Nova Scotia

Progressive Conservative bill would require reduction targets for child poverty

The Child Poverty Reduction Act would require the government to set five-year targets for lowering child poverty rates and report annually on its progress.

MLA Brian Comer says annual reporting would provide accurate picture

Brian Comer is the Progressive Conservative MLA for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Brian Comer recalls growing up in Donkin on Cape Breton Island and recognizing early that some of the kids at school came from families struggling to make ends meet.

More recently, he saw even more stark examples of the problem working as a mental health and addictions nurse. "It's something that's always bothered me, to be honest, to a deep level," he said in a recent interview.

As the MLA for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg, Comer has spent several years talking with service groups, trying to find a way to make progress on child poverty rates that have remained stubbornly high in Nova Scotia. The most recent figures available show a quarter of children in the province live in low-income situations.

Comer hopes a bill he tabled recently at the legislature could help lower that number.

Regular reporting provides a clear picture

The Child Poverty Reduction Act would require the government to set five-year targets for lowering child poverty rates and to report annually on its progress.

In working toward the targets, the bill also calls for consultation with organizations representing First Nations, African Nova Scotians, other racialized groups and single mothers.

"Single mothers with infants and young children with lack of childcare is a significant issue I've come across with my conversations with stakeholders," said Comer.

Although the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives releases an annual report card on child poverty rates, Community Services officials are quick to point out each year that the information is based on data from Statistics Canada that is several years old.

Comer said his bill would put an end to that.

"It would allow the conversation between the three levels of government to say, 'OK, let's sit down, let's see where the data actually is and let's have a report that can be tabled every year so we can work together to see if the interventions are being effective.'"

The Community Services Department has not responded to a request for comment on Comer's legislation, and the government has given no indication that it will support the bill, something that would be required for it to pass.

A need for concrete action now

Premier Iain Rankin has said addressing systemic inequality is a priority for him. The 2021-22 budget includes an increase of $100 a month for all adults on income assistance, the largest single increase in the program's history by a large margin.

Comer said the $100 increase is welcomed, but it's not enough for people who are living in poverty. He would like to see an increased focus on helping people access safe affordable housing and the job market.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the province can always benefit from more data on the subject and he thinks setting goals is a good thing, but what is most needed right now is direct action to tackle the problem.

"It's not as though we don't have such measures on the table," he told reporters, referencing his party's call for permanent rent control, a $15 per hour minimum wage and universal affordable childcare.

"We know that median childcare in the [Halifax Regional Municipality] costs $860 a month," he said. "Surprise, we've got poverty in an economy where a third of our people working for wages are working for less than $15 an hour."

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