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Comment: Six big changes could put an end to poverty

Sarah Petrescu’s series made a valuable contribution to public awareness about the realities that people living in poverty have to live with every day.

Sarah Petrescu’s series made a valuable contribution to public awareness about the realities that people living in poverty have to live with every day.

Her final part, Big Problem, Small Changes, laid out small changes that could help, such as raising income assistance rates. It’s a big problem, however, so here are some big changes that could contribute to a future in which there is no poverty at all, except the voluntary simplicity of those who want to live with a minimal footprint on the Earth.

A $15 Minimum Wage. In June 2014, after a year-long campaign by fast-food workers and poverty activists, Seattle city council voted to approve a $15 minimum wage, phased in over three to 10 years depending on the size of the business. In November, San Francisco followed suit. The campaigns produced plenty of debate, and there were threats that some businesses might fold, but in the end, the campaign succeeded. If Seattle, why not Victoria?

Affordable Housing. The cost of housing is a real challenge for anyone living on a low income. We could require developers to make 20 per cent of their units affordable and create incentives to build 100 per cent rental buildings, as Vancouver does. We could require developers to sell 10 per cent of their units at cost to an affordable-housing agency, which is how Whistler solved its housing crisis. We could double the tax on properties left empty; make it legal for more than five people to share a house together; allow the construction of car-free laneway housing; and create tax-free retirement funds that can be invested in affordable housing.

Affordable Food. Seattle has 82 neighbourhood allotment gardens where 6,000 people grow their own food. In Victoria, the land adjacent to View Street Towers at Fort and Quadra has sat vacant for at least 25 years. That could change, if Victoria city council wrote an appropriate bylaw. In Toronto, The Stop Food Bank is teaching people how to grow their own food and cook cheap, nutritious meals together. We could do that, too, something the Mustard Seed is actively exploring.

Affordable Daycare. Parents pay up to $1,000 a month per child for daycare so that they can go to work. Every $1 invested in a child before the age of six saves $9 in future spending on health, welfare and justice systems, so we should go ahead and invest in a $10-a-day daycare system as many are advocating, including the Surrey Board of Trade.

Free Post-Secondary Education. Student debt is a major burden, and a major inhibitor against investing in an education. Most universities in Germany are now free, and in Oregon, the state legislature will debate a serious proposal this summer to make post-secondary education free, financed by a three to five per cent post-graduation levy on a graduate’s income for 20 years. Why not here in Canada, too?

An Inheritance Tax. In his ground-shaking book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the French economist Thomas Piketty showed why poverty and inequality are increasing, since private capital is growing at a much faster rate than the economy as a whole. To those who have, more shall be given, unless, Piketty concluded, there is a tax on capital. When parents own property, their children generally inherit their wealth. When parents can only afford to rent, their children inherit nothing, so poverty gets passed from one generation to the next.

An inheritance tax could begin to fix that, along with other tax reforms, including stamping down on the offshore havens that are storing as much as $32 trillion in tax-avoiding wealth.

It is shocking that among Canada’s province and territories, only British Columbia and Saskatchewan do not have a strategy to tackle poverty; that B.C. has Canada’s second worst child-poverty rate; and that among B.C.’s 188 municipalities, only Surrey has made the effort to develop a poverty reduction plan.

Where is the imagination of our leaders? We could be exploring options for a basic income guarantee, as the economist Milton Friedman and the civil rights leader Martin Luther King have recommended, and as Switzerland is seriously considering. We could be encouraging worker-owned co-operatives and workplace share-ownership.

We could be creating a collateral partnership fund that would enable First Nations to borrow money to start new businesses the way the rest of us do. We could be seeking solutions to the problem of low-income dental care.

Come on, elected leaders. You can do better than this.

Guy Dauncey is a Vancouver Island author, speaker and futurist, and founder of the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association.