Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Rich/Poor Divide

A few years ago, when I was still on council, I was at a meeting of the Housing Committee.  After the meeting,one of the committee members said to me "You have to remember, Prince Albert is really two communities, one rich, the other poor."  That comment has stayed with me, as I see every day how true this is.  It helps, of course, to live in one of the areas that has its share of those less financially well off.

One of the main contributing factors is that those in government, whether civic, provincial, or federal, usually have little experience of financial hardship.  And as is often the case, we think that most people are like us, and either can't fathom that there are others out there without the same benefits, or if there are, then it's their own fault.  As an example, I remember once at a council meeting when we were discussing public transit.  One councillor, who represented one of the richer areas of the city, said that it didn't concern him, because "nobody in his ward took the bus."  He not only ignored the fact that he was supposed to think of the whole city when making decisions, but that encouraging public transit is better for the environment, and would lessen parking issues in the downtown.

Other decisions that show a lack of consideration for the less fortunate include SaskPower's decision to move their office out of the downtown, out to an area not served by public transit.  We still pay our power and energy bills in person, and when we did this downtown, there were always others there, either doing the same thing, or making inquiries.  Not so at the new location, where we're usually the only clients there in person.  I know that the option of paying by phone or on-line is out there, but not for those who may not have computer access, or a bank account.

Or take the new Sarcan location, even farther out than the previous location.  Again, not on public transit routes, which is why I often see people walking along the road, carrying large bags of recyclables.  It may come as a surprise to some, but not everybody has a car.

Or the STC shutdown, to bring the provincial government's recent budget decisions into the discussion.  Rather than looking to see which routes could be kept because they still served a fair number of people, the government shut the whole service down, making those who relied upon it find alternate ways of getting from one community to another.  The son of Ontario friends of ours recently moved to Tisdale, but had no vehicle.  Fortunately, I have a spare vehicle, but he had no way of getting to Prince Albert to pick it up.  He was going to take a cab (not an option for poorer people), but a co-worker was able to drive him in yesterday.  He's a big, healthy young man, so hitch-hiking might have been an option, but what about a woman in the same situation?

One of the responsibilities of leadership in government is to remember that you're responsible to the whole population, not just those who elected you.  And part of that population is less well off, and needs more support to be able to move ahead.  One of the best examples of leadership that I'm aware of is the Saskatchewan government that, more than fifty years ago, was brave enough to bring in universal health care, knowing that it would lead to their defeat in the next election.  It did, but all these years later, it's one of the things that Canadians are proudest of, and appreciate the most, not just those who use the system more than others, but those who are lucky enough not to have to.

So while this current council is contemplating the budget for next year, I would encourage them to remember the less fortunate city residents as they make their decisions, realizing that paving the Art Hauser parking lot or irrigating the golf course will benefit far fewer residents than other expenditures will.

"Anyone who has struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor." - James Baldwin

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