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Feds leave provinces and territories to lead the fight on poverty

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It's been a big week for people living in poverty. The United Nations confirmed the Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years and the first goal is to "end poverty in all its forms everywhere." The goals are universal, which puts all countries -- including Canada -- on the hot seat when it comes down to accountability and results.

When it comes poverty in this country, there is no question about it: our national government is failing. Latest estimates peg poverty at 4.8 million across the country. This means 1 in 7 people are living with little income and struggling to meet basic needs.

While some provinces and territories have stepped up to address poverty in their communities, the lack of political will and leadership in Ottawa has left premiers without adequate funding, guidance and metrics to properly tackle the issue.

Despite the absence of action by the federal government, various regions of Canada are reporting successes on issues ranging from homelessness to health to income supports. Almost all regions have, or are developing, poverty reduction plans. British Columbia is the lone exception with no strategy in sight despite having poverty and child poverty rates above the national average.

To get a better sense of what province and territory has achieved with regards to poverty, Canada Without Poverty has compiled Poverty Progress Profiles for 2015. Here are a few highlights:

Child care

Most advocates and social policy analysts agree that Quebec presents a model of 'what to do' with regards to child care. Their provincial strategy has set the standard by making child care affordable with modest daily fees of $7.30/day for families earning less than $50,000/year, giving low-income families options to re-enter the workforce or attend educational institutions.

But Quebec is no longer only province making child care a priority. Manitoba has increased its budget for child care by 184 per cent since 1999, adding 80 per cent more available funded spaces. It now has the second-lowest regulated fees for child care across Canada (after Québec).


For leadership on homelessness, look no further than Alberta. Alberta developed a 10-year plan to end homelessness by 2019 that has been successful in housing over 4,000 individuals to date. To help with accountability and direction, the government created the Alberta Interagency Council on Homelessness to provide advice to the government about accommodating vulnerable populations.

Calgary has also taken it one step further and developed a Homeless Charter of Rights to ensure "all citizens of our community -- regardless of housing status -- are equal in dignity, rights, and responsibility."

Prescription drugs

Prince Edward Island now has a drug program which has drug payment rates directly tied to income. In the prairies, Manitoba added more than 300 new medications to its Pharmacare program in 2015, which covers 100 per cent of costs for drugs for low-income Manitobans. This is significant considering 1 in 10 people in Canada cannot afford to pay for prescribed medication.

Employment support

Although no provinces and territories have officially announced a living minimum wage, there has been a trend of rising minimum wages across the country in recent years. Currently, the Northwest Territories has the highest minimum wage at $12.50 per hour with Ontario trailing close behind as it prepares to increase its minimum wage to $11.15 per hour in October this year.

Rates of poverty are lowest in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, but without an official poverty line it is hard to zero-in on the actual numbers. When Canada lost the long-form census and cancelled the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics -- two data sets that helped reveal the level of poverty across the country -- we lost the ability to compare past years to the present situation. This means that it's harder for decisions makers and advocates to fully understand poverty and to hold leaders accountable.

Canada's public support on the international stage to end poverty everywhere should set the tone for the future direction of social policy and resource allocation here at home. There may be 15 years to get things done, but there's no better time to get started.

A government serious about addressing poverty will use a human rights framework acknowledging that all people have a right to a life with dignity and an adequate standard of living. This means Canada must create a national anti-poverty strategy with targets, timelines, monitoring and evaluation tools and the allocation of necessary resources. It's the only way to ensure that 'no one is left behind'.


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