The holiday season is upon us, and so too is the season of giving. Our region’s generosity can be demonstrated year-round, but it is at this time that we pause even more to think of family, friends, community and strangers who make up this world. Indeed, many seasonal tales, most notably Charles Dickens’ story about Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, remind us about the wealth gap and importance of sharing.
Recently, on Nov. 26, we were reminded of how B.C.’s wealth gap is the largest in Canada. First Call released its report on family poverty. The statistics were distressing. Nineteen percent of B.C. children live in poverty — that’s 153,000 kids, enough to fill Rogers Arena over eight times. Forty-eight percent of off-reserve status First Nations children live in poverty. These aren’t new stats either. B.C. has had the highest child poverty in Canada for 10 years.
Of course, we all know that poor children are from poor families. Fifty percent of children with single moms live in poverty — more than double from 2010. However, the majority of poor children are living with both parents whose joint income is, on average, $14,000 below the poverty line.
Rather than respond to this report or any reports from the last 10 years with a comprehensive poverty reduction plan, the Liberals have unfortunately ignored the issue. Even worse, they announced a massive BC Hydro rate increase the same day as First Call released this report on child poverty. Even though the Liberals promised no such hikes during the election, here we are with another 15.6 per cent tacked onto bills. The poor and middle class are getting squeezed again.
The trouble is, ignoring poverty doesn’t make it go away, and is in fact more costly to the taxpayer than taking action. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has studied the issue and found that B.C. taxpayers could ultimately save $5 billion if we took action on poverty — $5 billion!
Other provinces have done it — all but B.C. and Saskatchewan, in fact. With comprehensive poverty reduction plans, they have proven that tackling poverty can be done. The results: saving taxpayers’ money, building healthier communities and stronger economies.
So how can we make this happen here in B.C.? This holiday season, I’m hoping you will join me in my call for a poverty reduction plan. Many of you already have when I was at the Creston rec centre on Dec. 7 or at my mobile office Dec. 13. Thanks to all those who signed a postcard showing their support for a poverty reduction plan. If you haven’t signed a card yet, come by my office, 204 402 Baker St. in Nelson, to make a food donation for our local food banks and sign a postcard. Can’t make it? Give my office a call (1-877-388-4498) and we’ll get a postcard out to you.
Our region’s generosity shows that, together, we can build a better B.C. We can start a poverty reduction plan that makes all of our lives better, our communities healthier and our economy stronger. This holiday season, I wish you and yours all the best as we share the abundance of our communities and do our part to make the world a better place.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.