Tuesday January 23, 2007
By BILL TIELEMAN
If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
- John F. Kennedy, Jan. 20, 1961
Here's a simple question: If you were in charge of the B.C. government would you spend $25 million to help the homeless or would you instead give that money to millionaires?
The answer, if you are B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell, is obvious - the millionaires get it.
And that's exactly what Campbell and Finance Minister Carole Taylor have done, with surprisingly little reaction.
Taylor announced this month that the threshold for receiving the annual homeowner grant to reduce property taxes would be raised to $950,000, a full $170,000 more than in 2006. In other words, you can own a house worth nearly a million bucks and still have the government give you $570 - or $845 if you are 65 or older.
Taylor and Campbell's generosity means 41,000 people with valuable properties who would have received no grant or a reduced one will now get the whole enchilada.
Meanwhile, more than 2,000 homeless wandering the streets of Vancouver alone can politely beg for chump change or scavenge bottles for nickels and dimes.
Doesn't this strike anyone as a completely absurd set of priorities?
And don't worry about "house-rich" seniors who allegedly can't pay their property tax bills - the province also underwrites a tax deferment program that allows cash-strapped home owners over 60 years old to put off tax payments till their property is sold or transferred.
Over 11,000 B.C. seniors benefit from this subsidized program, which currently charges a below-market rate of four per cent interest on deferred taxes.
The Carnegie Community Action Project is about the only group outraged by the government's decision.
"The province is revealing their ignorance or their priorities by not coming up with a detailed plan to end homelessness," CCAP's Wendy Pedersen told 24 hours. "It's a matter of life and death. Millionaires are not suffering."
Pedersen estimates the value of the threshold change to be about $25 million.
But this well-heeled government really doesn't care. After all, when Campbell said in October that the shelter allowance for people on income assistance would finally go up he also said it wouldn't happen until February's budget.
That left those on welfare trying to find shelter for as little as $325 a month for another five months of winter - and with no promise the increase will be significant.
Campbell said then of homelessness that: "The situation we see in our streets today is not acceptable." "But he's done nothing to deal with it.
However when it comes to Campbell helping out homeowners who are getting richer and richer as property values soar, he can't act soon enough.