The BC Liberals may have been playing “gotcha” when they outed NDP MLA Mabel Elmore for claiming $61 a day in expenses when she was only supposed to be spending $19 a week on food as part of a poverty challenge.
But by doing so they raised a number of important issues.
Elmore and her staff must have been brain dead not to catch this gaffe, which just proves that the daily stipend for food in B.C.’s capital city without receipts should be re-thought.
The Vancouver MLA may be planning to pay back the $244 she claimed, but the bookkeeping error cast doubt on what should have been a good initiative and raised images of fat-cat politicians dining on the taxpayer’s dime while children go hungry.
But the BC Liberals shouldn’t be smiling too broadly at this PR victory, because they, too, get the stipend.
More importantly, under the previous BC Liberal government, poverty was a problem – and still is.
According to First Call, a coalition of child and youth advocacy groups, one in five children in B.C. lives in poverty, higher than the national average, and poverty rates among recent immigrant children, off-reserve Aboriginal children and visible minority children are much higher.
In 2015, for example, under Christy Clark and the BC Liberals’ watch, poor families with two children had median incomes that were $11,000 below the poverty line, meaning that more than half of them were in even deeper poverty, according to First Call.
What happened under the BC Liberals’ watch: housing prices went through the roof and homelessness increased in Burnaby; the food banks continued to support families on income assistance rates; high daycare costs squeezed families further; and rents and food costs continued to stretch people’s budgets.
While the poverty challenge is a good way to highlight the issue, it loses some of its punch when politicians take it on for a short period, only to return to their high-spending ways.
If the BC Liberals truly want to tackle child poverty, they should help the NDP government flesh out and fast-track anti-poverty legislation that was introduced this fall.
Instead of embarrassing one of their colleagues, it’s time for all politicians in the legislature to work together to tackle poverty on every front.