Stop selling hollow chestnuts

I refer to the letter by Mr Eric Brooks that was published by the Straits Times on 8 Aug 2009. Eric suggests that Canadian welfare isn’t very much by comparing the Canadian welfare sum of C$1,106 against a bachelor apartment starting at about C$800 and public transit pass at C$150. To put Eric’s figures into perspective, we compare them against their respective figures in Singapore. According to the Straits Times (19th Feb 2009), a family of four under public assistance gets $950 a month. Weigh that against a median rent of $1,000 (from HDB website) for a 1-room flat and $45 to $190 for an EZ-link season pass and we end up with a situation where Singaporeans isn’t any better off.

Eric emphasises the fact that it is in a prosperous part of Toronto that he gets to see 15 beggars on a five-minute walk to the train station, as though the situation would be worse in the less prosperous parts. I wonder why it should surprise anyone that beggars congregate in a prosperous district. Beggars are not stupid and they know where is the best place to beg. Canada is a big nation, if all the beggars in the nation were to congregate in the prosperous part of Toronto, you would see a lot of beggars indeed.

The fact that Eric doesn’t see any beggars in Singapore doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Every now and then, one would be approached at bus stops and food centres by people asking for money. You would see them sleeping at the void deck or on benches in the park very late in the night or very early in the morning. So whether one encounters them or not depends on the time of the day as well as the housing estate. Eric would encounter more such people if he were to visit the older housing estates very late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. Eric should also realise that his so-called truth is nothing more than personal opinion, coloured by what he saw but lacking in what he does not see.

Eric keeps emphasising homeless beggars freezing to death in the streets of Canada without realising that there are homeless people too in Singapore but they don’t freeze to death because Singapore is located at the Equator, a blessing given not by our government but by Sir Stamford Raffles who saw the gem through our tropical jungles.

Eric blames the homeless situation in Canada on the lack of government or private sector job creation. But job creation is highly dependent on salary levels, because citizens in Canada like most Western nations, enjoy high salaries. So looking at the overall picture, perhaps having high salaries more than compensates for the lack of job creation.

Eric laments that many Canadian citizens are turned down for generous subsidies which are then given to refugees. A similar situation happens in Singapore. Many Singapore citizens are turned down for university places while a substantial number of places are given to foreigners. Eric asks if the Singapore government denies benefits to its citizens while giving them to newly landed foreigners. He should ask the same of the Canadian government. Does the Canadian government not do more for its own people than foreigners? Does foreigners not pay a lot more to study in Canada than Canadians? While it is true that no government is perfect, it is meaningless to only compare the good of one country with the bad of another country. Because when you really consider all the good and the bad together, you would find that there is really not much to boast about.

While the previous letter by Mr Paul Chan specifically referred to Canada’s free education up to the age of 18, Eric has elected to twist the word ‘free’ to include university education as well. Even so, the Canadian government offers grants to students from middle income families, something you would never see in Singapore. Also, at nearly $7,000 a year, university tuition fees in Singapore is more costly than those in Canada. The fees are also out of the pocket and does not include textboooks or residence too.

Eric claims to know of many bright Canadians who would have qualified for full government scholarships had they been born in Singapore. The truth is, every year, many Singaporeans top their university courses overseas including Canada. Many friends from polytechnics who couldn’t get into our local universities end up getting first class honours degrees overseas, including Canada. So I wonder if Singaporeans were given equal opportunity to enrol into top Canadian universities, will we not sweep many of these ‘bright’ Canadians out of their university places.

While Eric laments that the Singaporean perception of Western social benefits is only based on ‘hearsay’, he himself has contributed much ‘say’ which is no different from any other ‘hearsay’ that he is referring to. On what basis does Eric brush off coffee-shop talk when one could be talking to another Canadian in a coffee shop? On what basis does Eric brush off foreign press statements while embracing the local ones? While he urges Singaporeans to compare ground level social conditions with those of the West, he must not forget that they are merely based on his personal observations which may not be representative of the overall picture and is thus only as good as any other ‘heresay’.

So comparing Eric’s so-called street level socioeconomic conditions in Canada to those in Singapore suggests that he is really making a mountain out of nothing very much at all indeed.

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