Pope Francis eats lunch with the poor in the Paul VI hall as he marks World Day of the Poor at the Vatican Nov. 17, 2019. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Editorial: Poor need Minister

  • November 28, 2019

The poor need our hands to lift them up and give them hope, said Pope Francis on the World Day of the Poor. Three days later, Canada’s new government extended a hand in a different direction when it swore in our first-ever Minister of Middle Class Prosperity. 

Sadly, we do not jest. Canada now has a cabinet minister to close the gap between the middle class and the wealthy. Millions of Canadians who already live comfortably can sleep even more soundly knowing someone is at work to put two mini-vans in every driveway.

We’re still waiting, however, for an announcement about Canada’s first-ever Minister for the Poor. And we’re wondering how leaders who are quick to speak passionately about a national spirit of generosity and caring could have developed such skewed priorities.

Surely if any class of Canadians deserve special attention it is the poor. Depending on which measurement is used, Canada has between 3.4 and 5.8 million people living in poverty. That includes more than 600,000 children. 

So by all means create a new cabinet post, but if the goal is to raise the living standard of any particular class of people, start with Canada’s poorest. They deserve a cabinet minister with a budget, staff and high profile to act as a tireless advocate to ensure the neediest have adequate food, housing, jobs and health care. 

Instead, Mona Fortier was sworn in Nov. 20 as Canada’s first Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and will also serve as Associate Minister of Finance. Improving the lot of the middle class was a prominent Liberal theme during an election campaign that barely mentioned poverty. The minister will lead the way on tax cuts and other perks to make the middle-rich a bit richer.

That might be fine if there were equal enthusiasm and resources to liberate from suffering the millions of people stuck in poverty. Where is their champion? Who in cabinet will make their plight a top priority? Why heed the gripes of the comfortable before the cries of the poor?

It’s true several government programs spread across several ministries already exist to help the poor. Canada’s poverty rate has actually declined in recent years. There’s still much to do, but improvement is happening. The government hasn’t jettisoned those most in need.

But for people living in poverty and the many agencies dedicated to lifting them out of it, the creation of a special ministry dedicated to accelerating middle-class prosperity must be like a slap in the face. Optics matter. And the optics of a middle-class minister rather than a poverty minister are discouraging, if not plain silly.

The government should have a basic strategy for the middle class: make it larger by defeating poverty. Raise the poor into the middle class. 

So, yes, let’s have a new minister — a Minister for the Poor.

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