Canada’s poverty strategy stitched together existing policies and called it a new plan

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Aug. 27, 2018.   By

The federal government released Canada’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy last week, calling it a historic plan to ensure all Canadians can achieve their full potential.

The strategy lays out the goal of cutting the rate of poverty in half across the country by 2030. If it delivers on that promise, it would mean lifting more than two million Canadians out of poverty. That’s certainly a worthy goal.

The new poverty line is a market basket measure that determines the cost of goods and services, such as shelter, healthy food, clothing and transportation, that Canadians require to meet their basic needs and achieve a modest standard of living. The number varies in cities and communities across the country. Factoring in 50 different regions, the poverty line for a family of four averages out to be $37,500. In Toronto, a more expensive city to live in, that rises to over $40,600.

A target to meet, a new poverty line to clearly define the problem and annual public progress reports to hold the government to account are all useful steps.

The problem lies with the rest of document delivered by Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

The strategy basically pulls together all the government’s previously announced programs to reduce poverty. There are no new policies and no new funding commitments to improve or speed up current programs.

The government has simply pointed to its $22 billion in previously announced spending for programs, including the Canada Child Benefit, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and a tax befit for low-income workers.

But if Canada’s existing programs are up to the task of meeting what Duclos is calling an “ambitious” but “realistic” target to reduce poverty, why do we need the strategy at all?

There is a new $12 million investment over five years but that’s earmarked for gaps in poverty measurements. So that’s money that will help the government produce annual reports but not dollars that will reach people living in poverty.

A broad strategy with measurable targets is useful for keeping governments on track towards important, long-term poverty reduction goals.

But that’s cold comfort to the millions of Canadians living in poverty today. They need more immediate relief and, on that front, there’s so much the federal government could have included in this long-awaited strategy.

It could have made improvements to Canada’s unemployment insurance system, which is so broken most Canadians who become unemployed don’t even qualify for benefits.

It could have brought forward some of the back-ended funding for its 10-year national housing strategy or targeted more dollars to producing housing that would actually meet the needs of those with very low incomes.

It could have boosted support for much-needed affordable child care spaces.

Those are measures that would have gone a long way to making Canada’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy the all-encompassing blanket needed to address this critical concern instead of an old patchwork quilt.

The strategy says that the federal government will “work closely with provinces, territories and municipalities, and will forge strong bonds with Indigenous peoples, stakeholders, charities and community groups on the front lines,” and invite the private section “to do its part.”

But what any of that really means and what, if anything, it will amount to is anyone’s guess.

So the takeaway from the Opportunity For All strategy really seems to be that Ottawa intends to truck along with current social program investments and see where the numbers land.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2018/08/27/canadas-poverty-strategy-stitched-together-existing-policies-and-called-it-a-new-plan.html

Canadians in need deserve better.

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