Thursday, July 7, 2016

Saanich News: More must be done for struggling British Columbians

Reprinted from the Saanich News, July 5 2016

Are you earning a low wage? Or living on a fixed income? Are you unable to work or unable to find a decent paying job? Are you struggling to get by or take care of your children and aged parents, or both at the same time?

If so I have a message for you: I’m your ally. I’m fighting for you.

As the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Saanich South, I hear from people almost every day who say the “game” is rigged against them. And in many ways it is. According to the Broadbent Institute, B.C. has the highest rate of wealth inequality in Canada. And it’s growing.

People who are struggling to take care of their most basic needs are suffering more and more.

How the B.C. Liberal government chooses to prioritize and address inequality is a big part of the problem.

Most people understand that growing the middle class benefits everyone in our community. But consider this: on the one hand, our B.C. Liberal government gave the wealthiest two per cent of the population a tax break of $230 million.

On the other hand, Premier Christy Clark refuses to do right by those who are struggling. People are expected to live off the minimum wage of $10.45 an hour. People with permanent disabilities try to survive on $906 a month. People on welfare are expected to hold themselves together and find a way to turn their life around on $610 a month. Those amounts include accommodation costs and have stayed almost the same for a decade, even though the cost of essentials – food, shelter and clothing – have increased substantially. It is no wonder our food banks can’t keep up; that a decent and inexpensive place to live is next to impossible to find; that our homeless shelters are full; and that our police spend more and more time and money doing mental health case work.

Our children are also experiencing inequality. B.C. has had the worst record of child poverty in Canada for more than a decade. Did you know that 20 per cent of children in B.C. live in poverty?

Public education is known to be a great equalizer, giving everyone the opportunity to reach their full potential and moving more people into the middle class.

But it seems like the B.C. Liberal government would rather spend time arguing about public education funding than actually funding it properly. You can’t argue with facts. They cut $54 million from the education budget this year alone. What are the consequences of decisions like this in the long term? What is the cost for all of us if we continue down this short-sighted path?

Is this the best we can do?

No, it’s unacceptable.

We live in a democracy: we choose who makes the rules. I have no doubt the majority of people in B.C. are fair-minded and kind-hearted. We deserve political leadership that advances equality and opportunity for all. Instead, we are led by the B.C. Liberal government that is focused on the interests of those who bankroll their political party with millions of dollars.

B.C. is one of the wealthiest places in the world. But the opportunities that this should create will only exist if we fight for them.

I will continue to fight in the B.C. Legislature for government action that improves the quality of life of every single one of us.

Lana Popham is the MLA for Saanich South.