Coalition demands politicians reveal poverty plans; Anti-poverty groups want all parties to outline plans before May 14 election

Mike Howell, Vancouver Courier

With a provincial election looming, a broad-based coalition of advocates from sectors including health care, welfare and child care is challenging the province’s four mainstream parties to outline a “poverty reduction plan” for B.C. before voters go to the polls in May.

The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, which says it represents more than 375 organizations in the province, issued its challenge Tuesday and requested the Liberals, NDP, Conservatives and Green Party address seven policy areas with legislated targets and timelines.

The coalition wants to know whether parties will increase welfare rates and the minimum wage, build more social housing, adopt a $10 per day child care plan and increase funding for education and seniors, among other issues facing residents living in poverty.

Coalition co-chair Seth Klein of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives acknowledged the ambitious challenge to parties but said such areas as welfare rates, which have been frozen since 2007, should be increased immediately.

“It might take a little bit of time to actually get the plan in place but people are hurting and they’ve been waiting a long time, and there’s got to be some demonstration of good faith right out of the gate,” said Klein…

If all demands requested by the coalition were implemented, with child care and housing being the most expensive, the cost could reach $4 billion over several years, Klein added.

The coalition says basic necessities of housing and food are out of reach for many residents, with more than half a million people living below the poverty line and 87,000 of those are children.

First Call BC, a child and youth advocacy coalition of more than 90 provincial organizations, issued a report in November 2012 showing B.C. has the second highest child poverty rate in Canada….

Stephanie Cadieux, the provincial minister of Children and Family Development, said the B.C. government has a plan to reduce poverty in the province but it is not referred to in name….

Cadieux credited the decrease to a number of initiatives by the government, including raising the minimum wage, providing social housing for more than 97,000 people, increasing child care subsidies, implementing earning exemption changes for welfare recipients and ensuring more than one million residents receive MSP subsidies and that another 800,000 don’t pay any MSP premiums.

In anticipation of what government would say about its record on poverty, Adrienne Montani, a former school trustee and current member of First Call and the coalition, said: “They’ll tell you almost one million families are getting MSP premium assistance, which means almost one million families earn less than $30,000 a year. And then they’ll say, with great pride, that 800,000 of those get full premium assistance, which means they make less than $22,000 a year. So that’s like boasting about poverty.”

The coalition plans to release the parties answers to their questions about poverty before the May 14 provincial election.