The smell of sulphur

Take a deep breath, now slowly exhale and let’s go over it once again. The trillion dollars spent annually on arms worldwide doesn’t…

Take a deep breath, now slowly exhale and let’s go over it once again.

The trillion dollars spent annually on arms worldwide doesn’t make the world a more secure, safe place to live.

Equality oriented public spending on basic necessities, like housing, health care, education and social development, do just that.

The real safety and security they provide, of course, allow businesses as well as children to grow.

Does Treasury Board Minister John Baird really get it when, with a straight face, he said last Monday, “We are trimming the fat and refocusing spending on the priorities of Canadians.”

Federal government cuts to health, social development partnerships, women’s initiatives, legal assistance, etc., strongly suggest some basic lessons in Canadian social history and fiscal responsibility need to be reviewed.

On Wednesday, Michael Shapcott, a housing and homelessness policy expert with the Toronto-based Wellesley Institute, reminded Toronto Star readers of the landmark social campaign in the early part of the last century by Toronto’s then-medical health officer Dr. Charles Hastings.

He sought to improve the appalling conditions for that city’s slum dwellers.

Hasting’s 1918 analysis was very blunt and worthy of review by today’s fiscal reformers: “Every nation that permits people to remain under fetters of preventable disease and permits social conditions to exist that make it impossible for them to be properly fed, clothed and housed so as to maintain a high degree of resistance and physical fitness, and, who endorses a wage that does not afford sufficient revenue for the home, a revenue that will make possible development of a sound mind and body, is trampling on a primary principle of democracy.”

Hastings knew that poor housing led directly to poor health and early death. He also knew that bad housing created shattered communities.

Shapcott further points to the fiscal side of this social equation when he notes that it “costs at least $10,900 to keep a homeless person in a hospital bed for a month, $4,333 to keep that same person in a jail cell, and $1,932 for a bed in a homeless shelter … the monthly bill for a social housing unit is $199.92.”

Where are our politicians putting — or proposing to put — their priorities?

A week ago, Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, addressed the UN General Assembly.

From the dais, Chavez humorously noted, “This table from where I speak still smells like sulphur. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, in this same hall the President of the United States, who I call ‘The Devil,’ came here talking as if he owned the world.

“As the spokesperson for imperialism, he came to give us his recipes for maintaining the current scheme of domination, exploitation and pillage of the world’s people … They want to impose upon us the democratic model they devised, the false democracy of elites.

“And, moreover, a very original democratic model imposed with explosions, bombings, invasions and cannon shot. That’s some democracy!”

Chavez and Hastings come at the problem from very different directions, but the bottom line is the same.

Get your priorities straight. It should be all about the common good, putting people first.

Dollars, the interests of corporate elites or pursuit of raw power must not occupy the centre of the decision-making equation for our politicians.

Take another deep breath, it is election time.

Time, once again, to slowly and calmly make our views clear to territorial and municipal candidates out on the hustings.

Maybe even an e-letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper at expressing your concern about recent cuts would be worth your time.

Then again, perhaps it isn’t wise to take too deep a breath — there is that acrid tinge of sulphur in the air.

Andrew Caddell, a senior policy adviser on UN and Commonwealth affairs from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, will speak at Yukon College in the Pit during the lunch hour on October 3rd.