Time for bipartisan action to address root causes of poverty in B.C.

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This week, in the B.C. legislature, the official Opposition (MLA Michelle Mungall) introduced a private member’s bill proposing a B.C. Poverty Reduction and Economic Inclusion Act. The Act, were it to be enacted, would see the government develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy within one year, and legislate specific targets and timelines to reduce the breadth and depth of poverty.

British Columbia has had the highest poverty rate in Canada for the last 13 years, yet is now one of only two provinces left without a poverty reduction plan. It is about time B.C. caught up with the rest of Canada in tackling poverty upfront and saving lives and money through this approach.

According to a poll released last year by the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance, 78 percent of British Columbians think it is important for political leaders in B.C. to address poverty with a provincial poverty reduction plan with clear targets and timelines. Clearly, the public is ready for political leadership on this issue, so it is gratifying to see a proposed Act such as this.

Importantly, the proposed Act includes extensive community consultation, including with those living in poverty, and also outlines how a government should be held accountable for progress. It commits to embed targets in legislation, to appoint a lead minister, to have a cabinet committee to oversee the strategy co-chaired by the premier, to have an outside advisory committee to hold the government to account, and to annual reporting to monitor progress.

However, the process of implementing a comprehensive strategy should not serve to delay urgent first steps, as there are immediate actions needed, such as raising inadequate welfare rates that have been frozen since 2007 and continuing to raise the minimum wage.

It is significant that the guiding principles of the Act include protecting human rights, addressing the social and economic costs of poverty, and addressing the social determinants of health.

First, at the international level, Canada, in consultation with the B.C. government, has committed to several human rights obligations that guarantee social and economic rights to all citizens. In the International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR, 1966), which Canada ratified in 1976, Article 11(1) recognizes “the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” A comprehensive poverty reduction strategy would be a critical step in honouring this commitment.

Second, in relation to the costs of poverty, the costs of health care alone in relation to poverty are $1.2 billion per year. Adding criminal justice costs and lost productivity gives a grand total of $8-9 billion per year. A comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, including building affordable housing and providing universal childcare, would cost approximately half that at $3-4 billion per year. The question is not can we afford to do it but can we afford not to.

Finally, the growing literature on the social determinants of health reveals that tackling poverty upfront is the single biggest factor in improving health outcomes for everyone, not just those living in poverty.

The Act was previously introduced by the Opposition in June 2011 but did not receive a second reading in the legislature. There have been no significant changes in public policy to address poverty since that time. Rejecting this call on the grounds that the B.C. Jobs Plan will suffice, as the government has done, is clearly not working.

Despite a strong recommendation from the Budget Consultations report to “introduce a comprehensive poverty reduction plan,” the government failed to include any substantial measures to address poverty in this year’s recent budget.

This recommendation received the unanimous support from the members of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, which listen to voices from communities around B.C. before making their decisions. Perhaps the government needs to reconsider their position on this recommendation?

All parties need to support the Act, as has happened in other provinces across Canada. Now is the time for bipartisan collaboration and action in addressing the root causes of poverty.

Comments (5) Add New Comment
good luck on being comprehensive
Every study out there says that as income and education go up, child production goes down. Educated parents with careers start their childbearing late or not at all.

Meanwhile, on a reserve in Northern Saskatchewan, there is a 14 year old right now who thinks that having a baby to love would be just the greatest idea ever, and there is no one who would argue with her.

I'd love to think that a commission and government resolution will alter people's decisions to have children or not, but I seriously doubt that any top-down strategy is going to be effective. What have the elites ever done for the underclass? Why should the underclass listen to well meaning outsiders (including obviously judgemental snobs like me)?

No. Don't call this comprehensive unless it is driven by the community that it is trying to address as well as the ivory tower folks that are chairing the meeings and trying to phrase the results it in a way that does not come out as victim blaming.

As for welfare rate raises - yes, absolutely, but not because you think you are addressing root causes. That's social change, far beyond the purview of any action committee.
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Root Causes?
The root causes cannot be addressed provincially. The root causes have to do with the unstable and vile way in which money is manufactured at interest. This is a federal ring of the three-ring federal/provincial/municipal circus, so there is nothing BC can do, other than, within the current system, issue more bonds and raise the welfare rates. Indeed, that is probably the only moral thing to do, as the situation is dire in BC, as it is most places.

Of course, poverty doesn't only afflict the non-working classes, but one of the best ways to boost the working classes who're impoverished, who primarily work in the services sector, is to raise welfare rates, because people on welfare spend 100% of their cheques into the local economy without investing it. Imagine how much increased economic activity there would be if people on welfare, especially the disabled and seniors, were paid an adequate per diem so that they could eat out three meals a day. We don't expect people on welfare to do plumbing, electrical work, so why should they be expected to cook, which is another trade with professional certification?

The rational and natural limits on whether or not poverty exists are the human resources and materials. The limits, therefore, in a province like BC, let alone a nation like Canada, must be fundamentally irrational and artificial, as we have plenty of materials and plenty of human resources.

Statscan shows that there have never been enough family-sustaining jobs in Canada for everyone---work is a game of musical chairs, and the rich people like it that way.

As for being "driven by the community", that is not what is necessary. A big part of poverty is nutritional poverty---every school-aged child could be given three square meals a day as part of public education, nutritionally sound meals providing 100% RDA of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids and energy. But that alone would reduce the advantage of the rich so much that they'd never go for it.

Competitors don't like a level playing field, y'know, makes it harder to win.
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Denise Dufault
Bang on, Root Causes?....

IF we lived in a democracy, just say.... and then we had a National Housing Policy, Water and Energy policy, we would be utilizing our riches in the most effective, best ways.
Short of that, and with immoral people running our beloved country, province into disrepair, then I will take a raising of the most basic rates.
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Alan Layton
@Root Causes?:

"Statscan shows that there have never been enough family-sustaining jobs in Canada for everyone---work is a game of musical chairs, and the rich people like it that way."

Probably one of the funniest comments I've read in this rag in awhile. Odd how the 'non-rich' always seem to know what the 'rich' are thinking.
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Papa Hemmorhoid
@ Alan Layton

Hemingway and Fitzgerald in conversation, from A Moveable Feast:


"Ernest, the rich are different that you and me."

"Yes, Scott, they have more money."
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