British Columbia

B.C. needs an official poverty reduction plan, critics say

Critics say the province needs a legislated poverty reduction plan if it wants to bring down B.C.'s poverty rate which currently ranks as the second highest in Canada.

Newfoundland and Labrador plan reduced poverty rate from 17% to 6%

Since the annual Week of Action Against Poverty began 10 years ago in Kenora, the city has successfully launched a chapter of Habitat for Humanity and now has a soup kitchen serving a hot meal everyday. (Armando Babani/EPA)

Critics say British Columbia needs a legislated poverty reduction plan if it wants to bring down the province's poverty rate, which currently ranks as the second highest in Canada.

Dan Meades, provincial co-ordinator for the Transition House Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, says the poverty reduction plan his province enacted in 2006 has brought the poverty rate down from 17 per cent to as low as six per cent by some measurements.

"It's made all the difference you can imagine," Meade said.

B.C. is currently the only province without a legislated, multi-ministerial poverty reduction plan. Its poverty rate — 13.2 per cent — is the second highest in the country, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The CCPA published a report Thursday calling for the establishment of such a program.

Government says solution is creating jobs

Stephanie Cadieux, B.C.'s minister of children and family development, said in an emailed statement that the government does not think a formal plan is necessary, and has instead been focusing on job creation and what it calls "targeted supports" for individuals.

She also pointed out that B.C. had the lowest unemployment rate in Canada in December 2016 at 5.8 per cent.

But Meades said a jobs-based approach isn't enough, especially in a province like B.C. where the minimum wage is less than $11.

He also said governments need to address barriers to employment such as access to childcare, health care and education.

"That type of comment [from Cadieux] shows a really fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be poor, and also a really fundamental misunderstanding of the job market," Meades said.

B.C.'s welfare rates inadequate, CCPA says

Seth Klein, director of the CCPA, says one thing the government could do right away to alleviate poverty is increase basic welfare rates, which have been frozen since 2007.

"If you're on social assistance, you're not just below the poverty line, you're thousands of dollars below the poverty line," Klein said. "You're lucky if you're at half the poverty line."

Klein says a comprehensive strategy should also include measures to address affordable housing, child care, education and health care, including mental health.

Meades said reducing poverty saves money overall — emergency rooms are used less often, he said, as is the justice system.

But Meades says it shouldn't even be a question of expenses at all.

"These are your neighbours," Meade said. "These are people that you live next door to that you walk past every day when you go to buy a cup of coffee that are rough sleeping and are finding it hard to make ends meet, and they need support of their government."

"If that's not government's job, I just don't know what is."

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition