Blog | July 24, 2013

By Laurel Rothman and Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Edmonton JournalIn between the photo opportunities and fabulous food, when the premiers convene this week in Niagara-on-the-Lake we hope they will take some time to discuss action on a national issue that is often sadly overlooked at these gatherings — poverty.Across Canada, 4.2 million people, including 967,000 children and their families, live in poverty. Here in Alberta, we have 91,000 children living in families below the low-income measure, even though we live in the wealthiest province in the country.The good news is that many provincial governments and a number of municipal governments have developed strategies that are succeeding in reducing and preventing poverty.During the last election, Premier Alison Redford committed to eliminating child poverty in Alberta within five years and the Ministry of Human Services is now consulting the public about the solutions required to achieve this important promise.While actions always speak louder than words, at the very least we would love to see some words during the Council of the Federation meeting that will indicate that the premiers, including Redford, will be giving more than lip service to this critical issue.For the health of individual Canadians, the economy and the Canadian federation, the premiers also need to demand the federal government play its part in strengthening poverty-reduction strategies by supporting a national comprehensive and co-ordinated plan.A well-developed poverty action plan, in co-operation with other levels of government, civil society, aboriginal peoples, non-profit organizations and the private sector, will help to sustain the Canada we want. That is a Canada where no one has to choose between going hungry and paying the rent, where employment and a living wage for workers is the norm, and where federal-provincial co-operation achieves environmentally sustainable ways to better the lives of all peoples within Canada.To deal with anticipated growing expenditures on health care and other services, it’s prudent to use all the tools at hand to boost low incomes and narrow the growing income inequality gap.Provinces and territories control minimum wages, employment standards, some consumption tax credits and health care and social services provision. However, the federal government is a necessary partner in funding the latter and in addressing taxation levels and key income security measures including Old Age Security/Guaranteed Income Supplement, the Canada Pension Plan and the Canada Child Tax Benefit/National Child Benefit Supplement.Unfortunately the federal government seems to be reducing its support for key programs that make a huge difference in the lives of so many families. For example, the scheduled phase-out of $1.7 billion in federal expenditures for social housing over the next five years presages a “perfect storm”’ in which key federal programs addressing the social determinants of health are at grave risk. Insecure housing and homelessness remain persistent across Canada and have a big impact on the health of individuals and on our country’s health as a whole.Income is a key determinant of a person’s health, and the social and economic costs of poverty are high. Given that 47 per cent of Alberta children living in poverty actually have at least one parent working full time, full year, we need governments, businesses and community groups to work together to support recent immigrants and low-income Canadians to access the training and mentoring to reach their full potential.Unfortunately, many programs and supports that have been provided by the federal and Alberta governments have been significantly cut back over the past several years.Hunger, inadequate nutrition and unsafe housing create hardship for families and result in higher spending for health care and social services. The remedial costs of the criminal justice system should concern all of us as it is estimated that crime and justice-related expenditures alone range from $22 billion to $48 billion a year.Nor can we afford to waste the economic potential of all Canadians. When children in low-income families participate in early childhood education and care programs, it helps them succeed in school, and their parents are able to work or attend school. When low-income people gain skills and paid employment, their increased earnings benefit themselves and all Canadians through increased productivity and tax contributions.When federal, provincial, territorial and First Nations governments work together, they can achieve a great deal to address poverty, build social solidarity and develop confidence in our governments. Great social advances have come when provinces and territories lead (as in creation of medicare) and work with the federal government. Indeed, the 2010 House of Commons report, Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada, supported by all parties, outlines what is needed to move forward.The civic, moral and economic imperatives for poverty eradication are well established and understood among growing numbers of Canadians. Now is the time for the provinces and territories to call on the federal government to build on their commitments to reduce and eventually eradicate poverty.Laurel Rothman works at Family Service Toronto where she co-ordinates Campaign 2000: End Child Poverty in Canada. Bill Moore-Kilgannon is the executive director of Public Interest Alberta and a member of the Campaign 2000 national steering committee.Read the article at The Edmonton Journal.