Items from the Ontario Division
A quarterly educational Newsletter.
A Working Strategy to end Poverty in Canada
The following is the Position Statement of Canadian
Ontario Division, June 2008
Who are the poor?
The poor are people of all ages from the infant to the very old, men and women. They are among us, a part of us and yet we ignore them, pretend we do not see them or blame them for their condition of poverty.
How do we define poverty?
An easy way to pretend we do not have poverty is to define the socio-economic conditions of poverty in such a way as to almost eliminate its existence. Some economists have argued that there is an absolute dollar amount that can define those who are poor, that poverty is not a condition that is relative to the rest of society. If we were to make this argument then the poorest people in the world would be the same with the same income and living conditions no matter where they live, in Africa, Asia, South America, Canada or Europe.
This is clearly an absurd approach and one that has been rejected by the vast majority of those concerned with the issue of poverty.
Poverty is measured in every society based upon its own values of the society it wants and the people that are excluded from the social and economic life expected to be there for all. A child in Canada does not have to be in the identical social and physical situation as a child in Darfur to be deemed to be poor. Most Canadians recognize that we have many people who are poor but because we have failed to agree upon a definition as a nation we do not agree on what the count is of (or even how to count) those living in poverty.
Canada and the provinces have failed to develop a national strategy to end poverty but at least a number of the provinces have begun to recognize that they must develop their own strategy for their own population regardless of what the federal government does - or doesn't do.
- Step One
We must agree on a national official measure that will identify those who are living in serious or substantial poverty
If we cannot agree on a definition we cannot set real targets to reduce poverty nor understand what resources we need to eliminate it over a period of time. If the European Union can do this and other countries such as Ireland can do this, so can Canada. We have wasted years debating how to measure poverty. We cannot wait for this any longer. If the national government will not agree then the provinces, territories, municipalities and aboriginal communities must do it on their own and shame Ottawa into joining them.
- Step Two
We must have our governments, national, provincial, territorial, municipal and aboriginal, set targets for the reduction of acute or substantial poverty. These targets must have timelines and percentage of reductions in them against which the actions and strategies of the governments can be measured.
We need to have clear indicators that can be used to measure our progress to meeting those target goals and timetables.
- Step Three
We must have clear plans of action that are national, provincial, territorial, municipal and aboriginal, with budgets and human resources allocated. The plans must ensure collaboration across all levels of government. The national, provincial, territorial, municipal and aboriginal actors whose policies, practices and programs affect poverty in society must be brought into the plans for action (the private, public and nonprofit sectors are included). Yearly budgets must be set with clear allocations set to meet each of the target programs.
The plans must look at and take into account all the factors that are critical in determining poverty - gender, disability, illness, age, racism, immigrant status, etc.
The action plans must target, as a basic minimum:
a) Raising social assistance/income support program levels to at least the Low Income cut-off Level of Statistics Canada. (Ultimately a Guaranteed Annual Income)
b) Raise the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour with cost of living increases built into the plan.
c) Ensure the availability of affordable housing in all communities to meet the needs of low to moderate income people and families.
d) Subsidized housing must be available and supports must not be set to penalize the individual as they re-enter the labour force by raising the cost of their housing with each increase in income.
e) Provide access to education and training (including re-training) for all adults and subsidize transportation and other costs associated with employment.
f) Provide access to health and dental support programs so that the transition into the work force does not penalize people as they move into the paid labour force.
g) Create a national child-care program with subsidies for low income families.
- Step Four
Clear accountability mechanisms must be in place with yearly public reporting on progress made in meeting the targets and timelines.
An independent agency similar in powers to the Auditor General nationally and the Provincial and Territorial Auditors must be empowered to report to the public on government achievements.
This Working Strategy to End Poverty in Canada is just a start but it is a beginning that can be acted upon provided there is a will to act. Other countries have set targets for poverty reduction. There is no reason for Canada and all the provinces and territories and other levels of government not to do the same.
In March 2008, I attended a conference called 25 in 5 - Network for Poverty Reduction. This multi-sector Network includes 60 local and provincial organizations and individuals committed to eliminating poverty in Ontario. It is asking the provincial government for a plan to reduce poverty levels by 25 percent in five years, thus the name 25 in 5. The supporters of the Network include Ontario Campaign 2000, Ontario Association of Food Banks, Wellesley Institute, Atkinson Foundation, Social Planning Council, United Way of Greater Toronto, Income Security Advocacy Centre, City of Toronto, and Colour of Poverty.
The Conference hosted nearly 500 people from parts of Ontario and when the Minister of Children and Youth Services, the Honourable Deb Matthews, asked who in the room were living in poverty, nearly 30 percent of the attendees raised their hands. Her message, and that of the 25 in 5 Network, to the Conference was to spread the word - reach out to the community and educate the uninformed of the concerns about existing poverty in the province and the urgency to reduce it. The Honourable Deb Matthews is also the Minister for Ontario's Poverty Reduction Plan. Many community consultations hosted by members of three levels of government have been occurring in a number of communities over the past few months. The government of Ontario is committed to a poverty reduction strategy with targets and measures to ensure "opportunity that is accessible to all" (Throne Speech, November 2007).
Canadian Pensioners Concerned is answering the request to spread the word by hosting a Forum on Poverty with P.O.I.N.T. Inc (People and Organizations in North Toronto) at the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre, 200 Eglinton Avenue West (two blocks west of Yonge) on Tuesday, October 21 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Both P.O.I.N.T. and CPC have a strong history in developing strategy to solve social problems and in educating communities of the issues. There will be a representative from the office of the Minister, the Honourable Deb Matthews, as well as a number of speakers who will present different perspectives on poverty. The speakers will include representatives from local associations - food banks, out-of-the-cold programs, faith groups - and from organizations that can present a wider Toronto perspective - City Council, United Way, Voices from the Street, Colour of Poverty, and the Wellesley Institute.
The Board of CPC encourages all readers to attend this free event and share their concerns about those seniors, children and families living below the poverty line. If you plan to attend, please inform P.O.I.N.T. at 416-487-2390 by October 14. Together we can make a difference by working with governments to help reduce poverty.
Joan Berndt, Toronto