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Towards a Shared Prosperity

“Towards a Shared Prosperity:  A discussion paper on Liberal social policy options for income inequality, poverty, housing & homelessness and early childhood education”

 Precis by Annie Peace-Fast

The Social and Economic Policy Caucus, an arm of the Liberal National Caucus consisting of members of parliament and senators, has published a discussion paper.  Aimed at engaging members and supporters in a dialogue about these crucial social issues, the full paper can be found at www.liberal.ca/2012/11/towards-a-shared-prosperity-discussion-paper.pdf

Presented by Senator Art Eggleton, co-chair of the caucus committee and Maryanne Kampouris, National Policy Chair of the Liberal Party of Canada, the paper is based on two considerations:

First, our traditional values:  We are the Party of the Charter, of social justice, and of equal opportunity for all; a Party that cares for the most vulnerable in our society and brings them in from the margins.  We harmonize economic growth and social justice objectives.  We are a progressive party.

Secondly, we are a party that believes in moving forward with bold ideas.  We have done it before and can do it again.

The paper focuses on the following issues:  income inequality, poverty, housing & homelessness and early childhood education, giving the evidence upon which new policy directions can be advanced and outlining some options for action.

Eggleton and Kampouris point out in the introduction that the paper will point to “ how we can spend current dollars more efficiently and effectively.   Helping to create a shared prosperity, helping to get people back on their feet, will mean less cost and more contributions to the betterment of our country.”

The following is a précis of the sections of the paper without the recommendations.  Please have a look at the complete paper and join the conversation at http://www.liberal.ca/newsroom/blog/towards-a-shared-prosperity or by emailing policydiscussion@sen.parl.gc.ca .

 

“Canadians pride themselves in taking responsibility for themselves and shared responsibility for others.  While we honour individual independence and achievement, we also believe strongly in compassion and fairness.”  But, the authors claim, decades of progress has been followed by a period of stagnation that has led to the following:

We are running the very real risk that our children will be the first ‘reverse generation’ in Canadian history, one that is less well off than the one before.  Growing income inequality is becoming entrenched in Canada.  Middle class families are working more but not getting ahead except by borrowing much more and saving much less.  Poverty has become a bog that entraps people contending with life challenges or transitions, caused in part by ineffective government policy.  Our collective failure to grasp sustainable development puts us on the other side of our values and international expectations.

Income Inequality:

Canada is increasingly becoming more unequal.  “Statistics Canada has reported that from 1980 to 2005 the income of the richest one-fifth of Canadian households grew 16.4% while the poorest fifth declined 20.6%.  At the end of 2009, just 3.8% of Canadian households controlled 67% of total wealth in Canada. …  But why does this matter?  What are the implications of an increasingly unequal society?”  Quoted research shows “that less equal societies have more crime, more disease, more mental health problems, as well as less social cohesion.”

The authors describe some forces that are driving inequality.  “Aspects of globalization, skill-biased technical change, income redistribution, laws that make the marketplace less competitive, practices that allow C.E.O.s to take a disproportionate share of corporate revenue and laws that permit corporations to make profits as they degrade the environment.  Also the declining bargaining power of workers, as a result of the de-unionization of the work-force, is a contributor to inequality.

As Liberals, we need to come to grips with this increasing challenge and find solutions that make Canada a more equal society where everyone can prosper.”

Nine policy options outlined.

Poverty:

“A staggering one in 10 Canadians lives in poverty.  That’s 3.4 million people  – the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan combined [!].  What’s also disturbing is that one in four of them are children – a statistic that is all the more deplorable given Parliament’s commitment in 1989 to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.”    The costs for our society comes in the form of higher health costs and social service needs, lower production rates, lower tax revenues and, for the Canadians caught in poverty, the loss of dignity and self-esteem.

The authors challenge us as Liberals to “come to grips with these challenges and find solutions to lift people out of poverty.  Because poverty is not benign.  It affects us all.  It costs us all.  Simply put, we cannot afford poverty anymore.”

Fifteen policy options outlined.

Housing & Homelessness:

“Despite our prosperity as a nation, over 4 million people across Canada are in need of affordable housing….We know that a home anchors a person, a family, provides the foundation for higher educational attainment, leads to greater stability in the workplace” and “[enables] people to get the health services they need, the jobs they seek and the future they deserve.”

Many of the options suggested in this and other sections requires that the federal and provincial governments work together, something that the current government appears to be incapable of doing.

Seven policy options outlined.

Early Learning & Child Care:

According to a 2008 report card from U.N.I.C.E.F., Canada placed last of 25 developed countries in a ranking of early learning and child care services.  “Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer’s recent report notes that $1 invested in the early years saves between $3 and $9 in the future spending on the health and criminal justice systems, as well as on social assistance.”

The authors acknowledge that, while “there is simply no substitute for good parenting”, “the reality is that today 70% of families have two parents working” and that mobility has meant that most do not live near relatives that can help out.  “Parents are looking to their communities – and their governments – to make a greater commitment to providing quality early childhood education and child care….we need to respond to the inequity of access…between the rich and poor and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people” as well as between rural and urban families.

Five policy options outlined.

 

The authors conclude with the following statements:

Governments set the prevailing character of a country, they can create the conditions for success, or choose to stratify the country.  Leadership is about making tough choices, the tougher the times, the tougher the choices.

Governments at all levels can set the tone and even in times of austerity, have the ability to create the conditions that build prosperity, it’s all about priorities and perspective.

Communities thrive when families do.  People form community where people have good jobs, meaning in their lives, strong family support, good living standards, opportunities to participate.

People are the wealth of a nation, all people, equally; that was a central tenant for decades in Canadian development.  Canada is in desperate need of a new consensus, new ideas for new challenges and new approaches to old.   If given a choice, Canadians would do what they have done since confederation:   we would choose to build together.

Please read more and join the conversation.