Febuary 18, 2000 Halifax Herald

Canada must take steps toward equitable society

Since my column “Good conscience demands action to ease poverty” was published December 10, 1999, many verbal and written comments have come my way. The vast majority agree that something constructive has to be done to ease the suffering of the poor and to reverse the trend that sees more and more people joining them. In fact, only one person questioned why taxpayers should be burdened with the responsibility of improving the standard of living of those that he termed "rip-off artists too lazy to work."

His inane allegation, in the face of the poverty-stricken miserable existence of so many in this country, is offensive. Especially in light of the fact that hundreds of thousands of Elders, disabled, mentally challenged and so on are unable to work, and draw public assistance because they have no alternative. Then there is the fact that well-paying employment opportunities are scarce. Thus, those affected by poverty include hundreds of thousands of underemployed who work their backsides off for wages that afford them the bare essentials of life and no future pension benefits.

Very few of these people are poor by choice. The root cause of the misfortune they suffer is the inequities that have developed and are growing in society. Such inequities are making their struggle for survival more difficult on a daily basis. To have such an unfair distribution of wealth taking root in this rich country and doing nothing to stop it is incompatible with all the tenets of human decency. No law-abiding responsible citizen should ever have to go to bed cold and hungry because of income deficiency.

To redeem itself, the country needs to quickly find a way to reverse the trend. This won't be easy, because the most advantaged will have to recognize the fact that too great a gap exists between them and the poor and that they need to make a few sacrifices to change it. However, if vision prevails, they will see that any small sacrifice they make today to turn things around will be just as advantages to them in the long run as it would be to the poor. Poverty drags an economy down.

Another major obstacle that hampers achieving an equitable society is the fact that most of the country's power brokers, especially politicians, cannot appreciate the urgency of the situation because they have no idea whatsoever of what living in poverty in a cold country is. They should take it from one with experience that it is something that they should pray fervently never happens to them. However, if it ever does, then they will be able to relate to the young mother's plight when she stated on TV recently that she couldn't decide which was preferable - starving or freezing.

Forcing Canada's poor to make such choices amidst plenty is unforgivable. Especially so when a few simple steps taken by the federal government could begin to ease their burden almost at once. The following are a few immediate steps that the Prime Minister could initiate to help the underprivileged and set the country on a road toward achieving equity:

*Reduce heating oil taxes to ten cents per litre. Require oil companies to justify any increases in the basic cost of home heating fuel. Force those delivering to make deliveries of as little as 50 litres. Reduce taxes on other heating fuels accordingly.

*Raise personal income tax exemptions to $12,000 and make it retroactive to 1999. Increase the federal minimum wage to $10.00 per hour. Guarantee that the first $20,000 of the yearly incomes of Elders living alone is tax free.

*Fund Medicare adequately. Insure that patients with life threatening illnesses get timely treatment. Hire more lab technicians to shorten to a week the waiting period for the results of essential tests. Quickly close hospital hallway wards.

*Give post-secondary education a good shot in the arm. Having a huge portion of graduates leaving university owing $40,000 to $50,000 borders on the foolhardy. This country is digging its own grave by making it extremely hard for young people to be educated. Without a well-educated population capable of competing in an extremely competitive world market, the country's economy will eventually collapse.

*Depoliticize make-work programs. The pork barrel needs to be closed and sealed forever. These expensive schemes have been clouded irreparably by political interference. Then reassess all other non-essential social programs with a view to shrinking or ending them. Redirect savings towards improving essential services.

These are just a few positive things that politicians could implement instead of resting on their laurels and dreaming of wasting money on non-essential things that might help them get re-elected.

John McCain, American Presidential candidate, promotes this ideal when campaigning and gets standing ovations for it: "The present generation of Americans have a moral duty to put the country's financial house in order and pay off the national debt for future generations." It’s an ideal whose time has come in Canada also. Please write your political representatives and demand responsible change, especially immediate help for the poor.

Daniel N. Paul


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