When Industry Minister James Moore told a reporter, with a chuckle, that it wasn't his responsibility to worry about hungry kids in his neighbourhood, he was revealing a philosophy that runs deep in the Conservative government.
Moore's apology aside (after attacking the journalist who broke the story), conservative ideology places individualism above community, meaning there is no responsibility of the state for the public good.
Here are 5 examples of Conservative approaches to pressing social issues that are about letting people fend for themselves, or, as Moore said, "Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so."
1. Pensions (What about 'em?)
Even though all the stats show people don't have money at the end of every month to invest in private retirement plans, the Conservatives won't expand the Canada Pension Plan to address a pension crisis. Nevermind that "most knowledgeable pension experts have reached the conclusion that expanding CPP benefits would be an important advance in social policy."
But that doesn't fit into this "you're on your own" attitude. The Conservative government prefers to talk about Tax-Free Savings Accounts and RRSPs, emphasizing how people aren't saving enough. They don't talk about how Canada has the highest private investment fees in the developed world (on average five times those of the CPP costs), and we can double CPP pension benefits by saving less than 3% more of our salaries.
2. Child care
Why build a national child care program with pooled resources that help give every child a leg-up before they start school when you can throw a little bit of cash to individual families to fend for themselves? The Conservatives' child tax benefit does exactly that. The $100 monthly payment to families with children under the age of 6 covers just a handful of days of child care every month.
3. Unemployment support
If you don't buy into the concept of collective solutions to labour market problems, it follows that your instinct is to bring in tougher Employment Insurance rules that hurt unemployed workers and cut off people in need. In Canada today, that means fewer than four in 10 unemployed Canadians get regular EI benefits, the lowest rate of protection for the unemployed since 1944.
4. Workers' rights
Extending the "you're on your own" mantra into the workplace means doing what you can to make it harder for unions to bargain collectively so they can fight for fair wages. Drawing inspiration from Tim Hudak's conservatives in Ontario, the Conservative Party of Canada adopted policies this year that call for an end to mandatory union membership and an opt-out provision of dues because unions "limit the economic freedom of Canadians and stifle economic growth."
5. Non-Governmental Organizations
Conservative cuts to non-government organizations that fight for equity for disenfranchised groups have a huge impact on national conversations about public policy. Not surprisingly, groups that measure inequality or promote collective responses to tackle poverty and other social problems have endured the biggest cuts. They include: the National Council of Welfare; the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, KAIROS, First Nations Statistical Institute and the National Centre for First Nations Governance.
Bottom line: The Conservative government's instinct is to dismantle the state through tax cuts rather than use revenues to invest and solve big problems. That way, the federal cupboard is bare to solve problems collectively.
This could be why Stephen Harper, back in 1997, dismissed the resolution in the House of Commons, authored by Ed Broadbent and passed unanimously in 1989, to eradicate child poverty by 2000 as pure foolishness:
"I think the 1989 resolution you talk about, probably was the high water mark of political stupidity in this country."
That's Moore's apology in context.
Photo: stevecorey. Used under a Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0 licence.