The Trudeau government has already met its interim target of cutting poverty by 20 per cent by 2020, and is working to reach its goal of slashing poverty in half by 2030, according to an update on Canada’s first national poverty reduction strategy.

Some 850,000 Canadians have been pulled out of poverty since the Liberals were elected in 2015, according to the report released by Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos on Wednesday, one year after he first unveiled the plan.

Duclos also announced members of a new National Advisory Council on Poverty, who will write future annual updates on the government’s anti-poverty efforts, provide independent advice and consult with Canadians.

In 2015, there were 4.2 million Canadians living in poverty, representing one in eight Canadians or 12.1 per cent. By 2017, this number dropped to 3.4 million Canadians, or 9.5 per cent, according to data that was only released by Statistics Canada earlier this year.

“Achieving the lowest poverty rate in Canada’s history is something all Canadians should feel pride about,” Duclos said in a statement.

“Through programs like the Canada Child Benefit, increases to the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the launch of the National Housing Strategy, our government has ensured that all Canadians have a better chance to succeed as we work to grow the middle class,” he added.

The government’s Poverty Reduction Act, which became law in June, sets Statistics Canada’s “market basket measure” as the country’s first official poverty line and key benchmark to track whether some $22 billion in federal spending on housing, clean water, health, child care and employment reduces the number of low-income Canadians who struggle to make ends meet.

Having met its 2020 goal, the government now must “aspire” to lift more than 2 million Canadians out of poverty by 2030, according to the legislation. Critics, however, have said the government should to aim to eliminate poverty.

“We welcome the poverty reduction strategy, but we want ambitious targets,” said Alexandra Zannis of Canada Without Poverty, a national advocacy organization. “We want a complete reduction in poverty, not just 50 per cent.”

The market basket measure defines poverty based on the cost of goods and services that individuals and families need to achieve a modest, basic standard of living in 50 regions across the country. The measure, first developed in the 1990s, is adjusted every year to keep up with inflation, but the goods and services included in the measure have not been updated since 2008.

A comprehensive review of basket items is currently underway and an updated measure, using 2018 as the base year, is expected in early 2020.

Based on the old measure, the cost of a market basket for a family of four in Toronto in the Toronto area in 2017 was $41,362 — meaning families with disposable income below that level are considered to be living in poverty. Across the country, the average cost of a market basket is $37,489.

Anti-poverty activists welcomed Wednesday’s update, but say more current data is urgently needed.

“These numbers don’t accurately reflect the reality of poverty in Canada at this moment,” Zannis said. For example, the current market basket measure grossly underestimates the cost of rent in most parts of the country, she said.

“We’re really hoping we get the updated market measure and that it is reflective of the realities of poverty in Canada and that we are able to see (future) announcements embody that,” she added.

But Zannis said activists are “thrilled” the new 10-member advisory council includes people who have lived in poverty and who can “hold the government to account.” The council also includes advocates, academics and people working with low-income Canadians.

LGBTQ researcher and activist Alex Abramovich, one of two Toronto members of the council, said he wants to ensure the government focuses on Canadians who are disproportionately represented among those experiencing poverty and homelessness.

“Homelessness among LGBTQ2S youth is a national emergency,” said Abamovich, an independent scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

“Through all of my work on homelessness and housing and health, it has been made very clear to me that LGBTQ2S individuals experience higher rates of poverty than cisgender and heterosexuals,” he said. “Addressing this is a priority for me.”

Fellow Toronto council member Kwame McKenzie, CEO of the Wellesley Institute and director of health equity at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said he is happy activists want Ottawa to eliminate poverty.

“That’s how a good civil society should be. We should always be pressing our governments for more,” said McKenzie, who served as an adviser for Ontario’s ill-fated basic income pilot project.

“Everybody wants everything now. And so do I. But that pressure — and people saying they want more — is great,” he said. “Our job is to understand what is happening and help measure and report on what’s actually happened.”

Council chair Scott MacAfee of Fredericton, who spent the last 19 years working on a provincial poverty reduction strategy with the New Brunswick government, defended the government’s goal to cut poverty by 50 per cent by 2030.

“If we get some of the things right, we can build the foundation to help everybody,” he said. “I think it’s a good start.”