A young boy rides his bike around his neighbourhood in the reserve. Photo by Michael Swan

1 in 4 Canadians face financial hardship, Angus Reid poll finds

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  • August 2, 2018

A new report from the Angus Reid Institute showing poverty may be a bigger problem than official statistics indicate is ramping up pressure on Ottawa to unveil a federal poverty reduction strategy.

The Liberals promised a national poverty plan in their 2015 election platform. Churches and anti-poverty groups had widely expected Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos to unveil the national strategy in June.

“He was supposed to release it in June, and didn’t,” said Citizens for Public Justice executive director Joe Gunn. “Now what we’ve heard from people in his office is that they had a little bit of trouble pulling it together. They’re now saying by the end of the year, but it might be September.”

The new Angus Reid poll, which pegs Canada’s poor at 4.8 million citizens, found 16 per cent of Canadians are “struggling” to stay afloat in the economy and another 11 per cent are “on the edge.” 

“More than one quarter of the Canadian population (27 per cent) could be described as experiencing notable financial hardship today,” said the July 16 release from Angus Reid. The Vancouver-based pollsters found 11 per cent of Canadians use payday loan services, 18 per cent say they’ve recently been late on a rent or mortgage payment, 24 per cent are unable to pay all their utility bills and 25 per cent have had to borrow money for groceries, transportation or other essentials.

Official government statistics show poverty running at 9.2 per cent, 12.1 per cent or 14.2 per cent in 2015, depending on the standard of measurement. The lowest number is based on the Low Income Cut-Off (LICO) using a 1992 model of the Canadian economy which does not, for instance, include the cost of the Internet. The middle number comes from Market Basket Measure which gauges people’s ability to buy a set number of necessities. The highest number is based on Statistics Canada’s Low Income Measure After Tax (LIM). It defines low income as 50 per cent of median household income, adjusted for size of family and region.

“By any measure, Canada has a high rate of poverty,” said a statement from the Dignity for All campaign to reduce poverty. 

Organized by Citizens for Public Justice and Canada Without Poverty, the Dignity for All campaign is supported by churches, unions, professional associations — a total of 732 community groups which have been seeking a national anti-poverty strategy since 2009.

“What we’re deathly afraid of is that the Liberals would kick this can down the road and make it an election promise for next year’s election,” Gunn said.

While he personally believes the government will produce a plan, he worries it might be nothing more than a tinkering of existing programs. 

Government spokesperson Josh Bueckert did not answer emailed questions from The Catholic Register about why the plan has been delayed or when it would be revealed, but did say that “more details on this strategy will be announced soon.” 

A multi-billion-dollar investment in the Guaranteed Income Supplement in 2016-2017 is lifting about 13,000 seniors out of poverty and stabilizing another 900,000, Bueckert said. The Canada Child Benefit has pulled about half-a-million people, including 300,000 children, out of poverty, he said.

But programs to date are not dealing with rapid changes in Canada’s economy, Gunn said.

“My dad worked for 40-odd years in the same factory in Toronto. I’ve had several jobs in my life and my children will have many more,” Gunn said. “So, why hasn’t our training moved to allow people to come in and out of the workforce so they can get the training they need?”

As far as Conservative Social Development critic Karen Vecchio is concerned, any national plan on poverty must defer to provincial, municipal and even county governments.

“It can’t be the federal government telling people what to do…. If we’re implementing something, I fear it will have a very top-heavy approach.”

Asking for a federal plan to reduce poverty — a plan with official measures, goals and reporting — doesn’t translate into a naive belief that government planning is a magic bullet, said Gunn.

“It won’t be perfect. But there’s no reason why Canada can’t have that at the federal level,” said Gunn. “We’re beyond the spot where those kinds of things done by charity are going to solve a problem of the economy… Government definitely has a role.”

The Gospel imperative to put the poor first should amplify the demand for a national and rational plan to arrive at fewer poor families in Canada, according to Gunn.

“I would love to see faith communities lead on this,” he said. “In the case of Christians at least, you hold up what the Gospel values are, what the Pope is saying, and you say, ‘How could we really respond?’ If the churches would speak, to call for an ambitious plan, we know we can move forward to do a lot towards eradicating poverty in the country.”

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