Poor strat­egy

The Central Voice - - Editorial -

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s anti-poverty strat­egy an­nounced Tues­day has al­ready be­come a punch line.

Ques­tion: “With no new money and no new pro­grams, how is the strat­egy ex­pected to work?”

An­swer: “By low­er­ing the poverty line!”

That as­sess­ment is un­fair as the 115-page doc­u­ment is the prod­uct of more than a year of pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions and in­put from an ad­vi­sory panel, which in­cluded Cana­di­ans liv­ing in poverty.

The strat­egy hopes to lift more than two mil­lion peo­ple above the poverty line, and re­duce the rate of poverty by 50 per cent by 2030. Those tar­gets would lower the poverty rate in Canada from about 12 per cent to­day to 10 per cent by 2020 and 6 per cent by 2030. But it will still leave 2.1 mil­lion peo­ple in poverty by the end of the time frame.

Ot­tawa terms this a bold plan, but it’s largely a list of pro­grams and poli­cies the Lib­er­als have en­acted since com­ing to power in 2015, such as the Canada Child Ben­e­fit, in­creases to se­niors’ ben­e­fits, fund­ing for child­care and help for af­ford­able hous­ing. Those pro­grams have al­ready cost $22 bil­lion but it’s not nearly enough to help mil­lions of poor in Canada.

The fed­eral strat­egy comes on the heels of re­cent pro­vin­cial set­backs which had hoped to ad­dress poverty is­sues. The new On­tario gov­ern­ment scrapped a ba­sic in­come pi­lot project, sug­gest­ing the pro­gram dis­cour­aged par­tic­i­pants from find­ing work. In P.E.I., an all-party mo­tion to launch a Ba­sic In­come Guar­an­tee pi­lot col­lapsed when Ot­tawa re­fused to sup­port it.

The strat­egy also es­tab­lishes an in­no­va­tive new tool to de­ter­mine an of­fi­cial poverty thresh­old: the “mar­ket bas­ket mea­sure.” Ot­tawa plans to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion that will en­shrine the strat­egy’s goals and the poverty thresh­old into law. Un­der this mea­sure, a fam­ily or per­son is con­sid­ered to be liv­ing in poverty if they can’t af­ford a ba­sic bas­ket of goods and ser­vices. The mea­sure is tai­lored for 50 dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties to ac­count for the dif­fer­ence in cost of liv­ing be­tween cities.

In At­lantic Canada, that poverty line ranges from a low of $36,549 in Saint John, N.B.; $37,778 in Hal­i­fax; $38,124 in Charlottetown; $38,028 in St. John’s, N.L.; $39,430 in ur­ban Nova Sco­tia; to a high of $40,318 in other ur­ban ar­eas of N.L. Those poverty thresh­olds must leave a lot of At­lantic Cana­di­ans – get­ting by on far less - scratch­ing their heads.

There will be ac­count­abil­ity. The strat­egy calls for a new ad­vi­sory body that will in­clude peo­ple who have ac­tu­ally lived in poverty, to ad­vise the min­is­ter and re­port to Par­lia­ment.

This strat­egy names a goal and sets out a di­rec­tion, but then works with cur­rent tools. It’s an un­usual doc­u­ment.

The long-term suc­cess of the strat­egy would de­pend on the will­ing­ness of fu­ture govern­ments to stick with it. That is poor plan­ning. And, in the end, mil­lions will still be mired in poverty.

The strat­egy, while a good start, fails too many Cana­di­ans.

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