5.23.2006

trends

This is disturbing.
Canada's poor face 'emergency': UN

Welfare benefits in most provinces have dropped in value in the past 10 years and often amount to less than half of basic living costs, a UN watchdog group charged yesterday.

The employment insurance program needs to be more accessible, minimum wages don't meet basic needs, and homelessness and inadequate housing amount to a "national emergency," says the UN body's report from Geneva.

The watchdog committee is formally called the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It last examined Canada's performance in 1998, and sat for three weeks this month taking submissions on five countries including Monaco, Liechtenstein, Morocco and Mexico.

Its sharp criticism of Canada on poverty issues echoes that voiced last week by a special Toronto task force of experts ranging from bankers to community advocates, particularly on questions of employment insurance and help for the working poor.

On employment insurance, the UN body reported: "In 2001, only 39 per cent of unemployed Canadians were eligible for benefits ... (and in) Ontario eligibility rates were even lower."

In Toronto, the local task force said the eligibility figure stands at 22 per cent.

"Minimum wages in all provinces," the UN report said, "are insufficient to enable workers and their families to enjoy a decent standard of living." About 51 per cent of people using food banks, it also said, are receiving inadequate social insurance benefits.

In the same vein, the Toronto task force said hundreds of thousands of working-age Ontarians are living in poverty and it would take $4.6 billion a year in overhauled government programs to lift them out of it.

"Having been present at the review, I can tell you that the committee was dismayed to find that social assistance rates in Canada bear no resemblance to the actual cost of living," said Emily Paradis of the Feminist Organization for Women's Advancement of Rights, or Forward, a group concerned with homelessness.

The UN body had much to say about aboriginal rights, singling out the Lubicon Lake Cree of northern Alberta for special mention.

Using the uncommonly forceful diplomatic term "strongly recommends," the committee called on Canada to reopen land-rights talks and consult the Lubicon "prior to the grant of licences for economic purposes on disputed land."
Everything is relative, of course, and it's much worse in many places (as my recent travels can attest), but that's little comfort to Canadians who live in poverty. Canada has a lot of work to do.

On the positive side, the UN committee acknowledged progress in Canada in certain areas. Fewer people live below the federal goverment's poverty line, maternity and partental benefits have been extended, foreign aid has increased slightly, and disparities between aboriginal people and the rest of the population narrowed in two important areas, infant mortality and high school enrolment.

Toronto Star story here.

5 comments:

James said...

A lot of recent provincial governments have been keen on cutting welfare and subsidized housing. The recent Mike Harris Tory government in Ontario was really big on it. One of the legacies of that has been the huge increase in homelessness and panhandling in Toronto.

I've never understood the people who say "Why should I pay taxes into the welfare system?" one moment and "How do we get rid of these squeegee kids?" the next.

L-girl said...

The recent Mike Harris Tory government in Ontario was really big on it. One of the legacies of that has been the huge increase in homelessness and panhandling in Toronto.

People often mention Mike Harris and refer to the sorry state of Toronto in the same breath.

Of course, Toronto looks clean and sane to me, but again, that's all relative. Homelessness and hunger to any degree is simply wrong.

James said...

It is widely believed that Harris had it in for Toronto. Certainly he had little support within the city (416 area) itself, though about half his ridings were in the 905. As the Wiki page above says, he was big on "ordinary Ontarians" as opposed to "special interests" -- much as Bush is big on "middle America" vs "Eastern elites".

Harris gutted low-income housing programs, alienated teachers with things like standardized testing (sound familiar?), messed up welfare (cut rates by 22%), etc. He paid for his 30% income tax cut by dumping the costs of services on the municipalities (of which Toronto is, of course, the biggest and most expensive to run). The cities had to increase their own tax rates to make up the difference, of course.

Some other Harris legacies include the Ipperwash shooting of Dudley George; the largest teacher walkout in Ontario history; the Walkerton E. coli disaster (seven dead); increased homelessness and poverty; weaker unions and easier scab hiring; etc.

(All this is in the Wiki page; this is just a summary)

It didn't help that, during the last few years of Harris's term, we had that idiot Mel Lastman as mayor here in Toronto...

Can you tell I didn't like Harris? My mother was a high-school teacher, which accounts for a lot of that. :)

L-girl said...

You know, I've heard of all these things (Ipperwash, etc.) but didn't know they were all under Harris's watch. It explains a lot.

Can you tell I didn't like Harris? My mother was a high-school teacher, which accounts for a lot of that. :)

Also you're a thinking, feeling human being with a social conscience.

James said...

To be fair, Ipperwash could have happened under any government (just look at Caledonia), but there's certainly some question about whether it would have ended with a shooting if anyone else had been in power (just look at Caledonia).

Likewise, the E. coli outbreak was caused by a local administrator who falsified reports, which could happen under anyone. But Harris had scaled back public safety inspections (sound familiar?) -- the whole mess may have been caught much earlier if not for that.