British Columbia·FACT CHECK

Softwood lumber and child poverty: Were Clark's debate claims accurate?

B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark's claim that her party has reduced child poverty by 50 per cent is based on an outdated and invalid statistic, say researchers behind The Child Poverty Report Cards in 2016 and 2017.

B.C. Liberal leader 'cherry-picking' an 'unreliable' child poverty statistic, says expert

B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan spar over selective facts. (B.C. Broadcast Consortium)

B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark's claim during Wednesday's debate that her party has reduced child poverty by 50 per cent is based on an outdated and invalid statistic, say researchers behind the Child Poverty Report Cards in 2016 and 2017.

"She is cherry-picking a conveniently out-of-date stat that is unreliable," said Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.

The B.C. Liberals are citing one of three Statistics Canada measures of low income, called the low income cut-off (LICO).

However, a University of British Columbia professor of economics said the LICO measure is just one yardstick.

"Statistics Canada has three measures of poverty, one of the measures, LICO, shows a 50 per cent improvement since 2003," said UBC's Kevin Milligan.

"The statement is true, but there is great debate about which measures should be considered," said Milligan.

The green line is the LICO statistic Christy Clark chose to use, showing the sharpest drop in child poverty if you measure between 2006 and 2014. (Kevin Milligan/UBC Economics)

Statistic based on outdated costs

Montani says it's unreliable because it's an estimation of poverty based on what families paid 15 years ago for housing, food and clothing.

"The LICO has not been rebased since 1992 and it's in our estimation long out of date and no longer accurate," said Montani, adding that it excludes children on reserves or in institutions.

Adrienne Montani of First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition says the source of Christy Clark's child poverty numbers is an outdated way of measuring poverty and is no longer used because it is not accurate. (First Call photo)

"We all know the cost of housing has gone up radically and the formula that they use has not changed," she said, arguing that child poverty actually got much worse in the first few years after the B.C. Liberals were elected.

"The statistic is from 2001 until today, so it's really comparing it to the year that the NDP was last in power," said Clark at a news conference after the debate.

But that is not accurate either.

The only way to arrive at 50 per cent is to compare 2006 to 2014.

That's according to Milligan's chart — and it was confirmed in a provincial government news release issued just last year.

According to the latest report card on child poverty by the coalition, B.C.'s child poverty rate has only dropped from 24.2 per cent in 2002 to 19.8 per cent today, and is still higher than the national average.

Attacks softwood lumber record

Christy Clark raised another number to try and score points in the debate: zero.

That's how many times she says Horgan raised the issue of the softwood lumber agreement in question period since he became leader.

"He didn't raise softwood lumber even once in three years in question period," said Clark

Horgan responded by attacking Clark's poor attendance record in the Legislature.

"Ms. Clark, if you came to question period more often, maybe I would have had the opportunity to do that," he said.

Horgan also attacked Clark for not going to Washington D.C. to take on President Donald Trump like the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan did to defend their residents' interests on other economic issues.

Christy Clark is nit-picking with John Horgan on the softwood lumber agreement, says political scientist Hamish Telford of the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV photo)

He encouraged voters to check his party's record on softwood and forestry in Hansard, and we did.

On October 7 of 2015, Horgan did rise to speak after Clark about the expiration of the deal — though during ministers' statements, not question period itself.

"I welcome the premier's commitment to ensuring that her full attention and the full attention of her government will be focused after the federal election — in fact, since the expiration of the softwood lumber agreement this week — on ensuring that we do renew that agreement in the interest of workers here and in the interest of our industry," he said. 

In addition, the NDP's forestry critic has asked several questions about the industry in recent years.

"We have asked questions about raw log exports, about softwood lumber and about the challenges in our forest industry all the time," said Horgan.

The attack was not as effective as Clark might have hoped, said one political observer.

Liberal Leader Christy Clark, Green Leader Andrew Weaver and NDP Leader John Horgan shake hands before the debate Wednesday. (BC Broadcast Consortium)

"She is trying to illustrate that he has not been on top of this file, but I think it's only going to appeal to partisans," said Hamish Telford, political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley.

"It certainly is nitpicking and it has now become, thanks to Donald Trump, a major issue in this campaign."

As for Horgan's dig at Clark's record for showing up at question period, her party says she attends twice a week. But the NDP says she's only shown up 17 out of the 51 days the legislature was in session last year, and only seven out of 19 days this year.

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With files from Manjula Dufresne & Michelle Ghoussoub