B.C. NDP’s poverty platform still unclear

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      Antipoverty crusader Jean Swanson isn’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of a B.C. NDP government.

      It’s not just because she thinks that it’s taking New Democrats too long to say what they’ll do with welfare rates and the minimum wage if they win the May 14 election.

      “The last time the NDP was in, they cut back welfare,” Swanson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “They said poor-bashing things about people on welfare. And they brought in a bunch of punitive rules.”

      According to the Downtown Eastside–based campaigner, she’s just going by the record “rather than the words”. “With nothing but a record to go on, it doesn’t look good,” Swanson declared.

      Although she said she can’t remember precise details about welfare changes made by New Democrats between 1991 and 2001, the 69-year-old activist will not forget what then-premier Mike Harcourt said during his time in office. “When Harcourt was premier, he called people on welfare ‘varmints and deadbeats’,” Swanson said.

      Some of these details are recalled in a study commissioned by the Canadian Council on Social Development. Released in 2009, The Best Place on Earth?: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives on Poverty Reduction Policies and Programs in British Columbia notes what happened when the B.C. NDP introduced a program called B.C. Benefits in January 1996.

      According to the paper, “income assistance rates were reduced for single youth, couples up to age 24 without dependents, single employable adults, and employable couples aged 25 to 54 without dependents”.

      That “also set the stage” for further cuts introduced by the B.C. Liberals in 2002. The study points out that underlying both schemes was the “shared belief that an individual’s choice was the determining factor behind a life of poverty…rather than the inequitable systems that distributed society’s wealth and resources”.

      Living on welfare is a reality for tens of thousands of British Columbians.

      According to B.C. Ministry of Social Development numbers, there were 177,719 welfare clients in December 2012, up slightly from the previous month’s total of 176,660.

      Ministry statistics also show that in 2011, four percent of B.C.’s population, or 181,853 people, was on the welfare rolls. There were also 37,577 dependent children living on income assistance received by their families.

      The B.C. NDP maintained the rate for a single employable person at $510 a month from 1995 until the party was defeated by the B.C. Liberals in 2001. It was only increased in 2007 by the B.C. Liberals to $610, an amount that hasn’t changed since then.

      Former B.C. NDP leader Carole James emphasized in an interview that her party has committed to a legislated poverty-reduction plan that contains concrete targets and time lines. Now Opposition critic for social development, James added that her successor, Adrian Dix, has also promised to reinstate nonrepayable grants to postsecondary students.

      When asked what the NDP would do in its first 100 days in office, before it would have time to enact a comprehensive antipoverty plan, the Victoria–Beacon Hill representative indicated that her party is still finalizing its platform.

      “We’re examining all of the options that are available,” James told the Straight by phone. “We want to put in place a plan, but we also want actions in place so that people know that we’re serious.

      “Nothing has been taken off the table,” she responded when asked about increases to welfare rates and minimum wage. “But we haven’t made any commitments yet because, I mean, [the] reality is we’re not going to be able to do it all. As you know, we’ve been very clear with the public that these are difficult times, and we’re going to have to look at how we take steps to be able to address the problems.”

      James also said: “Although we won’t be able to fix it all because of the economy of British Columbia, that doesn’t mean that we should not get started. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t begin. You may see phased-in programs.…It may be small, practical steps in the beginning.” The new NDP slogan, highlighted at the party’s February 24 pre-election gathering in Burnaby, is “Change for the better: one practical step at a time”.

      In a paper released in January 2013, Seth Klein and Iglika Ivanova of the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives demonstrated that a three-percent increase in taxes for the province’s top income earners would generate $375 million annually. That’s enough to boost welfare rates by $200 to $400 per month.

      In a phone interview, Klein stated that a B.C. NDP government should raise welfare rates and wages as a gesture of “good faith” while it prepares a thorough plan to combat poverty.

      “If the other pieces are going to take a little longer to get in place, you need to relieve the pressure right away,” Klein told the Straight.

      Vancouver antipoverty activist Bill Hopwood is puzzled as to why the NDP has yet to say anything concrete on improving the incomes of poor people, starting with welfare rates and wages.

      “If they haven’t yet worked out a strategy, then I guess the question is why, after several years in Opposition, why haven’t they worked out a strategy?” Hopwood asked in a phone interview. “I honestly do not know.” 




      Feb 28, 2013 at 9:07am

      Swanson may have indicated she isn't "thrilled" with the NDP coming to government because they have not outlined their poverty reduction plant but she ought to understand the issues facing a new government in this province are incredible. The NDP has had a party platform, she might consider checking that. It might be foolhardy to announce a "strategy" only to find there is absolutely no money available.

      child poverty is B.C. is disgusting, there is no way around that and it has to be dealt with just as the issues leading to the situation have to be dealt with. Imposing a tax to be transferred to social services payments may not be the best way to deal with issues. It maybe that food programs through schools bring greater benefits, increases in housing allowances for families with children, better funding for pre natal care and more child day care would work. All of this depends upon the amount of money available and then there are the issues of the whole sale "give away" of B.C. assets which led to the impoverishment of the province.

