Poverty reduction plans work: Why isn’t B.C. following the rest of Canada having success with this approach

Thelma Obiakor and Trish Garner, B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition; Vancouver Sun

We are one of the most generous provinces in Canada in terms of giving to charity. Yet we have had the highest poverty rate in Canada for the last 13 years. Clearly, our generosity can only go so far. It’s time to try a different approach.

In 2002, Quebec set a precedent in Canada when it enacted legislation for a poverty reduction strategy in the province. Heeding to pressure from community groups, the legislation aimed to combat poverty and social exclusion by turning the province into one of the industrialized nations having the least number of persons living in poverty over a 10-year period. Fast-forward to today and Quebec has cut its poverty rate by 25 per cent. Not only is this approach alleviating the financial struggles of many individuals and families, it is also making money for the province. For every dollar Quebec invests in its $7/day child care system, it recoups $1.05 while Ottawa receives a 44-cent windfall.

Following in Quebec’s footsteps, in 2006, Newfoundland and Labrador developed its own unique poverty reduction strategy. Prior to initiation, Newfoundland shared with B.C. the dubious distinction of having one of the highest poverty rates in the country, but after several years, they have become one of the provinces with the lowest poverty rates in the country, with only 5.3 per cent of the population living in poverty.

Some of this is due to economic growth fuelled by oil production and resource development but provincial and federal income support programs have also played a role in reducing poverty. In 2010 (the latest year for which we have these particular statistics), the child poverty rate in Newfoundland and Labrador using only family market income was 25.7 per cent but was reduced to 12.1 per cent through government transfers.

Looking beyond all the numbers and statistics, a successful poverty reduction strategy is one that makes actual real life improvements in people’s lives. Consider Dawn Marie Harriott, a single mother and resident of Ontario who lost everything when she fled an abusive spouse in 2005. As of 2006, she was on welfare and living in a rooming house. Five years later, she was earning $45,000 and living in a spacious basement apartment. She attributes getting out of poverty to the social support provided to her as part of Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy, such as the increase in the minimum wage in 2010 and the introduction of a child benefit of up to $1,100 a year.

Admittedly, B.C.’s minimum wage was increased last year and now matches Ontario’s at $10.25/hour. This was enough to lift a worker over the poverty line in 2010 when Ontario introduced their increase, but in 2012 when B.C. implemented its raise, it was not. Ontario is currently reviewing its minimum wage legislation while the B.C. government has made no moves to do the same.

Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario are not alone in their fight to tackle poverty directly through a comprehensive, long-term approach. All but two provinces in Canada, (B.C. and Saskatchewan), now have poverty reduction plans or are in the process of developing them. The examples here highlight the fact that poverty reduction plans that include targets and timelines, and a coordinated set of policies, have been shown to deliver results in the Canadian provinces where they have been implemented.

Our province boasts to have one of the fastest growing economies in Canada but is still home to almost half a million people who live below the poverty line. It is evident that, while economic growth is an important factor in reducing poverty, the quality of the growth is more significant than the quantity.

The government’s Jobs Plan is simply not enough to address this. The story of poverty in B.C. is largely about working poverty. Most poor people already have a job in the paid labour force, and almost half the poor children in B.C. live in families with at least one parent working full-time, full-year. The B.C. government needs to step up with a comprehensive poverty reduction plan to boost social support and to promote inclusive and sustainable growth that enhances opportunities for all….

For more information, please visit: http://bcpovertyreduction.ca