As a potential politician, I place a high priority on listening to people. For me, that involves paying attention to letters sent in by the readers of our local papers.
The variety of opinions on these pages is nothing short of remarkable, and I applaud them for providing such an excellent forum to stimulate thoughtful discussion.
Over the past several months there has been a lot of heated debate about the homeless who live among us. Do they deserve our compassion or our scorn? Are they victims or perpetrators? Do we find ways to help and accommodate them or do we try to move them along?
At Christmas time we watched the frenzy of fundraising activity aimed at alleviating the desperation of the less fortunate. There’s the Salvation Army kettle program, the food banks, Haney Hotel’s annual strip-a-thon, the Christmas Hamper Society, the Empty Stocking Fund, and so very much more.
It seems clear that most of us see poverty as a fact of life for a significant number of people, and that many of us want to decrease the suffering it causes.
While some people down on their luck are struggling with disabilities, mental health or addiction issues, many others work hard but find it tough to make ends meet because of the high cost of living. This seems to be particularly so for young families and senior citizens.
I grew up believing that government had a duty to reduce poverty and other types of suffering.
Many developed countries with far fewer natural resources have considerably lower poverty rates than Canada. Within Canada, sadly, British Columbia is a top finisher when it comes to people living in poverty.
Some politicians will tell you that they’d love to do something about it, except there’s no money. I see it as an indication of a poor set of political priorities and a failure of political leadership.
Over the past decade, our provincial Liberals chose to significantly lower corporate tax rates and eliminate bank taxes altogether. They chose to spend a billion dollars on smart meters without adequate legislative debate. They chose to widen and upgrade the highway between Vancouver and Whistler, without adding a toll on that ultra-expensive stretch of highway. They chose to spend huge amounts of money on a fancy convention centre and a retractable dome, both in Vancouver. They chose to give sky-high salaries to executives at BC Ferries, ICBC, and CLBC, even after it was clear that these people were messing up big time. They chose to spend millions on ad campaigns that were self-serving.
Meanwhile, the social safety net has developed holes so big that many, many people have fallen through it. These are the people we think about as the winter cold and darkness settle in around us.
When I donate to my favourite Christmas charity, it is with mixed emotions. Like most people, I feel I’m being taxed enough, yet my taxes aren’t solving the problems I would like to see solved. So I dig into my pocket to help people who will rarely, if ever, go to Whistler, attend fancy conventions, or take in an event at the stadium. I do it because I’m better off than many and it seems like the right thing to do.
Meanwhile, the top item on my wish list is a government that will tackle the root causes of poverty and assist people so that they no longer have to depend on charity for the basics. Is that too much to hope for?
Elizabeth Rosenau, Maple Ridge