British Columbia

B.C. minister defends poverty strategy

The B.C. government is defending its record fighting poverty and hunger in the wake of a report that says the number of people using food banks in the province has risen to record levels.

Food banks in B.C. used more than ever before, report says

The B.C. government is defending its record fighting poverty and hunger in the wake of a report that says the number of people using food banks in the province has risen to record levels.

B.C. New Democrat MLA Maurine Karagianis confronted provincial Minister of Children and Family Mary Polak in the legislature Tuesday with figures from a national report called Hunger Count 2009.

The report said that over the past year, three-quarters of Canadian food banks experienced an increase in demand, and in B.C. the level of demand had reached an unprecedented level

"In March, during the count, almost 90,000 people relied on food banks for assistance [in B.C.]," Karagianis said.

The report also said that more than 80 per cent of the province's food banks saw an increase in the number of people assisted over the previous year.

More than 27,000 children depended on food banks in B.C. in March. 

'Worse in Alberta'

Polak did not deny families were facing hardship. But she had a different perspective on the numbers.

"If you take a look at our neighbouring province of Alberta, they have seen an increase of 61 per cent in usage of food banks, compared to British Columbia's 15 per cent," Polak said.

The report found that Alberta had the highest increase in food bank usage among all provinces.

B.C. still has the highest child poverty rate in Canada, but Polak quoted figures from 2007 which found that  overall poverty in B.C dropped by 18 per cent.

The report also said that people who use food banks in B.C. "generally pay a disproportionate amount of their income towards rent," and that, as of January 2009, there were more than 10,000 households on the provincial waiting list for subsidized housing.

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