November 15, 1996 Halifax Herald

Social safety net needs to be reappraised, rebuilt

Canada is the second largest country in the world and, in proportion to its size, with only 30 million people, it is one of the most underpopulated. To put this into perspective: If we were to move the entire population of Europe over here, our country would still be under-populated.

Therefore, with vast tracts of land available, where our children may grow, play and prosper, it is only logical to conclude that we don't need to find ways to discourage people from having more children or to discourage immigration. In fact, we need the opposite.

In order to stimulate population growth, we swing the doors wide open to welcome into our midst several hundred thousand immigrants each year; and to stimulate natural population growth, we provide tax incentives to citizens to induce them to produce more children. In regard to natural population growth, the lack thereof in some areas of the country is so severe that one province, Quebec, offers a bonus to those who beget an additional child.

Before listing the illogical contradictions that come into play relating to our country's efforts to stimulate population growth, I wish to state that this column is not meant to be either anti- or pro-abortion. Being a believer in true democracy, if it is true that the majority of Canadians are in favour of pro-choice, as we've been told so often by our politicians, then so be it. The motive behind the piece is that it is meant to question the wisdom of using public money to fund non-essential programs when, at the same time, funds for essential services are being curtailed.

Now, for the illogical contradictions: With a need to increase the country's population, we spend tens of millions each year from the public purse to attract and settle immigrants. Then we turn around and pay, from the same public purse, hundreds of millions annually to provide citizens with abortions, tubular ligations, vasectomies, etc. By doing so, we defeat the purpose of our immigration policy. Crazy? One might be justified in thinking so!

In these times of financial restraint - especially when large cuts are being made to budgets which were set up to provide essential services and programs for children, the disabled, the elderly, the under-privileged, etc. - using public funds to fund non-essential medical procedures is without defense. The recently announced cutback to dental care budgets for children is a good example of slashing essential programs. Coverage is now limited to those 10 years and under, and a means test is being employed.

Equitable consciences of citizens should be aroused when funds for very essential and very expensive child dental service are being cutback, while full coverage is still being provided for non-essential programs such as birth control.

I don't believe that one could find more than a handful of men and women in this country who would support a premises that the provision of free birth control procedures to the citizenry takes precedence over the provision of essential services to the groups mentioned.

Before proceeding further with deficit reduction, governments should determine which public funded services are essential, which are desirable, and which a luxury. Then, when making future cutbacks, luxury items should be eliminated first, desirable second, and the least essential last. Never should luxury or desirable budget items remain intact while essential programs hit the chopping block!

On our part, we, the citizens, have to appreciate that the extent of a country's safety net depends on the overall health of its economy. We also have to appreciate that in order to have an economy capable of providing a responsive safety net, governments must budget for first-class education, transportation and other essential services. Without maintaining a first-class education system, and other basics necessary for driving an economy, a country loses its competitive edge, investment dries up, jobs disappear and essential public services deteriorates.

My idea of a safety net is this: It provides - in a reliable manner - food, shelter, clothing, essential health care and other services for those in need and, if affordable, for all. A country with its financial house in order and a healthy economy can provide such services to all its citizens, a country awash in red ink, such as ours, cannot.

To get Canada back on its feet financially, publicly financed payment for non-essential services such as birth control procedures must be eliminated. State-paid birth control procedures in countries such as ours are no more a part of a safety net, or essential to the welfare of the people, than are Germany's provisions to send each citizen to a spa for an annual vacation.

They are expensive luxuries! Overtaxing the consumer and the producer in order to pay for luxury and non-essential programs is not the answer, eliminating, or reducing, such programs is.

Our safety net needs to be reappraised and rebuilt. The rebuilding must be done with compassion and with understanding of the needs of the needy and the underprivileged, but it must also be done in a manner that makes foresight and financial reality of paramount importance when setting goals.

Daniel N. Paul


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