Reporter: Catherine Legault
“U.S. government shutdown enters third week with little progress,” “U.S. government shutdown: 2 rivals plan to end it.” These headlines appeared on cbc.ca, but explore any Canadian news outlet and you’ll find many stories about the U.S. government shutdown going back weeks to when the shutdown was merely a possibility.
Parts of the United States government were closed for business on Oct. 1. Almost immediately news spread all over the world. Before the government officially shut down, all ears seemed tuned in to the issues going on in the United States.
Now that weeks have passed since the United States government shut down, reports about the problems Americans are facing are appearing in print and on the air.
The situation south of the border deserves attention. However, Canadians are facing similar situations at home, yet the protests are notably muted.
Take the plight of low-income families for instance. With the U.S. government shut down there is worry that low-income families will face additional difficulties when the federal Women, Infants and Children program runs out of funding.
In 2011 and 2010, three million Canadians lived on a low income. While aid is still available during a prorogued government in Canada, low-income Canadians are still in danger of running out of funds at any time. For example, EI, or Employment Insurance provides additional funding above their regular payments to families based on the age of children and family income. This additional funding is not available if the family net income is over $25, 921.
To put that into perspective, a Statistics Canada report sets the low-income cut-off, also known as the poverty line, for a family of four living in a small city at $30, 945.
Similarly, the aid provided by the Women, Infants and Children program in the U.S. is limited. Support is only available to pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, and children up to age 5. For a family of two to receive the services, their annual income before taxes must be under $28, 694.
These examples show that both federal governments provide aid for struggling families, however both penalize lower to middle income families by locking them out of these aid programs. Neither program is better than the other, but as Canadians shouldn’t we concern ourselves more over the issues faced by Canadian families?
Surely the answer is yes. However, a lack of funding for American families, as with most American issues lately, receives more attention than similar issues facing Canadian families.
The situation in the United States may be temporary, but Canadians’ fascination with problems happening far away is not.
When the Canadian government is prorogued taxes, health care, and other services still function. That doesn’t mean young Canadians should automatically concern themselves more with the “worse” situation abroad. Any time the government puts off meeting and passing bills or laws is disastrous. Canada faces difficulties just like the United States if the government is prorogued.
In 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued government to avoid a non-confidence vote. Our prime minister prorogued the government again in 2013 to reset his government agenda. This killed all bills that had not reached the government by that point. This included a stalled bill intended to reform the senate, a bill that would ban unions and companies from lending money to political parties and candidates, and a bill intended to put restrictions on offenders who cannot be held criminally responsible due to mental illness. In 2013 the United States government was shut down to avoid passing a bill considered unfavourable.
The parallels are there.
When parliament resumes, our MPs will have gone 117 days without sitting in the House of Commons. MPs are still paid when the government is prorogued, just as senators in the United States are receiving pay during the government shutdown.
Yet Canadians barely raise a peep in protest. Meanwhile we gladly focus on the situation of our neighbours to the south.
Rick Mercer, a Canadian comedian well known for his rants concerning Canadian politics, recently railed about the U.S. government shutdown versus the prorogued Canadian parliament. According to Mercer the blame for the prorogation lies with Canadians who do not protest when our prime minister closes the government based on his whims.
The situations in Canada and the United States are not the same. However there are parallels between the two. Both are examples of problems with the government and the decisions of political parties.
If both the Canadian and United States governments are causing problems, Canadians should concentrate on the problems at home where they can exert a significant influence.
The old saying still holds: You can’t help anyone until you’ve helped yourself.