Monday, November 19, 2007

NDP puts politics ahead of poverty, and the facts

I met Peggy Nash, the NDP MP for Parkdale-High Park (and Gerard Kennedy’s opponent in the next federal election) at the Progressive Bloggers BBQ this summer. We only spoke briefly but she seemed nice enough, and I give her credit for wading into the lion’s den and attending a blogger get-together.

So, I’d like to hope that she’d have an innocent explanation, or be willing to apologize and correct the record, because the following statement she made to the National Post, in a story on Dion’s very well received anti-poverty plan:

The New Democratic Party's critic, Peggy Nash, also questioned the Liberal record on eradicating poverty when in office.

"Child poverty has increased in this country while we had Liberal majority governments and surplus budgets so I think Mr. Dion has a credibility gap on
this," she said.
Except it is really Peggy and the NDP that lack credibility on this issue, because she’s just plain wrong.

According to Statistics Canada, the child poverty rate in 1993, the year Jean Chretien took office, was 16.7 per cent. In 2005, the last year of Liberal minority government under Paul Martin, the rate was 11.7 per cent. That’s a decline of some five percentage points. If measured in real numbers, the number of children living in poverty, according to Statistics Canada, dropped from 1,157,000 in 1993 to 788,000 in 2003.

Those are the after tax low income cutoff (LICO) numbers. The before tax figures (which aren’t as good a measure, as there are tax measures designed to help here) show higher raw numbers, but still show a decline. From 1,541,000 or 22.3 per cent in 1993, this measure dropped to 1,132,000 or 16.8 per cent in 2005. A drop of some 5.5 percentage points over the Liberal term in government.

While child poverty is still unacceptably high, the statistics show child poverty actually declined over the Liberal term in government, both in real numbers and in per cent, and did not increase, as the NDP’s Peggy Nash falsely claimed.

If Peggy’s intention was not to intentionally mislead Canadians, and to ignore the facts and just fling more mud at the Liberals, then I hope she’ll apologize to Stephane Dion and correct the record here. It would be the right thing to do.

It may just be a knee-jerk NDP reaction, to reflexively attack anything and everything the Liberals do, facts be dammed, while ignoring the real, common enemy. I’d like to hope though that, on an issue as important as child poverty, we can have a real debate, not just glib partisan mudslinging like these comments from Peggy and the NDP.

The ball is in her court.

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Steve V said...

Good post Jeff.

"children living in poverty, according to Statistics Canada, dropped from 1,157,000 in 1993 to 788,000 in 2003."

Just to add to those numbers, it is actually better if you factor in the population growth during those 10 years (10%).

None of this takes away from the fact that a real problem exists, but you can't makeup figures to suit your partisan needs.

northwestern_lad said...

Okay Jeff, a couple of points on your post. First of all, to say that Mr. Dion's plan has been so well received is a stretch on your part as well.

Secondly, Ms. Nash's comments are on the mark because the Liberals pledged to eliminate Child Poverty by 2000( and at the time of the goal being missed, there were over 500,000 more children living below the poverty line. Those are concrete facts that no amount of promises (especially ones with no details on how they are going to achieve the promise goals) can undo. These are not made up stats.

Even if I take your stats, I would respectfully submit that 11.7% is not 0%, which is what was promised. That makes it a broken promise, and is why the Liberals have a weak record on this.

torlander said...

Lad, your post is just as disingenuous as Peggy's comment.

The plan was very well recived.

For example, Campaign2000's (the country's leading child poverty group) issued a release praising it. They say: “We have called on all federal parties to commit to a minimum target for reducing child poverty, so we’re very pleased to hear St├ęphane Dion respond with a bold commitment to a 50% reduction over 5 years,” said Ann Decter, National Coordinator of Campaign 2000. “He is most welcome to join us in the long war on poverty.” The release is here:

Or the Caledon institute (One of the country's top social policy thinktanks) who said:

"The Caledon Institute of Social Policy applauds Liberal leader St├ęphane Dion’s November 9, 2007 speech laying out his party’s poverty reduction strategy."
See the post here:

So... umm... yes, it was VERY well recived. It was well recived because there are specific measures in the speech (a quick scan reveals improvements to the child tax benifit, child tax credit, a making work pay benifit, GIS and probably some others) which will substantially reduce poverty.

