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No medals for Gordon Campbell on child poverty

How is it possible that the "best place on Earth" is also the worst province in Canada for child poverty five years in a row?

How is it possible that Premier Gordon Campbell can give out thousands of gold medals with his own name arrogantly stamped across the face to construction workers on multimillion-dollar provincial projects while one in five children live in deprivation?

And how is it possible that a government spends millions on feel- good television ads about how wonderful this province is, while thousands of homeless walk the streets?

Welcome to British Columbia, where medals are given out to mystified workers by an oblivious premier who ignores the obvious despair in every city.

On Friday, two stories made the news - contradictory stories that deserved to be connected.

The first, a devastating report that found B.C.'s child poverty rate is 21.9 per cent, the highest rate in Canada for the fifth year in a row.

The second, a provincial program uncovered by the New Democratic Party opposition where more than 2,000 gold medals worth about $15 each and inscribed "Presented by Premier Gordon Campbell" are being given to construction workers on infrastructure projects.

The child poverty report from First Call, Campaign 2000 and the Social Planning and Research Council showed that in 2006, the most recent year with statistics available, there were an estimated 181,000 poor children in B.C.

That's more than the combined total populations of Nan-aimo, Prince George and Cranbrook.

And B.C. is the only province with a higher child poverty rate in 2006 than in 1997, even though federal and provincial child benefits have increased.

Astonishingly, the richest families with children had an income of $201,490 in 2006, an increase of $47,591 since 1989, while the poorest families with kids actually saw their income drop during the same period, to $15,657 from $16,966.

Then there's the government's self-promotional ad campaigns - which the B.C. Liberals steadfastly refuse to release the budget for but can safely be estimated to cost millions.

That money could be put to far better use finding a warm, safe bed for the 40,000 people who were turned away from shelters in Metro Vancouver between April and December of 2007 - because there was no room for them.

A staggering 16,000 of the turnaways were women and children who could not be accommodated at the region's 36 shelters.

It is a dark shadow indeed that has been cast on a premier who gives out gold medals in his own name while letting kids go hungry on the streets of our province, which he ironically pays to advertise as "the best place on Earth."

Bill Tieleman writes for 24 Hours.

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