September 15, 2000 Halifax Herald

Poor face long, cold winter: compassion needed

The following prediction, made in an August 25 Associated Press news item datelined Chicago, by Dave Carpenter, is extremely chilling news for Canadians of limited means: "Already walloped by a rise in gasoline costs this year, North American consumers are now about to face much steeper home heating bills with natural gas and heating oil prices near historic highs."

If Carpenter's informed prediction comes true, which is almost a certainty, the unemployable poor will soon be struggling to take out of their already stretched, meagre fixed incomes enough money to pay higher costs to heat their homes during a ruthless Canadian winter. This unacceptable situation poses a moral problem for governments to solve that, in good conscience, cannot be ignored. To avoid hardship among these low-income people this winter, governments must act now.

(My definition of the unemployable poor includes Elders without adequate pensions and people who are unable to work because of their disabilities. Such people have virtually no hope of ever improving their standard of living without governments showing humanity towards them by assuring that they have incomes that will enable them to live in human dignity.)

The seasonally unemployed and other low-paid individuals will also be victimized by heating oil increases. However, most of these people do know that they can look forward to better times someday, and are not totally reliant upon society for lifetime sustenance. However, this said, they also must be given adequate assistance until such time as they can once again fend for themselves.

As a means to keep the poor from starving or freezing, governments have a moral duty, if necessary, to divert funds from luxury social programs to assist them. Without the infusion of billions of dollars into essential social programs, many of these unfortunate souls will be making decisions this winter that should never have to be made by anyone in this rich country. Imagine trying to decide whether to eat or to use meagre funds to try to stave off freezing; or, almost as bad, deciding to live on cat and dog food in order to loosen up enough money to buy fuel. Some choices! And making their dilemma even more reprehensible is the fact that a good portion of their meagre incomes will be taxed.

This situation has not gone unnoticed by the Canadian public - only governments do their best to ignore it. As a result of public awareness, caused by the fact that so many instances of Elders living in stark poverty have been publicized, old age security has become the number one concern of working Canadians, followed closely by health care, education and other essentials. As a demonstration of how out of touch politicians are, one of their priority pet projects, day care, was last on the list of Canadiansí wants.

The mistreatment of the underprivileged should not come as a shock to anyone, because mistreating them has always been the norm in this country. In commenting on how badly white societies treat their poor and underprivileged, late Sioux Chief Sitting Bull once commented: "The love of possession is a disease with them. They take tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich who rule..." Itís time Canada ended the indefensible practice of taxing the poor.

With the plight of the poor in mind, and the fact that a good many citizens with potentially terminal diseases or other life threatening health conditions are seeing their vital operations postponed because of lack of qualified medical staff, it pains me to no end to see the federal Liberals toying with ideas about how to waste money on non-essential paternalistic, social programs as a means to try to buy the next election. Hey, guys, CAN YOU HEAR? There is a lot of human suffering out there that needs your attention!

In the case of Nova Scotia and other poor provinces, the federal government must carry more of the burden. Nova Scotians need to take this into consideration when criticizing. In letters they write to the editor of this newspaper, itís remarkable how many point the finger at the Hamm government exclusively for something that it is not entirely responsible for. The writers overlook the fact that the only reason the federal government has amassed surpluses is that they have cut back drastically on equalization payments, which are a must for the Atlantic provinces to provide public services.

Rich provinces such as Alberta and Ontario can easily fill the gaps left by the federal tax grab, but poor provinces cannot. In fact, things have improved so much for the rich provinces that Ontario recently announced a $200 income tax rebate. We in the Atlantic provinces haven't got the economy to follow Ontario. However, to try to make ends meet, the provincial government needs to cut back harshly on health-care administrative costs and cut back aggressively funding of non-essential social services. The province's poor need help to enable them to live decently. No excuse flies for not giving it.

An immediate step can be taken by the Atlantic provinces - except PEI, which never stopped - to ease the pain of increased heating costs this winter, and it won't cost a cent; restart the process of regulating the price of heating oil. Even with this, oil companies will still be making enormous profits from these sales!

Daniel N. Paul


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