of trying to navigate through uncertain times.

Just this winter a man was found dead in a van in Toronto (pictured left).  He was a person and he died trying to keep himself warm.  Now, the Toronto Sun may have a valid argument that such deaths are difficult to prevent, but it's not really, as they say "as simple" as a mere choice.  If they think it is simple, it's because they are simple.
Poverty is a multifaceted and a difficult issue.  According to much economic thinking, there will always be relative poverty.  Meaning that one person will always have less than another person and will therefore be poorer.  Fine.  But, what most of us think of as poverty looks like something much more physical, real and observable.  Homeless people freezing on the street, First Nations which look more like a Soviet gulag than a community, children who come to school shaking from hunger, parents who have to let their own teeth rot out of their heads because they would rather struggle to make sure their children have a half decent pair of shoes to start the school year.

Canada has real problems and for so many of us, poverty is just a pay check away.  Is there an easy, fix all solution?  No, but there are real, practical solutions which are obtainable.  The problem is that there is no national desire to fix these problems.  The millennium goal to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000 is long gone and since then no political party seems to even talk about this issue.  And, it is a real and pressing issue.

According to UNICEF (yes, they are a pack of commies, but they have more data than Stats Can) nearly 15% of Canadians meet their definition of "low income" and 13% of Canadian children are living in poverty whilst the average for developed nations is 11%.   The OECD also says that poverty has been steadily rising in Canada since the 1980's.  Food Banks Canada reports that about 900,000 Canadians were using food banks as of 2013 and the number is likely rising.

A family in the First Nations community of Pikangikum in northwestern Ontario. 

The situation for the First Nations is far bleaker.  In 2013, the CCPA estimated that 50% of First Nations are living in poverty with that number rising to 60% in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  Food Banks Canada reports that  11% of First Nations people rely upon food banks, but these numbers do not include numbers from private groups and churches which provide relief.

And, as I've mentioned a lot of people who aren't really poor are very close to it.  Personal debts are rising, unemployment is rising and the economy has taken a big hit.  Millions of Canadians are living on the edge and horrifyingly, many are choosing suicide as their way out.

Poverty is bad for the economy and the people who make up the economy.  More poor means higher costs for front line medical services and it means less money going into the economy.  Now, what this means in practical terms is not, by any means a settled issue with no consensus among economists, but most agree that there are real steps that can be taken and these steps should be taken.
 All parties have compassionate people of good will and they may have differing approaches and not all even agree that the government has the ability to lead on this file, but the debate still belongs on the front pages. All Canadians need to take a step back and realize that a lot of people are living in bread and butter land.  The identity politics is interesting, and the terrorism news is serious, but let's not forget that we have pressing issues at home.

Friday, March 13, 2015

In 2015, the debate is the debate

I hope that all three of my regular readers are happy to have my analysis back for the upcoming election.  I don't think that this will be a long one, but I just wanted to offer some initial analysis of what directions we could be heading in.

 As all three of you know, I don't go riding by riding and have no interest in doing so. In fact, I hardly blog about Canada at all as I'm much more interested in the social construction and narrative than the blunt facts. For this election, it might sound pretty obvious to simply say that voters haven't made up their minds.  For one, they aren't even paying attention.  At least that's what the research and common wisdom says.  The narrative at play here not get too deep, not unified.  There are several stories all going on at once.  There is a view of the clash of civilizations very much playing out, and a view where human rights and freedoms trumps all else. There are different media versions and different worldviews contributing to this political confusion.

Where Harper says "Islamic Fundamentalism" others simply refer to "terrorism".  Similarly, whether it's "reasonable accommodation" or "being soft on terror" is also a symptom of the break-down in the once, unified view as portrayed by the media.

Something interesting is also occurring.  McLuhan's "media is the message" seems like pure description when one reads articles like what Andrew Coyne noted today , he said that context and language do matter when politicians speak to Canadians.  I couldn't agree more.  I also agree that they do have a moral duty to calm people down and not to needlessly frighten them.  But, what I want to note here is that the debate has gone from one of the issues to one of the narrative itself.  How we frame issues, the language we use, the stories we tell via the news and other media is, itself a big part of the news.  The media is the message indeed.