Column: Spirit of PR turns Scrooge Harris into Santa Claus for the poor

Soapbox by Liam Gerofsky

If the Mike Harris government gets its way, Santa will come early for some of Ontario’s poorest families.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently announced that the working poor will get a Christmas bonus of $100 per child by early December if the provincial parliament approves the program soon.

‘Tis the season for opportunistic public relations ploys.

The program will cost $37 million, but how can anyone criticize presents for the poor?

It’s not that hard, as long as you’ve got a strong enough stomach to endure the government’s political spin.

With all signs pointing to a declining economy, the Tories are facing the fact that their hawkish policies — corporate tax breaks, slashing public services, and deep social assistance cuts — have done nothing to strengthen Ontario’s economic future.

Furthermore, the Tories know that as the economy shrinks, the public’s need for quality education and health care won’t. The Conservatives are in for a tough ride. So, what better way to counter a gloomy economic outlook than with a warm and fuzzy holiday gift.

And as a possible candidate to succeed Harris as party leader, helping poor families could help soften Flaherty’s image.

Political spin aside, perhaps we should take a moment to consider why a staggering 220,000 Ontario families — nearly 367,000 children — are poor enough to qualify for the payment.

It may have something to do with the 30 per cent cut in social assistance that the poor have endured since Harris came into power. In 1995 alone, the Tories axed welfare payments by 22 per cent.

It may also have to do with Harris cancelling in 1998 monthly nutrition allowance payments to pregnant women on welfare so that, he said, they would not squander it.

And in keeping with “common sense” Tory policy, children of unemployed parents on welfare, the poorest of the poor, won’t be eligible for the $100 payment.

Apparently the government doesn’t care enough about these children to help their parents.

But in the end, what good will $100 do for parents struggling to provide their children with the basic necessities of life? It certainly doesn’t offer families any permanent assistance. And it certainly won’t go far towards buying kids new winter clothes. The money will be used, but it won’t erase the harsh realities faced by impoverished families.

Flaherty said he hopes the money will be spent on Christmas presents for children. More likely the money will go toward food or rent.

In the end, this ploy by the Harris government is nothing more than an attempt to regain the support of the political middle — those who waffle back and forth between Liberal and Tory platforms.

But as Ontario teeters on the brink of recession, last-minute handouts may not be enough to make voters forget that six years of Harris policy have not secured the province’s economic future.