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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tour de Rock turns community bubble relay race amid pandemic

Alumni will take on socially distanced leg of race in their hometowns

North Saanich among six communities facing ‘chronic shortage’ of daycare spaces

Findings appear in a report that also analyzed daycare in Central Saanich and Sidney

Sooke jumps on board to ban use of rat poison

City staff will educate residents on harmful effects of rodenticides

MISSING: VicPD seeks 33-year-old man last heard from in August

Scott Grier could have been travelling in Alberta, police say

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

Long-term care need pressuring acute care in Comox Valley, Strathcona

Region could use a couple of large facilities for seniors on the north part of the Island

B.C.’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan: Top 5 things you need to know

Jobs training, tax incentives for employers to hire staff and more

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

B.C.’s 1st mental health and addictions minister won’t be seeking re-election

MLA Judy Darcy is the fifth cabinet minister not intending to run in the next election

Most Read