Clark needs to add to federal Canada Child Benefit initiative

All hail the feds.

Now it’s B.C.’s turn.

If we are going to build a sustainable economy, one that not only prospers at the successful end but also reduces the impediments at the struggling end, families need to always feel their feet are secure as they ascend the steep ladder.

The federal message had been wavering until recently, a blur of falling-short benefits that were more about cheques in the mail than checks on the status of the national family economics.

A rump of the previous ruling party was unconvinced of the efficacy of support, and even though it is fair to credit the former prime minister with resisting the harshest of the mistreatment, it would be difficult to mount an argument that these were good times for those in bad straits.

It was redeeming and reminiscent of the country we generally love, then, to see the new Canada Child Benefit hitting the bank accounts last week – a single benefit rolling into it the earlier pastiche of benefits, significantly bolstered, a difference-maker for lower- and even middle-income families.

Numbers can tell any number of stories, but you have to like the headline riffs: nine of 10 families given more, an average boost of $200 a month, those with household incomes north of $150k getting less, all of the benefits tax-free and not subject to the nasty clawback.

Face it, even with free Pokemon Go occupying 20 hours of their time each week at the moment, children are expensive to raise.

The Trudeau government has devalued the word priority in its time in office – pretty much everything it does or plans carries the term – but it is deserving of credit where credit is due for its application of the p-word properly here and getting the job done inside the term of a pregnancy and not the term of an electoral mandate.

Are there problems with it? Well, far be it from me as a journalist not to note them:

•The benefit-to-income curve might be better with more support at the bottom and less at the top.

•There are concerns that many First Nations families do not file tax returns and therefore won’t receive the support.

•The payments themselves could have been indexed to at least meet the general inflation that tends to be even lower than what a lower-income household might face.

•The framework to pinpoint the size of the support is bound to be rendered calamitous when couples head into divorce and have to blend parental and governmental child support.

Given that we created a Constitution on the back of a napkin, we can certainly create a strong system of opportunity for families with repeated reflection working off the back of the new system. So, keep at it.

But inasmuch as a core strength of the last Liberal campaign was on injecting funds into families, it isn’t nearly as apparent that the next Liberal campaign – provincial, not federal now – will be similarly structured.

Justin has served up a strong main course. Christy could now simply bring the dessert. But little in the early signs of the provincial campaign alludes to a meal in the making.

Instead, the provincial welfare rates are somewhat grudgingly being advanced this fall after nine years. The minimum wage is growing at glacial speed, almost a consignment to poverty in this city particularly.

The public education system appears more of a nuisance than a virtue these days to the province.

Child care is a ping-pong ball of policy between Victoria and Ottawa, with no end of the game in sight.

Maybe the realpolitik here is that the BC Liberals believe this isn’t their base and isn’t a base they can make theirs. Their appeal appears to be the offering of hope – in megaprojects, in giant infrastructural investment – instead of cash in the jeans to elevate anyone’s economic fortunes.

In their shoes, I might worry that the rookie in Ottawa schools the veteran in Victoria on how to fortify not only economic opportunity but political sustainability. 

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development