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OPINION: Strategy falls far short

Mary Boyd, director of the MacKillop Centre for Social Justice, with the fourth annual Report Card on Child and Family Poverty on P.E.I.
Mary Boyd, director of the MacKillop Centre for Social Justice, with the fourth annual Report Card on Child and Family Poverty on P.E.I. - Jason Daley

There are currently 4.8 million people living in poverty in Canada including 1.2 million children.

BY MARY BOYD

GUEST OPINION

Your editorial of August 24 expresses the disappointment that many feel about the federal government’s anti-poverty strategy. The P.E.I. Coalition for a Poverty Eradication Strategy and the Mackillop Centre for Social Justice worked closely with Campaign 2000 and others to encourage the federal government to seriously tackle the problem of poverty in Canada’s first ever Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS).

We are disappointed that the proposed strategy falls far short of what is needed. First of all, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for the elimination of world-wide poverty by 2030. There are currently 4.8 million people living in poverty in Canada including 1.2 million children. The best Canada is currently offering is 50 percent of the SDG goal. By 2030 there will still be 2.4 million Canadians in poverty including 600,000 children.

In the public consultations prior to the report, lack of income was identified as a major cause of poverty. The strategy needs to acknowledge this and provide new investments to speed up poverty eradication.

Despite its limitations, the PRS is an important new starting point in the struggle against poverty in Canada. It contains a number of positive points: the first commitment to meet targets and timelines for poverty reduction; the first commitment to public reporting on progress; sets in place a National Advisory Council on poverty; establishes the first official poverty line, based on the Market Basket Measure.

The Low Income Measure (LIM) would be a better measure as it is simpler and enables international comparisons. The strategy also makes the first commitment to enact legislation to ensure that this and future governments continually reduce poverty – hopefully until it is eradicated.

The strategy’s lack of quick action must be discouraging for the 1.2 million children who may not know where their next meal is coming from or whether they will have better housing or warm winter clothes. For far too long, Canadian children have suffered serious hunger, illness, stress, indignity and lack of opportunity because of poverty.

The PRS is dragging its feet and has placed poverty elimination far from the finish line. It falls very short of effective reduction targets, timelines, and greater investments in programs such as universal childcare, universal Pharmacare and a serious jobs creation program.

PRS promise to reduce poverty by 20 percent by 2020 can’t be fulfilled without more funding. The same is true of meeting the SDG goals.

Federal and provincial governments need to adopt a poverty elimination lens on all social, fiscal and economic policy decisions. Like the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the PRS should be transformative for Canadians. All of Canada’s policies and programs must clearly prioritize investments in children, families, and people in poverty.

The 2019 federal budget will be key to providing the increased funding needed for an effective PRS. In addition, Canada will have to step up its goals for poverty reduction. Your editorial is on target that the PRS is “not a bold plan.” Let’s hope the provincial Poverty Reduction Plan goes further.

- Mary Boyd, MacKillop Centre for Social Justice

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