B.C. VIEWS: Time to enrich poverty debate

VICTORIA – A couple of readers responded indignantly to this column’s recent reference to the NDP “trumpeting distorted statistics” about child poverty.

I was referring to the annual ritual that goes on here at the legislature, where an activist coalition named First Call issues its report that damns B.C. for the worst child poverty in Canada. The NDP pounds away for days, crying “shame” and demanding that the B.C. Liberal government produce a plan to eliminate child poverty, with annual goals.

The “distorted statistics” I referred to are in a regular survey by Statistics Canada called the Low Income Cutoff, or LICO. This survey uses an arbitrary line, currently around $44,000 a year for a family of four, beneath which people are deemed to have “low income.” StatsCan points out in every LICO report that it is a relative measure and not a poverty line, but the activists ignore that.

West Vancouver-Capilano B.C. Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan, a former bank economist, has taken this issue on. In November he published a math-heavy discussion paper called Child Poverty in West Vancouver: Fact or Fiction?

When I spoke to Sultan last week, he said the weakness of LICO is easy to demonstrate. For one thing, StatsCan uses the same income level across Canada, without regard to the huge variations in cost of housing or other factors.

The LICO ignores provincial services such as dental care for social assistance clients, because it’s not income. Sultan estimates that about 10 per cent of the B.C. budget is now spent on low-income supports, including rent subsidies.

Not surprisingly, Sultan found that low income correlates mainly with single mothers, immigrants and aboriginal people on reserves.

More surprising is that communities with higher levels of Employment Insurance and welfare recipients are not the communities with the most low-income people. Sultan says this suggests these programs are effective.

Another surprise is that aboriginal people do just as well as other people once they are off reserve, despite the relatively low educational achievement we hear so much about.

Sultan, who taught business at Harvard University for nine years, cites a recent book by Harvard historian Niall Ferguson called Civilization: The West and the Rest. Ferguson identifies six ingredients in what he calls “the secret sauce of Western civilization” and its economic success.

They are competition, modern science, the rule of law and private property rights, modern medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. Sultan says that list explains the difference between conditions on and off B.C. reserves.

Sultan agrees that the political pressure to raise the minimum wage is irreversible. But like most economists, he says that will reduce the number of low-end jobs. And he is sarcastic about the NDP’s demands for government-imposed solutions: “All we need to do is pass a law and everybody will get richer overnight!”

Helping single mothers get back to the workforce is his “personal cause at the moment,” and he says the new full-day kindergarten is a big step in the right direction.

Subsidized daycare is another option B.C. has available.

“I know in Quebec they have a very generous scheme, which apparently the rest of Canada pays for,” Sultan said.

Readers who demand evidence that disputes the First Call finding might start with Sultan’s discussion paper. It’s posted on his website. It ends with a quote from another noted social activist, a fellow named Jesus Christ: “The poor shall always be with us.”

No one has proven him wrong in the past 2,000 years or so.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com.

Just Posted

B.C. Green Party pushes for wild salmon commissioner

The role would serve as a unifying force in the provincial government

BC Ferries confirms Northern Sea Wolf will not sail until mid-July

BC Ferries had hoped to get the vessel in September of last year, but it didn’t arrive until December

UPDATED: Horgan says B.C. defending its interests in Trans Mountain pipeline

Canadian finance minister’s update comes the same day Kinder Morgan shareholders plan to meet

5 things to know about B.C. Floods 2018

Snowpacks continue to melt causing thousands to be displaced, dozens of local states of emergency

VIDEO: Canadian Forces help flood-ravaged Grand Forks residents heal

Sgt. Bradley Lowes says the military is used to dealing with traumatic times

UPDATED: Almost 1,200 people allowed to return home in Kootenay-Boundary as floods dry up

Officials hope to have all 3,000 people back in their homes by Monday night

B.C. Lions bring back 6-time all-star offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye

He was acquired by the Montreal Alouettes last year.

Whitecaps rally for 2-2 draw with FC Dallas

Vancouver climbed out of a two-nil hole to tie FC Dallas 2-2

B.C. VIEWS: Making sense of climate policy

Flood and fire predictions have poor track record so far

Chilliwack Chiefs moving on to RBC Cup final after thrilling win over Ottawa

Kaden Pickering scored the winning goal in the 3rd period as Chilliwack won their semi-final 3-2.

VIDEO: As floodwaters recede, crews assess the damage to Grand Forks’ downtown

More than four dozen firefighters and building inspectors came out to help

Wellington Dukes pull off epic upset of Wenatchee at RBC Cup

The Dukes are off to the championship game after downing the Wild 2-1 Saturday at Prospera Centre.

Canada to face U.S. for bronze at world hockey championship

Canada was looking to play in the gold medal game for a fourth straight year, but saw 3-2 loss

Most Read