Poverty Act Introduced in the BC Legislature

Yesterday, the official opposition in BC presented a private members anti-poverty Bill for the province.  NDP MLA Shane Simpson introduced the BC Poverty Reduction Act, which proposes the establishment of poverty targets and measures, and most importantly, government accountability.

Within one year, the Act will push the province to reduce the depth and breadth of poverty.  It will also appoint a Minister to oversee the plan and produce annual reports on progress.  This Bill comes after years of campaigning by social justice groups – including the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition that is solely dedicated to the establishment of a provincial poverty plan.

Seth Klein, co-chair of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, and CWP Advocacy Network Board Member, commented in the blog he writes for Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC Office as Executive Director, that this Act, “signals a strong commitment.”  He also notes that other provinces that have introduced such legislation (Ontario and Quebec), did so unanimously and it would be an encouraging sign if BC followed suit.

BC would become one of 7 provinces and 1 territory to instate a provincial plan, and finally develop a much needed comprehensive strategy to overcome the highest child poverty rate in the country – a title they have held for several years consecutively.  This has been a long time coming.

Poverty Plans Currently in Place

In 2000, a citizen’s movement in Quebec, “The Collective for a Poverty Free Quebec”, launched a proposal to eliminate poverty in the province.  This was followed in 2002 by Bill 112, An Act to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion, which ensured accountability for results from successive provincial governments.  This Act defines poverty as:

“the condition of a human being who is deprived of the resources, means, choices and power necessary to acquire and maintain economic self-sufficiency and participation in society.”

Thus, poverty is not just about income and deprivation – an inability to meet common basic needs.  It also concerns intangibles such as a lack of opportunity, of meaningful employment, of a sense of belonging, and of a sense of citizenship.

As of 2009, Quebec has reduced poverty by 40%, seen fewer houses on social assistance, and single-parent families headed by women have seen a 30% increase in income.

Newfoundland and Labrador was the next province to create a plan in 2006, with the goal of becoming the province with the lowest rate of poverty in the country by 2014. They are well on their way to achieving this goal, as noted in the 2009 poverty report.  Between 2003-2007, people with low income decreased from 12.2% to 6.5% – a decrease of 30,000 people.

Other plans were created Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and now the final strategy is being created in the Northwest Territories.  In addition, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and the Yukon have begun discussions about poverty plans, which means that Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan need to catch up.  There are points of contention about some provincial plans, but more moments of victory as community groups, business, government agencies and people living with low-income work together to chart a path out of poverty.

Federal Government Support is the Next Step

Successful provincial plans include three key aspects:  community engagement/collaborative process with all stakeholders at the table; a focus on prevention as well as reduction; and income support programs.  This involves a cross-section of support from the education, healthcare and welfare systems, to tax assistance, affordable housing, and early childhood education and care programs.

Poverty is not an isolated issue – its effects span services of government ministries and individual organizations.  To focus on one aspect alone will not solve the problem.  Solutions to combating poverty require a coordinated effort with government leadership – from federal and provincial/territorial governments.  By adopting this Bill, the BC legislature marks another important step in eliminating poverty in Canada, but they will need help.

Dignity for All: the campaign for a poverty-free Canada has, since 2009, been working to establish a federal poverty eradication plan.  Last year An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada was introduced into the House by former NDP MP Tony Martin, but it died on the order paper when an election was called.  This Bill would have also established dedicated targets and timelines, committed funding for provincial/territorial poverty efforts, created a separate office for a Commissioner dedicated to poverty elimination, and ensure ‘social inclusion’ was considered a human right.

The federal government has a role to play in poverty elimination in the country.  Whether it is through responsibilities for Employment Insurance, healthcare, funding for housing programs, or taxation, leadership and accountability at this level is crucial to overall success.


*Next week CWP Board Member for the Yukon, Reanna Sutton, who also sits on the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, will write on the housing crisis in the territory.