On August 21st, the federal government quietly followed through on a very important commitment. From Vancouver, Minister Jean-Yves Duclos launched Opportunity for All, Canada’s first poverty reduction strategy. While many in the middle of summer holidays might have missed this, those of us pushing for a national anti-poverty strategy for years were waiting and wondering what he would say. It was, for us, a very big moment.
Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) has worked as co-leads with Canada Without Poverty of the Dignity for All campaign since 2009. The goal of this campaign is the creation of a national anti-poverty plan that is comprehensive, legislated and funded to meet its mandate. The ultimate goal is an end to poverty in Canada.
In CPJ’s analysis of the strategy, Opportunity for All offers some important pieces.
The strategy sets targets and timelines for poverty reduction – a reduction of 20 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030 of the 2015 rate (as reflected in the Market Basket Measure or MBM). It also sets Canada’s first poverty line, using the MBM, a measure of poverty that considers the cost of a basket of goods that would allow basic needs to be met and considers variations in the cost of living across the country. For a family of two adults and two children, the official poverty line was set at an average of $37,542 per year.
As well, the strategy commits to improvements in data on poverty, including an update of the MBM basket items and better regional representation in the measure, particularly for Northern communities. An interesting “dashboard of indicators” will allow the public an ongoing update of progress on a range of social policy indicators.
Legislation is key
Another aspect is the creation of a National Advisory Council on Poverty. This council would play a role in engaging with the public and issuing annual public reports on the progress of the strategy.
A final major piece of this strategy is that it commits to the creation of a Poverty Reduction Act, that would include the targets, timelines, poverty line and national council.
For CPJ, legislation is very important for the strategy to be effective. Legislation ensures that the strategy is not easily disregarded as governments change. It also allows for the possibility of human rights to be incorporated more firmly in the strategy, primarily through accountability mechanisms that ensure the strategy is on track to reach its targets and that there is an ongoing opportunity for review.
There are some important pieces missing from this strategy, however.
Staying on track
The strategy offers nothing new in terms of policy commitments to address poverty, beyond those already promised or initiated by the federal government since 2015. It brings together commitments like the recently indexed Canada Child Benefit, improvements to Employment Insurance, and the significant investments in the National Housing Strategy. However, it is not clear that the previously promised or implemented investments will be sufficient to meet the targets and timelines set out in the strategy. Also, there are still policy funding gaps for things like a national childcare program and pharmacare.
Another concern is what, if any, real accountability mechanisms will be in place as the strategy is legislated and implemented. The National Advisory Council has a general mandate to report to the public annually. But real accountability requires that this body has independence and funding in order to report to Parliament and make recommendations if the strategy is not on track. It also requires that the public, particularly those populations most impacted by poverty, have ongoing input in the strategy.
Finally, while the targets and timelines the government has set are an important aspect of the strategy, the goal must be poverty eradication. It is important that this strategy is strengthened, and its targets extended to reach that goal.
These limitations mean that the launching of a national strategy is not the end of our work.
However, the good news is that now we have something to build on!
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