Air Welfare North must fly slowly

Kamloops Daily News
March 17, 2012 01:00 AM

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon let it slip to reporters in Kamloops Monday.

Four days later, the idea of flying people on welfare to northern B.C. for work hit the front page of the Vancouver Sun.

From Falcon's comments thus far, first made at a Kamloops Chamber function, the program doesn't appear to be workfare - forcing people on welfare to work in order to collect benefit cheques.

The finance minister, along with Minister of Social Development Stephanie Cadieux, both stated that single, employable people collecting benefits won't be forced into the program.

On the face of it, the idea has merit. But B.C. has a long history of tinkering with social assistance, some with a helping hand, some with a hammer.

Bill Vander Zalm is notable today as the champion of the anti-HST protest that killed the tax and humbled the government. But in the late 1970s - a more socialist time in B.C.'s history, despite the Social Credit government of the day - the then-human resources minister pondered forcing people on welfare to pick up shovels and get to work.

That spawned an infamous cartoon of a cruel Vander Zalm picking wings off a fly, which led to court action and battles over freedom of the press. (Next time you see Vander Zalm in an editorial cartoon, look for the flies).

The NDP government of the 1990s made efforts to reduce bulging welfare roles. When Gordon Campbell became premier in 2001, the B.C. Liberal government began aggressively paring the numbers by reducing eligibility.

A decade later, the government is again looking at welfare numbers, contrasting it with a shortage of workers in the north.

But experts in the field caution while it's easy to do the math - the cost of welfare benefits may pay for training, for example - there are reasons why so-called employable people are stuck on welfare: addictions, poor work records, and difficulties in learning are just three.

But there may be people collecting welfare in southern B.C. who have hidden desires and abilities, just waiting for the right opportunity.

Any successful program for Air Welfare North must identify the right people at the start and provide extra life skills and support. Throwing people collecting welfare who have inadequate life skills directly into training and then flying them up north is sure to fail without a lot of handholding along the way.

The north is a wonderful part of the province with unparalleled outdoors opportunities, welcoming communities and jobs looking for people. But it needs the right people, something government must keep in mind before setting targets and letting human beings fail.


© Kamloops Daily News

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