Nova Scotia

Canada election 2015: Poor overlooked in battle for middle class vote, says group

Federal political parties are pandering to the middle class in this election and ignoring the plight of people living every day in poverty, a Halifax public housing resident said Thursday.

'Poverty just isn't on the radar,' says community activist about issues in this federal election

Members of the Community Advocacy Network and others concerned about the lack of federal election focus on poverty issues held a news conference Thursday in Halifax. (CBC)

Google any of the websites for the three main political parties and you'd be forgiven for thinking this election is only about the middle class.

You will find slogans for middle-class families, middle-class values, middle-class jobs — all aiming to gain those middle-class votes.

On Thursday morning, a few dozen people living on income assistance packed a small, stuffy room on Gottingen Street in Halifax to talk about getting another group into the picture.

"The political parties are cozying up to the middle class and ignoring the plight of people living every day in poverty," said Ann Duffy, a resident of  Mulgrave Park public housing.

"Poverty just isn't on the radar. They have managed to cut lots of funding to non-profits which are a lifeline to the most vulnerable. None are talking about re-instating any of this funding."

About 13.5 per cent of Canadians, or 4.6 million, are poor, according to figures released by Statistics Canada in July. It defines poor as having an income that is half what the average equivalent household earns after tax. This "low-income cut-off line" is defined by Statistics Canada as $21,000 a year for a single person and $42,000 for a family of four.

Few solutions offered

Instead of restoring program funding, the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP are proposing increasing payments to families for child care.

When it comes to helping senior citizens — many of whom live in poverty — the NDP and Liberals are both promising to send Old Age Security cheques at age 65 instead of 67, as well as increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement to the poorest seniors, most of whom are women.

The Conservatives and Liberals would both introduce income splitting for elderly couples. All parties are offering some incentives around making housing more affordable.

None of that excites Wayne MacNaughton, a senior with disabilities.

"I wish we were seeing more about things, about income," said MacNaughton, a member of the Community Advocates Network which hosted the news conference.

"The thing that irritates me the most about the way we do things in this country is that when we talk about poverty, all people want to talk about is programs and services," he said.

Elephant in the room

"They ignore the elephant in the room and the big stain on the carpet: income. People are poor because they don't have enough money. Period."

On Oct. 9 as part of a platform announcement, the NDP committed to a plan to reduce poverty by introducing legislation that will set targets and include regular reports to Parliament.

The plan also proposes to boost the Child Benefit Supplement by $300 million annually, as well as increase Ottawa's contribution to an income tax benefit for people who work but continue to live below the poverty line by more than 15 per cent. The NDP says this plan will be financed by closing a stock option benefit for CEOs.

MacNaughton said he will vote Green in the 2015 election. 

He's not concerned about whether the party wins more than the two seats it now has in Parliament. 

MacNaughton said he's voting Green because it is the only federal political party proposing to scrap provincial welfare payments and federal transfers and replace them with a Guaranteed Annual Income paid directly to Canadians below the low-income cut-off line. 

"It's totally possible, it is totally affordable," said MacNaughton said.

"In the long run, it would save the government money. It's actually costing the government more money right now to keep everybody in poverty than what it would cost to end people's poverty and that's the sad reality."

The election platform released by the Green Party states federal and provincial governments paid a total of $185-billion in income assistance in 2013.

Guaranteed Annual Income proposal

The Greens would retain federal funding only for Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan programs.

Advocates for a Guaranteed Annual Income argue the amount governments spend on health care, particularly mental health, as well as policing and incarceration would drop once the policy was in place. 

But members of the Community Advocates Network in Halifax say that idea isn't getting much traction in the media. There were few members of the media at Thursday's briefing. 

Duffy said no one is going to make noise for the poor unless they do it themselves — and the best place to start is to get out and vote.

"The middle class are being promised the world. They are not that gullible but do vote en masse. This is why they are so precious to all seeking their acceptance, the poor are hardly mentioned," she said.

"We, in this election, need to act and become proactive, showing society we care, we vote. Go do just that. Have a health card and a get a letter or note from the address where you live, that does work. We have the capacity to be as effective as this mighty middle class, we need to get with the program. Go vote."

Advance polls open tomorrow and continue until Monday night.

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