I left the Wolseley Candidates Forum a bit early, without hearing the final remarks. I didn’t stay to talk to the candidates afterward, which I started to regret. The response to my question during Q & A had irked me, and was sticking around in my head.
To my surprise, there were a few moments during the debate when I found myself agreeing with Wayne Sturby, the candidate for the conservative (libertarian??) Manitoba Party. Not on his policies – which essentially included cutting taxes, and lots of ’em! What struck me was his perspective – largely gleaned from 6 years working in corrections at Headingly – around the seemingly intractable problems of poverty, mental health, race and the child welfare system. Despite progressive ideals, these problems haven’t yet been policy’ed out of existence. He mentioned some of the community work that he and his wife do, maintaining connections with individuals after they’ve been released from incarceration, trying to provide them with a needed support network.
In a later question, Altemeyer gave a proud response about social housing. He mentioned the maintenance of existing social housing, even after the federal government removes their support at the end of mortages. He also reiterated the campaign promise of 300 additional new social housing units. Sturby was clearly frustrated by the style of Altemeyer’s response. He blustered that we get statistical information (about policies which I, Fabian, do agree with! I do!), but we know and we can FEEL that these problems aren’t finished. They’re not done, they’re not SOLVED! This was my mental context when I asked my question.
To begin, I disclaimed that I am a long-time NDP supporter. I support their policies in areas like poverty, housing, education, and community economic development. However, in areas such as child welfare, justice, and even poverty and housing, there are still deeply concerning results. Long story short, in crucial areas, things just don’t seem to be improving all that much.
Here, I neglected to explain my personal connection. Having worked in a school with youth in the care system / Justice system, and seeing the overwhelming frustration of the youth and the seemingly repetitive patterns. Working in a mainstream school now, and continuing to see youth and families who just seem like they AREN’T being taken care of, somehow, despite the policies, efforts, and funding directed towards them. Despite a progressive government, why do so many keep slipping through these proverbial chasms? (“cracks” being a colloquialism of insufficient magnitude.)
Instead of verbalizing these thoughts, I continued to what I see as a possible solution, and what Sturby had alluded to.
“What Wayne said earlier carried some weight with me. We try hard, and we put these policies into place, but they don’t seem to be doing enough.”
I suggested that perhaps improved community-building, with more people reaching out to others around them and building informal safety nets could do something to assuage these wounds. I phrased my question: “What role do you think government has in promoting a more community-oriented culture? how could we use cultural shifts to solve these problems in addition to policy?”
I realized I was rambling as I started to explain my personal connection, so I shrugged, and finished: “Well, I think you know what I’m getting at. Why aren’t things getting better?” A clumsy paraphrase.
Altemeyer’s response was disappointing. He began by quoting the child poverty rate:
“What happened to the child poverty rate between 2000 – 2008? It dropped in half.”
Impressive, but 8 years ago…
“What happened in 2008? The single biggest financial meltdown in global history since the Great Depression. As a result, yes, the child poverty rate rose again. Due to factors outside of our control. In 2012 and 2013, it dropped again.”
Highballing rhetoric, but that’s not the worst of it. I KNOW that Manitoba weathered the 2008 recession largely unscathed.* The REASON I know this is because the NDP trumpets this with great consistency as a success of their economic record. and I AGREE! So how can this also be the explanation for the rising child poverty rates? When we know that the economy actually did pretty well?? (falling less than half a percent in 2009, growing all the surrounding years.)
Altemeyer continued, “You know, they say there are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics! So I think this is one of those instances where people have repeated a point often enough, where people start believing it to be true. So have hope! things are getting better.”
The point I was trying to make, the point Sturby was dancing around for much of the evening, was that people experience poverty or work with those who experience it do not FEEL like it is improving. Altemeyer’s answer dodged this completely. To a great many on the outside and the in, poverty, CFS, housing, Justice, do not seem like areas of the province that are improving. Even NDP supporters, who believe in their policies, are frustrated by the intransigence of social issues. Do the policies need to be changed? Expanded?? Is there even hope for legitimate social change or is it ultimately a lost cause within an industrial capitalist system???!?
There was a glib confidence to the way Altemeyer answered the questions, where some humility would have been welcome. Acknowledgement of the ongoing struggles. Going over the technical details of policies past and future, the goals and the outcomes, instead of simply listening accomplishments. “Well, NDP has done THIS.” “On this problem, the NDP has done THAT.” “The NDP is the only party to have ever done THIS.” I understand the desire to run on your record, but the tone ignored the ongoing concerns of constituents.
I felt a similar way when hearing Minister Sharon Blady at the Make Poverty History debate. To every question, Minister Blady had some previous policy, some previous bill, or perhaps a bill quashed by the Opposition, addressing the topic in question.
I understand that what Minister Blady meant by those comments is NOT “We’ve solved poverty!” I esteem the general sophistication of our MLA’s to be greater than that.
Rather, it sounded like “We’re solv-ING poverty!” But it all feels like a dismissal of the intensity of the problem.
—– Asides ——-
David Nickarz performed dutifully, but without spark. He got his legs towards the end. Especially with no Liberal or Conservative candidate in attendance, there was room for him to take.
Albertine Spence, the candidate for the Green Party in Point Douglas, asked a question about climate change and asked for specific responses to the Energy East pipeline. Altemeyer and Nickarz were both against, but I can’t recall what Sturby said.
I sided with Sturby only in his sense of frustration. He was a bit out of touch with the audience. At one point, he fumed “I have not talked to a SINGLE person who would not support a 3% cut to the PST!” sending a wave of amused titters through the room. He continued “Well, you know, I haven’t! Not a single person!” I got the impression he had perhaps not talked to everyone in the room.
*I pulled up some MB gov data on my phone, and found that MB grew by 4% in 2008, shrank a couple of tenths of a percent in 2009, and grew by over 2% in 2010. As a country, Canada grew by 1.2% in 2008, shrank -2.7% in 2009 and grew 3.4% in 2010. As a whole, Manitoba largely outperformed the country.