Joe Gunn of Citizens of Public Justice, left, and Jack Panozzo of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Toronto look for government action on poverty. Register file photos

Federal government makes ambitious plans for poverty reduction

By 
  • August 30, 2018

Over the next 12 years the federal government promises to raise 2.1 million Canadians out of poverty and take Canada’s poverty rate from one in every eight Canadians to one in every 17 Canadians by 2030.

However, the long awaited announcement of a federal anti-poverty strategy promised during the 2015 election campaign did not include any new spending other than a $12-million boost to data collection so that the country will have a more accurate picture of poverty from coast to coast.

“If there’s no new money in it, I don’t know,” said Toronto Catholic Charities social justice and advocacy program manager Jack Panozzo.

If the plan is to succeed it will need new money, Citizens for Public Justice executive director Joe Gunn told The Catholic Register after the announcement by Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos in Vancouver Aug. 21.

“No new investments in daycare, Indigenous services, income security, etc.? Really?” Gunn said in an e-mail.

Citizens for Public Justice was a major player in the Dignity For All campaign started by the Sisters of Service. Over the last five years the campaign brought together churches, social service agencies, unions and others to press for a national poverty reduction plan. The campaign wanted targets and accountability, and won on both counts, said Gunn. 

The new federal plan promises to lift 650,000 Canadians out of poverty by 2019, and to cut Canada’s poverty rate in half by 2030. This will take the national poverty rate from its current 12 per cent to 10 per cent in 2019 and six per cent in 2030. 

The federal plan also provides Canada’s first-ever official poverty line, accompanied by a “dashboard” of poverty indicators which will be constantly updated and shared online. Using the government’s in-house Market Basket Measure, the poverty line will be set separately in 50 different regions of the country according to the amount of money needed to purchase housing, transportation, food and other essentials. Nationally, it averages out at $37,542 for a family of four.

The Dignity For All campaign didn’t get legislation that would entrench a right to housing, the third major plank of the campaign.

“I suppose two out of three ain’t bad,” Gunn said. “We’ll keep working. Today was a step ahead.”

As raw numbers, the goals announced by Duclos may sound ambitious to Canadians who haven’t followed the issue closely, said Gunn. But they are, in fact, a bare minimum.

“This goal is what Canada agreed to in signing the (United Nations) Sustainable Development Goals,” Gunn said.

While the federal government has said it wants to move ahead on poverty reduction, Ontario’s new provincial government has pressed pause. At the end of July the Conservatives cut a planned September increase to welfare rates in half and cancelled the previous government’s experiment with a basic income system.

The basic income pilot project  was tracking what would happen to 4,000 people on welfare if they had a guaranteed minimum income and knew that additional earnings would not be automatically and immediately clawed back.

“No strings attached payments is not the answer Ontario families need,” said a release from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

“Ontario’s current social assistance programs have failed to adequately address the challenge of lifting people out of poverty. That is why we support the Basic Income Pilot,” the Ontario Regional Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul wrote in a letter to Premier Doug Ford.

The Vincentians argued that the three-year basic income pilot was in line with the Conservative government’s stated goal of moving people toward self-sufficiency.

“Since the program is designed to help people live independently of government assistance and reduce the costly bureaucracy of the present social assistance regime, it is in fact in perfect compliance with the government’s stated goal of ‘getting people back on track,’” said the letter to Ford. “Cancelling this program prematurely, before research data has been collected and analyzed is a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

The cancellation prompted four residents from Lindsay, Ont., to file a class-action lawsuit for breach of contract against the government on Aug. 27

“The government said that within 100 days they will come up with their own plan. OK, every government wants to put its own stamp on things,” said Panozzo. “(Social Services Minister Lisa) MacLeod said they don’t want to create a system that’s going to keep people in poverty. Well, nobody does.”

Separate from the basic income experiment, a three-year program of welfare reform, based on a report by St. Michael’s Hospital family doctor and researcher Dr. Gary Bloch, would have increased welfare rates 23 per cent over the next three years. The so-called “Roadmap” was intended to make up for the fact that despite an inflation rate of 26.2 per cent from 1994 to 2005, there were no increases in welfare and in 1995 rates were cut 21.6 per cent. Currently a single person on Ontario Works receives $721 per month.

Panozzo hopes that the “Roadmap” and the years of research behind its program of welfare red tape reforms finds its way into the government’s plans.

“All those things that were supposed to kick in starting in September through December, I guess they’re not going to kick in now,” said Panozzo. “I can only hope that they will incorporate those suggested changes that will improve OW (Ontario Works) and ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program).”

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