A Less-Than-Stupid Investment


It is an interesting time to be talking about investments in B.C. Not your investments, of course, we know all about those. I’m talking about the big ones: the Olympics, bail-out money, that kind of thing.

Just this week, the Poverty Olympics took another stroll through downtown Vancouver, once more proving that – in my opinion – showcasing your campaign like a circus just makes you look like a clown. But if you fight through the distracting and diminishing theatrics of these kinds of marches, there’s a compelling core message: if we spent what we’re spending on the Olympics to help the poor instead, we could end poverty in the city.

Of course, that’s clearly impossible; you simply don’t pay to reduce poverty with a big lump sum, for the same reason you don’t fund education that way, or health care. It’s a continual problem, and it requires continual funding.

But what’s nagging at me now is why we are so quick to denounce the poverty-activist logic while readily buying into such things as the Olympics and bail-out packages – aside from the fact that you never saw Bob Rennie dressed up as a condo mascot when cheerleading for the “yes” vote during the Olympic bid referendum.

Well, we might say, there are clear economic benefits to showcasing our communities through the Olympics or to supporting failing companies and financial institutions and preserving jobs. Fair enough. But certainly there are economics behind helping the poor as well, aren’t there? When you
measure the stats for children’s performances in school or their overall health, the family economic situation is almost always a dominant factor. Same goes for criminal activity. And it’s certainly no stretch that healthy, well-schooled youngsters are better for our economic prospects than an
undereducated lower class clogging the hospitals with preventable health problems.

And, incidentally, B.C. has had the highest child poverty rate in Canada for five years straight, according to an annual study by First Call B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. And if you’re disinclined to believe a group with the word “advocacy” in its name, consider that Stats Canada has found B.C. the province with the highest percentage of low-income people since 1999. So when Gordon Campbell talks about helping B.C. families, I can only imagine he’s referring to some and not others.

Is investing seriously in the poor really a crazier idea than the U.S. bailing out failed car companies and investment banks? Really crazier than us spending billions on a sporting event meant to attract even more wealthy internationals to invest in our already overpriced real estate market?

I make fun of the antics of the fringe poverty activists (they do bug me), but check out the 200-plus signatories of an open letter published this month calling on the B.C. government to bring in a poverty-reduction plan: bcpovertyreduction.ca. The issue is being pushed by more than just the Downtown Eastside housing protesters – and these guys are making a solid business case.

But will they get the same hearing as GM? As the B.C. development community? Will they get as much taxpayer-funded attention as the oil and gas industry, for that matter? I don’t think so, and I can’t really figure out why. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to appeal to people’s greed when selling poverty reduction, even though that might make sense.