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.