Put poverty on agenda

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Sat Jun 19 2010

Poverty is clearly not high on the agenda of the current federal government; it ranks somewhere between municipal infrastructure and climate change on the Conservatives’ “to-do” list.

In an attempt to raise the profile of poverty in Ottawa, a backbench New Democrat MP introduced a private member’s bill this week that would “impose on the federal government the obligation to eliminate poverty and promote social inclusion by establishing and implementing a strategy for poverty elimination in consultation with the provincial, territorial, municipal and aboriginal governments and with civil society organizations.” Tony Martin’s bill would require the government to set out targets to reduce poverty in the short term (one to three years), medium term (four to seven years), and long term (eight years or more) and to appoint an independent “poverty elimination commissioner” to hold it accountable.

Noting that several other provinces (including Ontario) have already launched their own poverty reduction strategies, Martin says Ottawa also has a central role to play, through federal programs like old age security, the child tax benefit, employment insurance and transfers to the provinces for social programs.

By itself, Martin’s bill would not be remarkable, given that it has little hope of passing. What makes the initiative of the Sault Ste. Marie MP stand out is that he has drawn support across party lines. Liberal and Bloc Québécois MPs seconded the bill in the Commons this week, and a Conservative senator, Hugh Segal, said he supports Martin’s “intent and purpose.”

Many business leaders have also begun to recognize that poverty not just bad for the poor; it also holds back the country by dragging down productivity and keeping us from reaching our full potential. It is time for the federal Conservatives to get on board.

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