During the holidays, many of us think of those with less and give our time or money to help.
This year’s season of giving happens in the context of the 2013 Child Poverty Report Card, showing BC has the highest child poverty rate in Canada: one in every five children lives in poverty. Nearly half of children with a single mom live in poverty.
It is disgraceful that the fifth richest province in the ninth richest country in the world (by GDP per capita) has 153,000 children that are hungry and inadequately housed.
Federal minister James Moore’s clumsy words provoked much anger: “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.” While technically correct as it is primarily the provinces’ jurisdiction, the sentiment outraged many.
The general public cannot feel too superior. The Fraser Institute noted, “the extent of charitable giving fell in virtually every Canadian jurisdiction” from 2001 to 2011. We compare poorly to our neighbours to the south: 26 per cent of Americans donated to charities in 2011, only 22.9 per cent of Canadians, and the average American donation was $4,596 while Canadians averaged $1,519.
Is this because we assume our welfare state—long ago dismembered—takes care of everyone? Is it because, in spite of our wealth, we feel tapped out? Are we confused about who to help? Or are we overwhelmed by the number and complexity of societal problems?
My hope for 2014 is that we will begin to take a broader view.
It is time for our provincial government to ask its citizens how we want to treat our children, our new immigrants, our seniors. Indeed, ask us how we all want to be treated and live together.
Do we want a province where all families have the income they need to cover the basics and where kids show up at school fed, clothed, safe and ready to learn?
Do we want a province where people with special needs have supportive networks around them: friends and family and skilled support people?
Should all people have enough education to get meaningful employment, with safe and respectful working conditions? Should all citizens have safe places to live and play? Do we want a province where people feel connected to their neighbours and their community through art, cultural activities and volunteering?
What is the appropriate level of support for those who’ve helped build our province and protect our way of life? How much are we prepared to help ensure that all people are included and can contribute to their full potential?
These are some of the questions we need to ask to help create healthier people, healthier communities and a stronger province.
Only with this big picture approach can we stop the endless management by crisis in our health care and social services systems. Only in this way will government get buy in from its citizens to address the complex issues of mental health and addiction, the planning of seniors’ community living and our other vexing societal issues. Only in this way can we coordinate complex solutions to challenging problems, to reign in spiralling care costs, while improving the outcomes for those who desperately need them.
You have to know the destination before you can draw the map to get there. You have to have a goal to measure outcomes against. You have to articulate the dream of a better province to inspire us all to participate and contribute towards building it.
So that is my hope for 2014. That we talk to one another, dream of a better province and then work together to build it.