Here is a sad, sour fact about politics: If you're poor, vulnerable, disadvantaged, scraping by to feed and house your family, governments don't really care about you. They all say they do but they don't.
Just look at the B.C. government's $47.5-billion budget tabled this week. If you were someone living on the margins of society, it was enough to make you weep. There was lots of money, for instance, for those wanting to purchase a house – tax breaks of up to $13,000 – but little for those for whom the idea of ever owning a home will remain a dream.
The government could find $100-million to put in some phony prosperity fund, a pre-election gimmick of the first rank, and yet could find only enough money to give those on disability assistance less than $20 a week more to make do. It is barely a nudge of a rate that has been frozen, unconscionably, since 2007 at $906.00 a month. (Food costs alone have increased by more than 23 per cent over the period in which the stipend for those on disability assistance was frozen). Meantime, those on regular income assistance got no hike at all.
But, this government being this government, it couldn't leave well enough alone. The increase in disability assistance will be partly cancelled out for about 55,000 people who are losing government-provided transit passes worth about $55 a month. Some will be losing other transportation subsidies as well. (I mean, if you didn't take this stuff away you'd be spoiling these people!)
Just think about that for a minute. The best the government could do to help out some of society's most disadvantaged people – out of a budget of nearly $48-billion – was an increase that amounts to less than 20 bucks a week.
It just couldn't resist the temptation to create a completely bogus, dwarf-like sovereign wealth fund even though the money in it could have been used to help truly needy people.
How easy it would have been to throw another bone to or two in the direction of those whose daily life is a despair-filled grind the likes of which many of us will never begin to understand.
It's difficult to accept the government was not prepared to go after (with a more significant luxury tax) some of the magnificently wealthy offshore investors pouring money into the Greater Vancouver real estate market to use that money to help some of our most needy citizens. But no, that might kill the goose that laid the golden egg – even if it would do nothing of the sort.
What help was there in this budget for people who rent? Sure, there was assistance for those who want to own a place in Surrey or Langley, and for construction firms who might build those condos and townhouses, but what about the tens of thousands of young people who can't find $20,000 for a mortgage deposit?
What help was there for people who can't find a place to rent in Vancouver because the focus of civic and provincial governments is on building condos that make developers rich and put money into the coffers of those same civic and provincial governments? What help was there for young people whose minimal, service-industry wages have stagnated while facing rent increases of 2 per cent to 4 per cent annually?
What help was there for those thousands of young people in their 20s and 30s who are leaving Greater Vancouver because they can't afford it anymore?
Paul Kershaw, a policy professor at the University of British Columbia who has focused his research on the economic plight of young Canadians, says it used to take five years for a typical person in their 20s and 30s to save a 20-per-cent down payment on an average home. In Metro Vancouver, it now takes that same young person 23 years to save that same down payment. That is madness.
But the provincial government isn't too worried about a backlash because it believes these same young people won't take out their revenge at the polling booth. And by and large that is true. It's the same for those poor people on disability and income assistance. Sure, the government has ignored you for years, but what are you going to do about it? Not much. And the government knows this.
So the Opposition can rail on in the legislature about how horrible it all is, and columnists can take great umbrage over what is happening, but sadly not much will change. The poor and disadvantaged are the people you walk past on the street every day without ever acknowledging. Or the ones who live their lives largely inside their homes, relying on the mercy of others to take care of them. They are invisible.
The B.C. government had lots of money to help those who could have really used it. It decided it had better things to do with it.