time to ask questions

Yesterday at the beginning of my Yukon Teacher's Association Conference workshop entitled Responding to Global Challenges: Disasters to Development I gave a pop quiz.

Yesterday at the beginning of my Yukon Teacher’s Association Conference workshop entitled Responding to Global Challenges: Disasters to Development I gave a pop quiz. Teachers do this all the time to their poor, unsuspecting students so I figured that this was fair turn about. The multiple choice exam, I hoped, would set the stage for our conversation.

The first two questions read:

1) On a wealth scale the bottom half of the world’s adult population controls what percentage of global assets?

a) 1% b) 5% c) 10 per cent d) 25%

2) World military expenditures topped what figure in 2010?

a) $1.6 trillion b) $575 billion c) $2.1 trillion d) $750 billion

Question #8 continued the test with:

8) The Canada’s Gross Domestic Product per capita is how many times greater than Burundi’s or the Congo’s?

a) 130 times b) 10 times c) 55 times d) 34 times

The answers to these questions came, respectively, from the World Institute for Development Economics Research at the United Nations University, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the CIA World Factbook! If put (a) as your answers to all the questions you were correct.

The questions sparked the desired discussion. This was the point of the exercise. When we normally talk about responding to disasters or meeting the development challenges of the neediest in the world do we really address the core issues? Aren’t figures on the gross disparity and distorted military expenditures pointing us to other questions? Do those next questions possibly drawing us uncomfortably closer to the heart of the matter and what our response has to be?

We don’t have to go far afield to see the impact of these trend lines alluded to by my quiz questions. In a Financial Post article by Eric Lam a week and a half ago, “Anne Golden, chief executive with the Conference Board, said the Canadian rich-poor income gap is among the fastest growing in the world since the mid-1990s.

Even though the US currently has the largest rich-poor income gap among these countries, the gap in Canada has been rising at a faster rate,” she said in a release. “High inequality both raises a moral question about fairness and can contribute to social tensions.”

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) reported in August that “the richest 20 per cent of Canadians took home a whopping 44.2 per cent of total after-tax income – in stark contrast to the poorest 20 per cent whose after-tax income share was only 4.9 per cent.” Expect to hear more on this subject during the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition’s Poverty and Homelessness Awareness Week in mid-October when CCPA’s Senior Economist, Armine Yalnizyan, comes to Whitehorse as the keynote speaker.

It certainly time to ask uncomfortable questions. How can we possibly find our collective way out of the mounting host of crises we find ourselves in globally by just doing same as we have done for years? Maybe we have to begin the process by asking ourselves how we can be more by having less.

Sometimes maybe the best answer for the stumping politician to a question is simply. “I don’t know.” This is, of course, ideally would be followed by their demonstrating a willingness to work with others, listening to contrary points of view, really digging into the matter find out what indeed are the root causes and framing policy alternatives based on these conclusions.

‘Growing the economy’ cannot be the one-answer-solves-all kind of response any more either nationally or globally. This approach is certainly not true in light of the rapidly surging gap between rich and poor that this current economic downturn has exacerbated. Also security in these difficult times will not come out of the barrel of a gun, no matter how expensive the weapon is.

Father Paul Hansen C.Ss.R, past Chair of the Board of KAIROS (2004-2008) the ecumenical social justice coalition at the centre of the funding controversy last year with the Harper government, speaks at CYO Hall 4th and Steele Street in Whitehorse on Monday, September 26th at 7 p.m. His talk is entitled Reference Letter from the Poor Required.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

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