COLUMN: What about low-income families?

MORRISBURG — Even before the election writ was even dropped, Canadians have heard about the “Middle Class”; the “Middle Class” has been the focus for all of the major political parties in the 2015 Federal Election. Nearly every policy plank dealing has targeted the “Middle Class”. Boutique Tax Credits, Child Care, Parental Leave, Infrastructure, and Job Creation. The problem is none of the party platforms substantially address low-income earners, where the need is greatest. All of the parties have forgotten those that are in the most need.

In 1989 at a United Nations world summit on child poverty, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney pledged that Canada would eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. When that pledge was made, child poverty rates in Canada were at 15.8 percent according to Statistics Canada tax filer information. On his election in 1993, Liberal Jean Chretien stated he would honour that pledge and Canada would meet that year 2000 target. By 2012, the childhood poverty rate had increased to 19.1 percent using the same Statistics Canada models. That is not elimination. That is failure. Failure by every government to help those who need it most.

After Paul Martin’s ascension to the Liberal throne, there were some attempts to help low-income families, but he was reduced to a minority government and then tossed by voters for the sins of his predecessor. Stephen Harper’s neo-con solution of the Universal Child Care Benefit provided a slight increase in help, but a drop in the bucket as there was no spending on other programs. Adding tax rebates to “help” families when they cannot afford to spend the money in the first place is not help at all.

This is not to say the “Middle Class” does not need some relief from taxes and soaring fees. The bulk of those issues rest with the provincial and municipal governments though. Quite honestly, “Middle Class” families can muddle through in a pinch. In Ontario, for example, everyone, regardless of income, needs help with stifling energy rates due to a failed social engineering “Green Energy” policy that has driven jobs away and rates through the roof. But that is a provincial matter. The cost of day care is an issue for some families, but that can be dealt with as well through budgeting and balancing family needs and wants. That is not the case for low income earners.

Having grown up in small-town Ontario in the 1980’s, a food bank was an unknown concept. So were campaigns for back-to-school supplies, snow-suit funds, and funding programs like Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart or the Upper Canada District School Board’s “Champions for Kids”. All unheard of. Now they are common place, perhaps too common place.  Locally the Dundas County Food Bank just completed a relocation and expansion in Morrisburg. It is good that these programs are out there to help those who need it, but it is sad that they needed at all.

Regardless of who is in power, government has a role to help those in genuine (and there is a difference) need. To provide a helping hand up, but not a hand out. Instead of arguing over boutique tax credits and infrastructure spending that does not create permanent full-time jobs, there needs to be a real debate and real policy on helping low-income families. All parties have failed for far too long.

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