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  • Volume Eight, Number Eight: December 2003

    Not So Brave/Not So New World

    William Proulx

    Murray Coell has been quite vocal of late defending his government’s decision to slash thousands of citizens living in poverty from the welfare rolls. He cites that there are jobs aplenty for the taking if only these people would just get off of their lazy behinds and show some initiative. As usual with the BC Liberal regime, his claims don’t match up with the facts.

    First off we must remember that the honourable Murray Coell is a former social worker, one that has been censured by his own professional governing body, and because of this censure one who is likely never to be able to practice again in this province. Minister Coell has forsaken compassion and caring for the cold and heartless policies of his neo-conservative corporate backers, and his policy decisions have been based on ideology rather than sound social science research.

    Secondly, the Liberals’ plan is apparently based on the United States government’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, introduced in 1996 as a measure to end entitlements to cash benefits for eligible low-income families. The major differences between the liberal plan and that of the US are that BC is undergoing an economic crisis (unlike the US economic boom when TANF was introduced). Our unemployment levels are at the highest levels in decades, and additionally the US model had incentives built in that were designed to assist recipients to gain independence. Not so with the “made in BC model” in which the provincial Liberals have stripped away all of the incentives and introduced repressive new punishments.

    Thirdly, the Liberals’ sweeping tax cuts for the wealthy created a rapidly expanding fiscal black hole that is rapidly gaining mythic proportions, as never before has BC been so massively in debt. The answer to the liberal government has been to reduce any form of social benefit, whether it is health care, public utilities, crown corporations, or welfare benefits. Any money spent on anything other than benefiting corporations and the tiny wealthy minority is seen as a “subsidy.” The BC liberals have even gone as far as to redefine the language of the government beaurocrats so that “social safety net” and “equity hiring practices” have been removed from the government vocabulary.

    Into this combination of factors now fall the most vulnerable citizens of the province of BC, those who have the misfortune to be unemployed, on welfare, and unable to find work. Minister Coell has made comments in the media recently that any criticism of his program of cuts is “fear mongering.” But the fears are genuine.

    Any person who hits the 24 months in five years mark will be dropped from the welfare rolls in April. This means that any eligibility for assistance will cease, their medical coverage will end, emergency dental service will be delivered by hospitals, and access to Ministry of Human Resources training or employment programs will end. They will be unable to pay rent or utilities, or purchase food. They will be reduced to selling off what few possessions they may own and when those dollars are gone, move into a shelter…if they can find one, that is. Recipients with partners who are not at the same level of time limit will have to make tough choices when they are forced to support a second person on a dramatically reduced income. Those with children will have an even tougher time as they lose incrementally increased amounts of money from their support (although the ministry fails to see that this will adversely affect the health of the children).

    It has been said in various letters to the major media outlets that; “this will get these people out looking for a job” and “its about time the bums stop getting a free ride.”

    These comments come from those who do not fully grasp the ramifications of Coell’s program, nor whom his sanctions are to be applied to.

    Employable people with skills and ability seldom remain on welfare for as long as two years. The cuts instead will be used to move the most needy from much needed support and relative safety onto the downtown streets of the urban centres. Many of them will fall through the cracks due to undiagnosed mental health, emotional or addiction issues that are not recognized by ministry workers.

    The majority of Canadians have long held themselves morally superior to their American cousins due to the jointly shared compassion held for the less fortunate. In the past we have looked with astonishment at the growing numbers of the homeless in US cities and reveled in the good fortune of having in place a functioning social safety net, albeit one with flaws, but one that was there when it was needed. This is equally true in the European Union. European governments are convinced that the way to move individuals off of welfare and into sustainable employment is with the use of “carrots” rather than “sticks.”

    Collectively as citizens of BC we have tough choices to make about out the future of our province. Canadians tend to possess a finely tuned sense of what is morally and ethically right, and this has been witnessed of late with the demise of a hard line right wing provincial government in Ontario, and a leftward shift in the political landscape at the provincial level.

    We must work to ensure that this trend continues in BC and that the provincial Liberals are ousted in 2004. After your brother, sister, parent, child or even your self may be next in line for Murray Coell’s tough love and a “dumpster condo.”

    Thanks to our readers: best wishes for the Holidays and the New Year

    At this  time of the year I would like to extend my thanks to our readers, supporters, workers and writers.  Unfortunately these are the darkest times not just of the year, but of the past two decades. Many people in our province will have experienced the pain and anguish created by the arrogant right-wing  Campbell Liberal government.  And it’s going to get a lot worse for a lot of people.  Many more will learn the bitter truth about the government in the coming months. 

    It will fall to the  survivors to force the government to change their methods and act in a fair and just manner to all BC citizens, not just the wealthy few.

    So in these dark times I thank our readers and supporters and urge us all to redouble our efforts in the New Year to right the injustices of the provincial government. As in all things, light will come back into our lives and that we will prevail. Justice will return with our efforts/

    In Solidarity and Best Wishes for the Holidays and the New Year.

    Jim Lipkovits,

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