In a meeting with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty just before Christmas to discuss the recommendations of the Social Finance Task Force he asked whether we had also spoken with Senator Hugh Segal about them.  Hearing we hadn’t, he immediately asked his assistant to track him down and invite him into our meeting.  Alas Senator Segal had left the Parliament Buildings.

The moment was significant in two ways. First, the Finance Minister was clearly aware of Senator Segal’s articulate campaign to eliminate poverty.  Second, it indicated the Minister understood that social finance is not just about leveraging money for the social sector.  It also has the potential to tackle tough, stubborn, hard to solve social problems.  Like poverty.

If the poverty advocacy of Senator Segal is attracting the attention of a senior member of the federal cabinet then more of us should be paying attention.

In subsequent posts I will be sharing the variety of initiatives that might just be an indication the stars are aligning on this national embarrassment.  Embarrassments like the recent report on child poverty by the UN which ranked Canada 17th out of the 24 richest countries.  Nearly one in 10 Canadian children are still living in poverty!

Let’s start with the man who is the strongest anti- poverty political champion in Canada today, Senator Segal.  He co-chaired a Senate Report with Senator Art Eggelton: “In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness.”

They reported that 3.4 million Canadians are ‘entrapped in poverty by government-run social programs that are “substantially broken”.’  Pretty blunt language.  Here’s more.

What follows are excerpts from his no nonsense Donald Gow Lecture at Queen’s University: The Last Public Policy Frontier: Eliminating Poverty .

“…we actually have the policy instrument within the federal jurisdiction to solve poverty; not dilute it, mitigate it, improve upon it, but actually solve it. My definition of solving it? No adult Canadian living beneath the poverty line. Now or ever.

 

The burden on hard working social workers and caseworkers with workloads that are growing all the time, and the price the poor pay for the continued sclerotic and inefficient nature of our federal and provincial programmes is, in human terms, very high.

 

The principle that every citizen should have the right to dependable bridging support at liveable levels when there is income collapse is a fair balance to the principle that the state has the right to deduct tax at source from the income an individual earns. It would be the ultimate socialist excess to suggest that the state has an “a priori” right to take money from the salaried citizen for its general purposes, but has no concurrent obligation to respond to a citizen’s income collapse.

 

The old solution, the old pathology, the old demeaning approaches have not worked and are not good enough anymore. The ‘return on investment’ for reducing poverty would be measurable and substantial. Taking the courageous steps to execute that investment really constitutes the very next and most important frontier for capitalism, civil society and democracy itself. And, in my view, Canada can and should lead the way.”

Finally, do have a listen to the following Michael Enright CBC radio interview with Hugh Segal aired December 19th, 2010.  He is stirring in the same way Tommy Douglas or Martin Luther King were.  Segal has command of the facts, is solution driven and persuasive in his arguments.   CBC.Ca – Audio  Just ease your cursor to the 9:40 mark.

Listening to Segal is inspiring. Eliminating poverty is not just something we should do but can do. And it certainly explains why Jim Flaherty wants us to pay attention to him.

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Segal: Tough on Poverty, Tough on Crime

    Senator Segal linked poverty as causation for incarceration in a powerful op ed published Feb 20’11 in Toronto Star.
    http://www.thestar.com/article/941753

  2. Sean Moore

    Excellent piece, Al. Hugh truly is one of the few visionaries in public life. However, he has more admirers among Liberals than in the Conservative regime.
    Having said that, I wouldn’t rule out Flaherty / Harper doing something dramatic in this realm. it would be a kinda “Nixon going to China,” type of thing but given their base, they would need to sell it as a cost-saver.
    BTW – have you ever seen numbers on poverty etc., that net out aborignal Canadians. Though politically incorrect, I think it would be an excellent way to underline how awful conditions are in Indian country and how much they draw down our national standings.
    cheers,
    Sean

  3. Tim Ames

    Perhaps,
    Yes perhaps if the government decided not to spend a something north of 12 billion on new fighter planes and they seriously reduced spending related to Afghanistan and finally put some energy and focus and funds into:
    Homelessness
    HealthCare
    Poverty
    Job Creation
    Sustainability
    We would NOT have the challenges that are coming our way.
    Where is the vision mission and magic in government ? I just don’t see it anywhere……….. it’s tired, boring and frankly as you said many of the citizens are more interested in Justin Bieber…. At least he does what he says he will do….. Sing and dance well.
    Thanks Al
    Tim

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