I was watching the historic handshake between Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist leader, Ian Paisley, and former IRA chief Martin McGuinness on the CBC yesterday, when I turned to my wife and said, "This would never have happened without the Celtic Tiger."
"What do you mean?" she asked, as the CBC reporter recounted the widespread applause afforded to outgoing British PM Tony Blair, who has been widely credited with plotting Ireland's path to peace.
"If Ireland had not successfully tackled issues like poverty and made such huge economic reforms," I explained, "I doubt we'd be seeing these two enemies side by side. No nation can have peace unless the foundation of its society is firm."
Ireland's economic miracle has been widely reported as has its decade long struggle against poverty. For Ireland these were not incidental, or even optional issues to address.
What the Irish people recognized, as they set out to tackle these thorny affairs, was that economic mediocrity and abject poverty had become as ingrained into the image of the Irish as a pint of Guinness or a dancing lepricorn.
As we have often explained here on RTH, Ireland realized that a tarnished image was detrimental to the country's success and that the only way to change the image was to change the reality.
The Toronto Star continued its series on poverty this week with a look at the latest StatsCan report on income disparity. "The latest income figures released by Statistics Canada last week show 788,000 children were living in poverty in 2005, a rate of 11.7 per cent."
Today's paper covered the recent forum on Poverty, which featured Bob Rae as guest speaker.
"Income inequality is the second inconvenient truth in our society," opined Armine Yalnizyan, a research director of the Toronto Social Planning Council.
Ireland developed a mutli-pronged approach to tacking its deep routed low income issues, and set out to achieve the following goals:
As the 1997 Irish National Anti-Poverty ten-year Strategy winds to a close, most reports agree that these goals have been largely achieved.
So what is Canada doing to shore up its social foundation? Well, here in Ontario, the provincial government at least seems to have the issue on the radar:
"Last month's provincial budget put poverty reduction on the agenda with a new Ontario child benefit for all children in low-income families - not just those on welfare. And it outlined a plan for raising the minimum wage to $10.25 by 2010, from $8 today," reports the Star.
But country wide there seems to be a more disparate approach. "Quebec has had anti-poverty legislation since 2002.
Newfoundland last spring announced a strategy to become the province with the lowest poverty rate by 2016."
While these measures are all welcome, it's clear that a national strategy is required. And it's clear that unless Canada makes some serious commitments to address this crisis, our country will never, truly be at peace.