Sultan finds childhood ‘poverty’ exists in West Vancouver

James Weldon, North Shore News

A West Vancouver Liberal MLA is calling for action on childcare and settlement programs for immigrants after an analysis he performed uncovered some unsettling trends among low-income families in one of Canada’s wealthiest communities.

Ralph Sultan, MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano, made the recommendations in a discussion paper called Childhood Poverty in West Vancouver: Fact or Fiction, a 100-page analysis of census data due to be released to media and other groups in the next few days.

Sultan concludes the phenomenon — which he says should more accurately be referred to as “low-income families with children” — is real, and that its presence in West Vancouver can be attributed in large part to the community’s high proportion of immigrants.

The report, which took the MLA more than a year to complete, was in response to a press release issued in May 2008 by a child and youth advocacy group called First Call. That document used numbers drawn from the 2006 census to rank 54 B.C. communities according to what the authors described as a “child poverty rate,” that is, the percentage of families with children whose after-tax income fell below Statistics Canada’s low income cutoff. West Vancouver, with a formidable 17.5 per cent, ranked as the 11th worst. The City of North Vancouver came in at No. 6.

Seeing his municipality perform so badly — significantly worse than seemingly less affluent communities such as Comox and Powell River — Sultan was perplexed, he said. The numbers were doubly troubling given that First Call also said British Columbia had the worst child poverty rate in Canada, and other reports, including one from the Conference Board of Canada, have deemed our country one of the worst offenders among the world’s wealthy nations.

“I guess West Vancouver is the world capital of childhood poverty,” said Sultan. “What’s wrong with this picture? … If it’s accurate, I sure as hell have a responsibility to try and figure out what is going on and maybe do something about it.”…

“There is a problem, and it cuts right across the province, and it starts with immigrants and single mothers,” said Sultan. “Those communities with high proportion of immigrants and those communities with high proportion of single moms … have a high proportion of low-income families with children.”

West Vancouver doesn’t have a lot of single mothers, he said, but it does have a high proportion of immigrants. That fact goes a long way — although not all the way — toward explaining the municipality’s ranking, said Sultan….

Improving access to daycare, making language programs more readily available to new arrivals, and helping immigrants to more fully take advantage of their existing qualifications should all be topics for discussion, said Sultan.