      Swanson might want to consider what would happen to all the children of B.C. is the lieberals were to remain in government for another 4 yrs. I do not disagree with her that there needs to be an increase in monthly allowances for disabled persons or an increase in welfare rates. The constant increases in tolls, medical premiums, gas taxes, etc. also leds to poverty for many. Its called the working poor. an overall plan needs to be formulated but it is going to be complicated.


      Feb 28, 2013 at 9:33am

      If the NDP is anything, it is a union party. You have to be employed to be in a union. Therefore, they are a pro-employment party. Ideologically, it is not inconsistent for them to be against "varmints and deadbeats."

      It is true that they are perceived to have more interest in leftism, social justice and whatnot than BC's pro-profit party, formerly Social Credit, currently called the Liberals.

      However, that perception is a vulnerability among most of the voting population, which tends to ask itself whether their lives would be better if they were able to keep more of their money.

      Hence the NDP are not going to ally themselves with the Jean Swansons of the world.

      But I believe the NDP and Jean Swanson can have their cake, or a goodly cake portion, by developing policy that is both more compassionate and economically defensible.

      The NDP has to sell itself as wise stewards of the provincial tax fund. Everything that is spent has to be a justifiable investment.

      If there is a business case (and I think there could well be) for raising social spending, then that can be spun as wise investing.

      I think you have to treat the public like adults. I think we can, as a society, accept the idea that cheapness is not value in the long run if it costs you more money to fix it or replace it in a crisis.

      As with buying a car or choosing a home contractor, so it is with, say, shutting down Riverview. So it may be with raising welfare.


      Feb 28, 2013 at 9:36am

      The poor can improve themselvs by getting another job or two.Robin Hood is still alive.Lets take from people who worked all their lives and give to the poor so they can stay in BC or elswere were there are no jobs.If you cant afford to live here move elswere where you can.Kline and Ivanova can give the poor their extra money.Some people just want to live on others welfare,


      Feb 28, 2013 at 9:38am

      Jean Swanson and her ilk would still complain if the government wrote $1 million checks for every homeless person in the DTES. They are committed to perpetuating the problem and protecting their "turf"

      The people finding real solutions to the problems there left the Carnegie "activists" a years ago. They represent no one, yet continue to use taxpayer funds and city resources to thwart the real solutions to the terrible conditions in the area.


      Feb 28, 2013 at 2:07pm

      e.a.f said:
      "It might be foolhardy to announce a "strategy" only to find there is absolutely no money available."

      Might also be foolhardy use the ridiculously ambiguous term 'child poverty' when one is really forcing through an expensive heavily subsidized child care scheme

      But Foolhardy to whom?

      Certainly not the average voter that might need that information to make what is called a 'informed' decision which is according to the propaganda in western democracies, it's supposed bedrock. Without information, then the whole voting process becomes a meaningless selection of political actors where 'non-political' factors are the only criteria.

      But no it would be foolhardy to the average partisan voter as they don't give a wit about policies as their party is always right and it's supporters are always selling regardless of how conservative it has become.

      However if you think it's a winning strategy in a province where the last leader was chased from office for not disclosing to voters his 'tax' plans, then go for it -- the NDP of course won't have four years in power, but 18 months (or the start time for recalls) and especially if the seat spread is as close as it usually is traditionally.
      NDP types always forget that their 'choice' consistently has been to back a party with no visible public support, no money and has only won three elections in 60 years?

      The REST of us can conclude that average NDP supporter really isn't too much interested in a government much different than the one that usually wins...or particularly the one over the last 12 years as evidenced by the NDPs rather lackadaisical opposition.

      NDPers tend to be that angry man that has HAD IT with the Sun, he's cancelling his subscription and going over to The Province. In other words, no credibility and AS SUCH they had better provide a much better essay as to what they have done over their LONG summer vacation.


      Feb 28, 2013 at 2:57pm


      "child poverty is B.C. is disgusting, there is no way around that and it has to be dealt with just as the issues leading to the situation have to be dealt with"

      Yes. And no.

      If I was a benign despot with really thick skin, I would sterilize every male at birth. If you want to get unsterilized for family reasons, you would have to show proof of income on the same guideline the federal govt uses to determine whether a family sponsorship can occur.

      I have come to the conclusion that the only govt in the world that takes child poverty seriously, in terms of making sure that families can afford their children, is China.

      So do you really want the govt to manage this issue? I don't think you really do.


      Feb 28, 2013 at 3:51pm

      The more mony the province needs to support the hand outs the more it taxes,puting more people in a hole.Now along comes Suzuki with a great plan for a CARBON TAX on all fuels inc.nat.gas for heating,oil and gasoline,again robbing everyone including the already struggling poor that are just managing.As we know rent will increase, food transport etc. So the poor keep geting shafted and the middle class fewer,the ritch well they will last longer.People have to remember the mony has to come from somewhere,and that is the tax payer YOU.


      Feb 28, 2013 at 4:49pm

      On an elections BC mail out there is a three character "VOTER CODE" listed. What the F is that? Not searchable on their website.


      Mar 1, 2013 at 2:01pm

      Seriously RUK, you hold China up as a good role model??? The only platform the NDP has is "We're not them". Sad excuse for a political party.

      Heeelllloooo Ms Swanson...

      Mar 2, 2013 at 3:34pm

      There were lots of jobs in the 1990's unlike today with the Christy Clark BC Liberals who are all for the foreign workers jobs program just not for Canadians.