“The offspring of riches: pride, vanity, ostentation, arrogance, tyranny…”
— Mark Twain
I recently heard and read the coverage on hunger in this country. The report centred on findings from the UN special rapporteur for food, Olivier De Schutter.
This is not surprising to many. One need not look to far to quickly become aware of the role food banks are increasingly providing in our society.
Similarly, poverty and all its manifestations are painfully obvious across the country and particularly in some of the “economic hotspots” across the land.
Nevertheless it is still is startling when this state of affairs is highlighted by such a high profile agency like the UN.
De Schutter indicated the problem is getting worse and many Canadians are finding it difficult affording a healthy diet.
He indicated, “we have in this country more than 800,000 households who are considered food insecure. … Multiply that by a factor of two or three and we have millions of Canadians, many of them children, living in this deplorable condition.”
Not surprising, he also pointed out that the top 10 per cent of the country is 10 times more affluent than the bottom 10 per cent.
Newfoundland is not any different, with many people in this province not seeing much benefit from the economic boom.
Food banks have become a major building block in the country’s social safety net. Very disturbing information when one looks at it objectively.
As disturbing as this report was, what is even more appalling is the reaction of the Harper government.
Did they acknowledge that the status quo is not good enough?
Did they provide a response by way of distinct measures they have taken to reduce poverty?
Did they offer any encouragement to the many disadvantaged across the county? Sadly, not in the least!
Instead, they heaped scorn and sarcasm on the messenger. They basically argued De Schutter was wasting his time coming here and being so brazen as to suggest we have a problem.
Jason Kenney went on to suggest that Canada is a developed country and the UN should concentrate its efforts in the underdeveloped areas of the world.
No one would argue that there are many areas of the world where poverty and hunger are far worse.
That being said, it’s of little comfort to a child living in a family with parents working and struggling to pay the heat bill, deal with the rising cost of housing and put food on the table.
Nevertheless, no problem according to Mr. Kenney.
Here we have a government that prides itself on tax cuts, our financial system, big business and wars in Afghanistan, Libya and so on.
It pursues these priorities while being less than forthright with Canadians on how it spends or plans to spend our tax dollars.
Witness the fiasco with the proposed purchase of F-35 military jets and the lowballing of the money spent on the military mission in Libya. They spend money with reckless abandon on chauffeurs and helicopter rides, while poverty does not even receive lip service.
One need not wonder why there seems to be a growing level of discontent and cynicism across the land.
None of this is to suggest that Canada is unique on how it is dealing, or more to the point, not dealing, with the problem.
But rising inequality, like rising sovereign debt, is not sustainable in the long term.
Governments, especially the current government, should take comments like those from Mr. De Schutter a little more seriously instead of offering up the arrogant responses we’ve heard.
Paul Green writes from St. John’s