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Liberal MLA Dalton catches flack over poverty comments

Marc Dalton is the B.C. Liberal MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission. - The News/Files
Marc Dalton is the B.C. Liberal MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission.
— image credit: The News/Files

The MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission wants his constituents to know he cares about poor people following criticism over a statement made last week about poverty in B.C.

Marc Dalton was commenting on an opposition member’s April 7 motion for the province to consider work being done in other jurisdictions to reduce poverty.

His retort, however, became the subject of a debate on a morning radio talk show, which characterized them as “off-base.”

Dalton’s comments have since been featured in a clip on YouTube.

Anthony Cross (@Crosskost) took to Twitter, asking Dalton: “So there’s is no poverty in Maple Ridge, does the city agree?”

Dalton began his remarks in the legislature by saying B.C. is on the right track to reducing poverty. He went on to relate how he had spent time with a church organization in a poor Central American country – a place where he slept in a hammock, where children were barefoot and the occasional chicken and piglet ran around the house.

“But I noticed that people in these villages were just as happy as people in North America. It really made me realize that happiness does not consist of an abundance of things. Not that things are bad, and we certainly want people’s material comfort to increase, but life is more than that.”

Dalton went on to define poverty, referencing Wikipedia, as focusing on “absolute poverty” in particular, which refers to the deprivation of basic human needs – food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care and education.

Dalton explained that those needs are mostly met in a wealthy nation like Canada.

We have clean water, Dalton noted. As for clothing, there are half a dozen thrift stores in Maple Ridge providing clothes at low-cost or no cost to the needy.

When it comes to shelter, Dalton said, children on the street are a rare occurrence.

“I have not met children starving in British Columbia in the past 50-some years. If they were, then I think that would be, normally, willful or criminal negligence,” said Dalton.

He does not want his comments to be construed as uninformed or not recognizing the tremendous needs of many people.

“People are important to me. I have compassion for their situation,” Dalton said when asked to clarify his remarks.

He added that organizations such as food banks and the local Salvation Army, coupled with government support, stop people from reaching “absolute” poverty.

“I see it important for me and my staff to connect people with those supports,” said Dalton.

“I don’t want constituents to think I’m oblivious to what’s happening. There’s no doubt that it’s hard.”

Dalton’s remarks in the legislature were immediately criticized by New Democrats.

“I find the last speaker unbelievable when it comes to knowing about the reality of poverty in British Columbia,” said Carole James, NDP MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill.

“I would like the Honourable Member who just spoke to come and speak to the mother who is living in a car with her children in my community — to tell them that there isn’t poverty in British Columbia. There is huge poverty in British Columbia, and this government has ignored it. It’s long past time to deal with it.”

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