Editorial: Helping hands

Trent Ernst, Editor


“All that I’m saying is why can’t our governments look after the people that are already in this country that need that help?”

This line of argument has been making the rounds around Facebook, in coffee shops, email threads, in the stands at hockey tournaments. Usually followed by an accusation that the speaker is a racist, and from there, well, the discussion degenerates into name calling and humourous jpgs. (It’s like the new version of Godwin’s Law: you know every Facebook discussion will degenerate into jpgs and animated gifs.)

The people who argue that Canada shouldn’t bring in refugees because we are not doing enough to help Canadians are absolutely right. Well, the last part anyway. We’re not doing enough to help Canadians. More than that, I’m not doing enough to help fellow Canadians. Neither are you.

You see, aid is not merely the dominion of the Government. Indeed, we as people have mostly abdicated our responsibility to help others, laying the responsibility on the Government, then complaining when the Government actually takes on the responsibility that we have given them.

First off, let’s define “need.” What do we mean? Well, let’s start with the most desperate of the most desperate: people who are living in extreme poverty.

According to UNESCO, the definition of extreme poverty is trying to live off less than one dollar a day. Not an actual dollar a day, but based on a Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) calculation that looked at what you could buy with $1 USD in the USA. Adjusted for inflation; it’s now $1.25, but that isn’t as catchy as a dollar a day.

Once they’ve figured out how much can be bought with $1.25 USD, they figure out how much of the local currency (rupee, ruble, renmimbi, rand, real or ryo) it takes to buy the same amount of food. If a person can’t afford the same bag of food, they fall into the category of extreme poverty.

Worldwide, about 1.3 billion (that’s billion with a B) live below this extreme poverty line. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, 47.5 percent of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. In China, that number is 13 percent. In Latin America and the Caribbean, it is 6.5 percent. Just to put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of the entire population of Canada and the US. FOUR TIMES OVER!

Speaking of Canada, the number of people living below the extreme poverty line is remarkably hard to pin down. Stats Can send me a figure of about 1,100 families in the country, but caution that’s a very inaccurate figure and is probably smaller.

The average annual income level of the lowest 20 percent of population was $14,500 in 2009, or about $39.70/day.

But what about people who are not making any money? Well, this brings me to my first point (really? First point? But we’re nearly done.) which is this. Canada IS looking after Canadians first.

You see, we have UI for people who’ve lost their jobs. We have disability benefits for people who’ve lost the ability to work. We have the GST Tax Credit which, by itself, is almost $1.75/day. And, if all else fails, we have welfare. In BC, a single person on Welfare makes $610/month. Not a year, a month. That means that the lowest of the low in Canada are making about $20/day.

So, you want to help Canadians first? Guess what. Done. Is it perfect? No, but it’s far better than what 1.3 billion have. Yes, times are tough, but if you make more than $20/day, you’re better off than 85 percent of the world.

Is there not a moral responsibility as a human to help others as well? Because if it isn’t right for a Canadian to live on less than $20, why is it right for anyone, regardless of where they were born or the colour of their skin to have to do the same?

Secondly, this assumes a zero-sum game: we have but one Help to give; if we give it to refugees, we can’t help Canadians. That is so wrong. Help comes through the government bringing in refugees, but also through our donations to non profits. You are free to help out how you like, whether it be to the United Way or to canadianfeedthechildren.ca where your dollar will help First Nations children. Can’t get more Canadian than an OC.

Or put your resources where your orifice is. On Saturday, the District will be doing its annual food drive. Give generously, and be satisfied your donations will only go towards helping locals.