Ottawa aims to continue anti-poverty measures in 2018

TheGlobeandMail.com – Politics
October 25, 2017.   , Ottawa

The Liberal government intends to stick with its poverty-reduction theme over the coming months, with a series of announcements that will run through the 2018 budget season.

Further moves aimed at low-income Canadians are expected to be announced soon as part of a new, multibillion-dollar national housing strategy.

Tuesday’s fall economic update included two measures – the indexation of Canada Child Benefit payments and an increase in the Working Income Tax Benefit – that won praise from anti-poverty advocates.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Jean-Yves Duclos, suggested that more anti-poverty measures could be announced in the 2018 budget. Such measures would then be included in a new poverty-reduction strategy that he will announce next year.

“We’ll be looking forward for specific announcements in the budget. However, the poverty-reduction strategy itself will be announced after Budget 2018,” he said.

Mr. Duclos, a former director of the economics department at Laval University, has been asked by the Prime Minister to come up with both a national housing strategy and a national poverty-reduction strategy.

The national housing strategy is expected to be announced in the coming weeks as an element of a broader poverty-reduction plan.

“We are aiming for the end of this year. Between now and December. That’s the objective. My officials are working very hard. They find it challenging, because timing is short, but that’s their job,” he said.

Mr. Duclos said the housing strategy will take a broad and “modern” approach that includes all aspects of the housing market. The plan received $11.2-billion over 11 years in the 2017 budget.

He said the government’s policy agenda in the run-up to the next budget will clearly have a strong focus on social issues.

“The announcements of [Tuesday’s economic update], plus the fact that the national housing strategy will be launched in a few weeks from now, plus the fact that the poverty-reduction strategy will be launched after the 2018 budget, that sets a clear social agenda through the actions of the government over the next few months,” he said.

“I can’t speak about the theme of the budget itself. It’s clearly the case that alongside the budget itself, there is going to be a strong social agenda by the government over the next few months.”

Anti-poverty advocates, including a large coalition of organizations called Campaign 2000, praised the measures announced in Tuesday’s update, but called on Ottawa to expand the CCB’s benefits and coverage in the coming poverty-reduction strategy.

“Further increases will drive the poverty rate down more significantly,” said Anita Khanna, national co-ordinator of Campaign 2000.

Advocates have said that an anti-poverty strategy should also include social housing, a national pharmacare program, a publicly funded early childhood education and care program and employment incentives for youth and other groups that are under-represented in the work force.

Mr. Duclos did not rule out a further increase in the CCB when asked if the government was considering such a move.

“We’ll always be considering additional ways of supporting families and children,” he said.

The CCB was enacted in the Liberal government’s first budget by replacing three other programs aimed at families with children.

The $22.9-billion program shifted spending away from the highest-income Canadians and increased the benefits for middle- and lower-income families. The CCB is a non-taxable benefit that is geared to income and based on the number of children in a family.

Prior to entering politics, Mr. Duclos spent years writing about how government policy could work to alleviate poverty. He said Wednesday that the CCB puts in practice the kind of program that had long been recommended by academics.

Mr. Duclos said the CCB is “an example of a system that is both simple for families, simple for the government, cost-effective in terms of management expenses and also supports work incentives.”

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