Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 15, 2010
Budget 2010 to wipe out Canadian poverty
Financial yes, but a budget is also a moral document that shows our priorities in life
Journey to Justice
The prorogation of Parliament means the House of Commons will not be sitting until March. The prime minister wants his government to use the pause to "recalibrate." Canadians will be able to judge if they're well served by this arrangement on March 4 - the day the federal budget will be delivered.
Several organizations provide government with options and recommendations as the budget is prepared. I always find the most interesting suggestions come from the dozens of groups involved in the Alternative Federal Budget, the Green Budget Coalition, and my own organization - Citizens for Public Justice (all available on the Internet.)
Christians read budgets as moral documents. How we spend expresses our priorities in life and thus it is a window on our values. A good and moral economy would show our communal care for each other and for creation.
So what do you want to see in the federal budget?
I believe that the first thing Christians should request in the upcoming budget would be a commitment to develop a comprehensive federal plan for poverty elimination.
More than half of Canadian provinces already have such plans - yet the federal government does not. A resolution in the House of Commons was passed unanimously on Nov. 24 demanding the government develop a "plan to eliminate poverty in Canada for all."
HOLD THEM DOWN
A Senate committee report released in December decried the high cost of poverty to Canada and complained that "many income programs sustain people in poverty, rather than lifting them out of poverty." Voices are growing louder to argue that a comprehensive plan, designed to complement provincial initiatives, is necessary and overdue.
While the business pages try to convince us that the recession is over, this situation is not evident on all the streets where we live. Canada's unemployment rate still stands at 8.5 per cent, meaning that in December some 1.6 million Canadians - or one in every seven workers - were still unemployed.
A poverty elimination plan should stress employment creation in socially productive, green jobs - as well as a range of income support benefits directed towards persistent low-income populations of off-reserve aboriginals, lone parents, recent immigrants and the disabled.
A second area for budget action should be ecological: people of faith will want to see care of creation made a priority. As the archbishop of Canterbury recently remarked, "The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment."
A responsible "green" budget would have to begin by putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions in some form of a nationally harmonized carbon tax. In an Environics poll taken during this recession and released in December, more Canadians supported than opposed introducing a carbon tax in all provinces except Alberta and Saskatchewan, where support was still 44 per cent, with 54 per cent opposed.
Support for renewable energy projects, adaptation measures to protect ecosystems from the negative effects of climate change and other steps to protect waterways and habitats could be funded in this way.
Of course, measures would need to be introduced to ensure that lower income people were not overly burdened as the country inevitably moves to a low carbon economy. A truly "greener" society for Christians also needs to be a more equitable society, or, as Pope Benedict puts it, "our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person."
Finally, Budget 2010 will be an important marker for Canada's relations with the world. Canada is hosting the Vancouver Olympics as well as the meetings of the G-8 and G-20 this year. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in Davos, Switzerland, announced his intention to make maternal and child mortality a defining feature of these meetings.
Canadians and their federal government have responded admirably to the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. Yet, at the same time, Ottawa is sending contradictory messages about our commitment to international development.
Canada played a shamefully negative role in the Copenhagen climate change conference. Where were our explicit financial commitments in response to poor countries' needs for climate change adaptation and greener technologies?
Our aid funding, which is supposed to reach 0.7 per cent of gross national income, now reaches a mere 0.3 per cent. Budget 2010 must lay out a new path if Canada plans to host meetings that we will lead by example.
Readers of the Catholic press are well aware that our churches rightly and forcefully responded to politicians last year when a private members' bill was tabled concerning euthanasia. Church leaders are vigilant for any parliamentary manoeuvres concerning abortion or same-sex marriage.
Will we also see leadership on important issues like poverty elimination, ecological protection and care for the global poor as Budget 2010 approaches?
(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)
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