B.C. vows to cut poverty rate by 25% in 5 years

B.C. takes aim at second highest poverty rate overall in Canada and the highest rate of child poverty in the country.

Legislation introduces strategy to reduce child poverty rate by 50% over same period

B.C. has the highest poverty rate in Canada, with an estimated 678,000 people living in poverty, including 118,000 children. (David Horemans/CBC)

The provincial government introduced legislation Tuesday that aims to cut B.C.'s overall poverty rate by 25 per cent, and the child poverty rate by 50 per cent, in the next five years.

B.C. is the last province in Canada to develop such a reduction strategy.

"We are confident that while those targets are bold, we have the capacity to meet those targets," said Shane Simpson, the minister of social development and poverty reduction 

"It is the law now and we have an obligation to do that."

The legislation doesn't lay out any penalties for the province if the targets are not met, but the strategy will allow for public comment to help assess the government's progress, Simpson said.

'We are committing this government, and future governments, to break the cycle of poverty and improve people's lives,' said Minister of Social Development & Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson in a statement. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Under the legislation, the government must release its first poverty reduction strategy by March 31, 2019, focusing on issues such as housing, education, employment, income supports and social inclusion.

If passed, the legislation will also require the B.C. government to report annually on its progress.

As for the funds to implement programs to help lift people out of poverty, Simpson said their details will be included in next provincial budget in February.

But the strategy is also expected to tap into other ministry programs that improve affordability such as child care and the elimination of Medical Services Plan premiums.

Advocates say the creation of poverty reduction targets are a step forward, but the legislation falls short.

"A big gap is there is no depth of poverty target. We were hoping to see something around increasing the incomes of all British Columbians to 75 per cent of the poverty line within two years, just to ensure that no one gets stuck very far below the poverty line," said Trish Garner with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition.

The government will rely on a federal metric called the Market Basket Measure to define poverty and poverty levels. It is established by Statistics Canada each year, Simpson said.

"We have at this point the second highest rate of poverty overall and the highest rate for children."

If poverty reduction targets are met, B.C. is expected to have the third highest poverty rate in the country overall, and the lowest rate for children, he added.

Creating a poverty reduction strategy is behind schedule in B.C. Legislation was initially expected in the spring. 

But Simpson said was important to take time to speak with people who are experiencing poverty before tabling legislation.

The province said 8,500 people took part in a broad public engagement to develop the legislation.