September 20, 2012
Ms. Chris Charlton, MP
La Promenade, Suite 1270
Dear Ms. Charlton,
This past Monday I gave a speech on Bill C-37. It was another of the seventy and counting “tough on crime” Bills introduced by the Conservatives since 2006.
The purpose of my speech was to talk about poverty and its link to crime in Canada. I am a lawyer who has practiced criminal law. I have seen firsthand the obvious intersection between poverty and crime. Of course not everyone who is poor is a criminal – we know this. Far too often though, it is the poor who are caught up on the margins of society and make choices that run afoul of the justice system. I suggested that if we really want to reduce crime rates, we will need to lift more people out of poverty.
Poverty is not only a social justice issue; it is a moral and an economic issue. For a country as big and generous as ours, we can and must do more. That was my goal. I wanted to contrast the government’s current crime obsession with its failure to address one of the root causes of crime, that being poverty.
Shortly after my speech, you rose and posed a question to me – you said:
“…the Liberal government itself did not have a particularly good record over its 13 years in office in terms of dealing with the very issues that he outlines as now being the problem. There was no national child care policy; the gutting of the national housing strategy; the theft of now up to $54 billion out of the EI fund; no living wage policy; and in essence, the Liberal government at the time laid its deficit on the backs of the most vulnerable…” (Hansard, Monday, September 17, 2012) I was surprised at the tone of the question posed.
I realise, even as a new Member, that the House of Commons can be partisan place. I recall though, that it was the NDP who held a press conference, with great fanfare, decrying the pervasive partisanship in the House of Commons. The NDP wanted to set a “new tone” in which sought respectful debate, based on facts and evidence. The question you posed contained assertions that were false and absent of any context.
The Liberal governments did take measures to help Canadians to alleviate poverty.
Upon taking office in 1993 the Liberal government faced a $42 billion dollar deficit with an accumulated debt totaling in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Bond agencies were threatening to downgrade our credit rating. The fiscal situation was a mess.
Most reasonable people agreed that Canada had to get its fiscal house in order. Yes, it is true that Canadians were asked to carry an extra burden in order to do that. Despite the bleak situation we inherited, Liberals also recognized the need to inject some life into the economy.
We established a multibillion dollar infrastructure program that created thousands of well-paying jobs and helped fix roads and highways all across Canada. Further, we created the $2 billion dollar Millennium Scholarship Fund providing young people – primarily low income students – with access to an education.
We also introduced the National Child Tax Benefit that lifted hundreds of thousands of children and single parents out of poverty. I draw your attention to an excerpt from a House of Commons Committee report acknowledging the Liberal effort on poverty, a report which your party endorsed.
Research shows that the current system of federal child benefits reduces the poverty rate of families with children by 38%. The NCBS portion of the CCTB, along with provincial and territorial investments in the NCB program, prevented between 67,500 and 78,800 families with between 144,500 and 171,100 children from living on low incomes in 2005.Witnesses who appeared before the Committee commended federal investments in the CCTB and spoke of its value for poverty reduction. (Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada, November, 2012: 40th Parliament, 3rd Session)
When the deficit was eliminated, the Liberal government made other significant investments in social programs – health care, housing, and childcare, to name a few. We also removed hundreds of thousands of low income Canadians off the tax rolls all together, and invested billions more into infrastructure and research creating jobs and spawning world class innovation (I refer you to your blackberry as evidence).
Even Mr. Mulcair acknowledged, just this past Tuesday, the fiscal record of the Liberal government. Here is what he said:
“Mr. Speaker, this is the magic that the Conservatives are working. They took a trade surplus of $26 billion and transformed it into a trade deficit of $50 billion. The Conservatives took a budget surplus of $14 billion and transformed it into a budget deficit of $56 billion.”(September 18, 2012, Hansard)
Contrast our record helping Canadians with the decision taken by the NDP in 2005 to vote against the Paul Martin government on a confidence motion. That decision led to the cancellation of Ken Dryden’s historic National Child Care agreement, a plan signed by every province and territory in Canada. Despite this unprecedented opportunity in Canadian history to help alleviate poverty in all provinces, it was the NDP who put politics ahead of childcare and self-interest ahead of the poor.
Likewise, the NDPs decision to take down the Paul Martin government also resulted in the termination of the Kelowna Accord, another effort that would have resulted in a dramatic reduction in poverty for First Nations people – all across Canada. Again, it was the NDP who put politics before helping the poor and, incidentally, gave us Stephen Harper as Prime Minister.
Sean Casey QC, MP