Official report of Debates of the Legislative Assembly (Hansard)

Private Members’ Motions
Morning Sitting, Volume 12, Number 6

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S. Simpson: I move the following motion.

Be it resolved that this House discuss and debate that the BC Government should immediately develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy….

[L. Reid in the chair.]

At the last estimate there are about a half a million British Columbians today who live in poverty based on the federal standard, the low-income cutoff. Of those, about 140,000 are children. I would also point out that these are 2007 numbers, the last year that these statistics were available for. ….

What we know is that more than half of the people who live in poverty in this province today have a full-time income coming into their homes, but because of the levels of minimum wage, because of the levels of those incomes, people continue to live in poverty….

The cost of poverty is substantial. …

The other thing we know, when we look at British Columbia and the situation here, is that the National Council of Welfare, a federal non-profit organization that advises the federal government on issues related to welfare, has looked at this question of poverty across the country.

When they looked across the country, they determined that eight provinces in this country have succeeded in reducing their poverty rates…. “Eight provinces reached record low poverty rates in 2007. Only Ontario and British Columbia did not.”

This report also showed that no matter what standard you use, British Columbia has the highest poverty rates and has continually had the highest poverty rates in Canada, based on the work of the National Council of Welfare. They look at that whether it be the low-income cutoff or using the market basket measure. No matter which measurement you use, British Columbia has the highest levels of poverty in this country….

It’s time for us in this province to move forward, to put a poverty reduction strategy in place, to join the six other provinces in this country that are moving ahead with poverty reduction strategies — provinces from across the political spectrum. It’s time that we had a comprehensive plan that deals with housing, with child care, with training and with income levels….

N. Simons: I am pleased to add my support to the motion presented by my colleague calling for the government to establish a comprehensive child poverty reduction plan with targets and timelines, achievable outcomes, measurable outcomes so that we can look at the success or failure of the programs that we’re engaged in.

Now, we often hear about the statistics — how many children, what it represents, how many families live in poverty — and we really should remind ourselves that it’s not just a statistic. We’re talking about little children …if they happen to be living in poverty, they can see that their government has done nothing to address that in any comprehensive way.

The members opposite speak of various programs. Some of them are good programs. Most of the ones mentioned have been significantly cut recently. They all are programs that have been in place in one way or another for the past six years, yet we see six years of being the first in this country in terms of child poverty….

What is it that this government has against a comprehensive plan when it comes to addressing child poverty? Why is it? Is it because their failures are going to be enumerated for the public to see? Perhaps.

But I think that the goal at the end of the day is more important than this government saving face on their failure. It’s about children — children who are going to school hungry, children who are going to school unable to be properly supported in that environment, children who are going to school without access to programs that other children have because their parents don’t have the extra cost, with clothing and nutrition below the standard. We know what those outcomes are….

M. Elmore: I am very pleased to rise and speak in favour of my colleague calling for the province to adopt and implement a poverty reduction strategy. …

I just want to address one aspect in terms of…. Okay, how do we gauge and how do we measure the levels of poverty in the province? One of the measures is conducted by a study by the human early learning partnership at UBC measuring the rates of vulnerability in students, particularly their readiness going into kindergarten — the vulnerability rates. The study concluded that there is a rate of 29 percent of vulnerability in young children entering kindergarten — that they actually weren’t ready in terms of all the developmental aspects to be able to fully participate in kindergarten.

That’s certainly a concern, and the target laid out by the government is for a 15-by-15 — to lower the vulnerability rate to 15 percent by 2015. That’s certainly a worthy goal.

…. I want to address two main issues: one, to reduce poverty for those children and families who experience that vulnerability, early vulnerability problems, by ensuring that our investment in early childhood development, early learning and child care — that there is a comprehensive system that families can access, a system that provides for child care spaces and quality early learning, and parents can feel comfortable leaving their kids there.

In particular, I think what the shortage is in B.C. is the need for working families to have access to these spaces and for families, working parents, particularly working mothers who disproportionately are in the records of experiencing the highest poverty rates…. The support for those families in terms of being able to access the workforce and being able to support their families — that’s a necessity.

The benefits, as well, in terms of a comprehensive investment in early learning…. The scale that the report talks about is a significant investment of several billion dollars a year. The benefits would be to support children at these early years, zero to six — has found that those are the critical years in terms of optimal investment and development for children in terms of their psychological, social and intellectual development to enable them to really progress through school, to graduate and to be successful as well in pursue post-secondary studies, and that that is the best start in life.

It’s a benefit not only to children and support for families, but there is also a benefit to our economy in terms of increased productivity with that investment in those kids and the concept of investing in human capital or investing in people. Those early years are a fundamental window in terms of when government public policy can be most effective. So in terms of a comprehensive early learning and child care system, that’s important.

Providing that support not only for working families but also in terms of public policy to increase the maternity and also paternity leaves for parents to spend more quality time with their families….

I think those are the aspects that are important. I speak in favour of a universal, accessible, affordable and quality child care system. … We actually rank lowest in terms of our investment in early child care and early learning relative to the other OECD countries. So relative to the western industrialized countries, I think we have a long way to go.

In terms of who we’re talking about — families, particularly disproportionately affected by poverty; children; aboriginal children, aboriginal families; new immigrants; families who have children with disabilities…. These are the families, I think, that we need to target. We need to support and enable them and enable these kids — certainly the future of our province — the best start.

D. Thorne: It’s truly a pleasure for me to rise today and support the poverty reduction plan motion. …

These are the priority areas, with targets and timelines of two years, four years, six years, ten years — so simple, so easy: provide adequate and accessible income support for the non-employed; improve the earnings and working conditions of those in the low-wage workforce — and we all know that’s the lowest-wage workforce in Canada again this year, year after year after year, to our shame and to my personal disgust; improve food security for low-income individuals and families; address homelessness; adopt a comprehensive, affordable housing and supportive housing plan.

I don’t mean willy-nilly. … “We’ll do something here; we’ll do something there.” They mean a plan — targets and timelines and measurable outcomes.

No. 5: provide universal, publicly afforded child care. Now, Madam Speaker, I’m going to stop on that one because I know that the Speaker herself is very interested in this topic, and I know that the member from West Vancouver talks about the great gains that have been made in child care.

Well, I’d like to quote, from 2007, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce — not a known official opposition group, as we all know — which says: “B.C. has chosen not to prioritize child care. The cost of this decision is having an enormous negative-quality impact on the ability of B.C. business to both attract women, young families and skilled workers in general to the workforce.”

So the B.C. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t agree with the government of British Columbia that they have prioritized child care, and they’re obviously very concerned about it in terms of the economy, something I believe the government believes it has a bit of a halo around, unlike…. You know, they say that we couldn’t run a peanut stand. Well, I’m beginning to think the shoe should be on the other foot….

I’d just like to finish with one comment by the Premier’s own Progress Board, the ninth report, which ranked B.C. eighth out of ten for social condition. It’s eight out of ten — dropped two places from sixth-place ranking the year before — on the social condition measure that’s based on the percentage of families with incomes below the after-tax low-income cutoff and on birth rates, personal property crime, etc.

This is the government’s own Progress Board. If you can’t listen to the opposition, if you can’t listen to the 299 hands-on workers who know the people we’re talking about, for goodness’ sake, I expect this government to listen to the progress report that they appointed.