If you want to have an honest debate on the facts, then you really shouldn't change the subject. Ms. Nash said that poverty rates went up while the Liberals were in power. Stats Canada says they went down. That is the problem with Ms. Nash's commments.

This all shows that the NDP approach is not grounded in the reality of the lives of the poor but rather in the politics of attackiing Liberals, and ignoring Mr Harper. They need to stop politicising poverty and start fighting it.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Cam, if Peggy had said something like "the Liberals had promised to eliminate child poverty and they didn't" then she would be correct in saying that.

But she didn't say that. What she said was "Child poverty has increased in this country while we had Liberal majority governments and surplus budgets..."

That's what she said. And that's not true, as the stats show.

Cliff said...

Child poverty has increased in this country while we had Liberal majority governments and surplus budgets so I think Mr. Dion has a credibility gap on this," she said.

In fact, true. Child poverty was at 14.4% in 1989 and at 21.1% in 1996, before, yes, it began to drop, but still missing the the Liberals own schedule targets. Peggy Nash's point that it rose under the Liberals is in fact true. Should she have appended that the rates finally began to drop in the later years of Liberal government? Sure, but she was accurate nonetheless. It isn't just a number exercise either. The NDP and others criticized the Liberal government for not acing fast enough or strongly enough as those numbers rose for years. At the end of the period the numbers were only marginally better than at the beginning because they spiked in the middle.

There's an argument to be made that the eventual drops in child poverty numbers could have happened sooner and been deeper with greater commitment to achieving them.

Getting back to the 'well received' argument, the Caledon institute gave their approval to the focus on poverty while disagreeing strongly with the targets and the means to achieve them. It's disingenuous to claim their support without mentioning that.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Really Cliff, that's a very tight parsing of Peggy's words that, at best, would leave the impression she, if not lying, was trying to mislead. As the fact is, child poverty was substantially lower when we left office then when we entered. Indeed, if you use the 21.1 figure as the high point, the decline by the time we left office is even greater.

The clear intent of her comments is to leave the impression the situation was worse when we left then when we entered, when indeed the opposite is true.

However, if you want to very tightly parse her words that's fine, but you didn't do it accurately. You ignored one part of her quote, which you did reproduce. I'll bold the appropriate passage:

Child poverty has increased in this country while we had Liberal majority governments and surplus budgets

Now, your numbers have an increase from 1989 to 1996, and declining thereafter. The budget wasn't balanced (and surpluses achieved) until 1998, two years after the decline began.

Therefore, as your own numbers show, Peggy's statement that Child poverty has increased in this country while we had Liberal majority governments and surplus governments is clearly false.

During the period of both Liberal majorities and surpluses, the rate declined.

Cliff said...

And you're parsing the Caledon support for Dion's plan very narrowly, focussing on their support for the Liberals paying the issue any attention at all and glossing over their substantial and substantive criticism of the proposed solutions.

Putting politics ahead of the facts?

A BCer in Toronto said...

I didn't parse Caldeon. I just didn't even mention Caldeon. That was another commenter.

I never said everyone liked the Liberal plan. I said it was well received. Obviously, not everyone liked it. In the comments thread various reactions pro and con have been presented.

Having addressed this tangential point, how about you now address the fact that, even by your own stats, Peggy was still wrong?

Dr. Tux said...


Thanks for posting the Caledon response to the poverty reduction plan. Bringing substantive criticisms into the debate is most welcome.

I don't know what kind of response the liberal party has given to the Caledon report, but I think it's fair to point out that the plan released so far is only a sneak peak.

My suggestion would be to bring this up with some of those currently writing the liberal platform, including Bob Rae.

Again, thanks.

rob said...

I think this might be the thing that bugs me most about the NDP. They claim to be the party of high principles, but they don't act in a principled manner.

canuckistanian said...

great post, but i have to say i'm slightly disapointed...i was hoping to read a crazy angry rant from that nutter jan. i think the libs should adopt cliff's numbers: cut child poverty from 21% to 11.7% ;-)

Mushroom said...


Jan is not a nutter.

She is just an enthusiastic supporter of the NDP.

My attitude towards enthusiastic supporters is this. He/she who claps the loudest do not necessarily laughs the best.