Social Justice in Canada?

By Errol Black

A 2011 OECD report on social justice in OECD countries ranks Canada, with a score of 7.26, in 9th place. The 31 countries were evaluated on the basis of six key measures: poverty prevention; access to education; labour market inclusion; social cohesion and non-discrimination; health; and intergenerational justice.

The top five countries and their scores are Iceland (8.73), Norway (8.31), Denmark (8.20), Sweden (8.18) and Finland (8.06). In contrast, our partners in the NAFTA, the United States and Mexico rank 27 and 30, respectively, with scores of 5.70 and 4.75.

When it comes to poverty prevention, however, Canada has a score of 7.00, which is just above the OECD average of 6.91, and good only for 18th place in the ranking.

While Canada’s ranking is still much better than the U.S. and Mexico (ranked 29th and 31st respectively, with scores of 3.85 and 2.11) the question that arises is: what accounts for the relatively poor ranking with respect to poverty prevention?

The measure for poverty prevention incorporates three variables, namely, poverty rates for the total population, children and seniors. Canada, with a poverty rate for seniors of 4.9 per cent ranks 4 of 31 on this variable (behind only the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Hungary with rates of 1.7, 3.6 and 4.7 per cent, respectively).

However, when it comes to the overall poverty rate and the poverty rate for children we have a different story. Canada’s overall rate of 12 per cent places us 21st in the ranking – but still ahead of the United States and Mexico at the very bottom with poverty rates of 17.3 and 21.0 per cent, respectively.

The child poverty rate for poverty in Canada is 14.8 per cent, placing us 23rd. Here again we continue to outrank the United States and Mexico with poverty rates of 21.6 per cent and 25.8 per cent. Unfortunately, we can take little comfort in this. On the contrary, the current situation in a rich country like Canada is scandalous.

In 1989, we pledged to eliminate child poverty. This didn’t happen. Instead we grew more tolerant of sustained levels of poverty, absolved corporations of virtually any responsibility for covering through their taxes the overheads of the general population and looked to private charities to take care of the homeless and the hungry, including increasing numbers of children.

We can’t blame this just on the federal government in Ottawa. It is also the responsibility of provincial governments, including NDP governments in Manitoba that have accepted a status quo dictated by neoliberal conceptions of the way the world works, and local governments that insist they are not responsible for the plight of the poor. And it is the responsibility of all the rest of us, who turn a blind eye to the plundering of the nation’s wealth by the rich and powerful at the expense of poor and needy.

How do we change this shameful legacy?

Errol Black is a member of the CCPA-MB board.

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