The federal government has announced a national strategy to slash Canada’s poverty rate in half by 2030, but pledged no new funding or programs and provided few details on how it would reach that goal.
Progress will be measured using Canada’s first official poverty line, announced Tuesday alongside the strategy, which assesses the yearly income needed to cover basic living necessities. As of 2015, an estimated 4.2-million Canadians lived below that level, which varies by region but averages out to $37,542 for a family of four.
Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the new poverty line will guide federal policies. He noted the government set aside $22-billion for poverty reduction from 2015 to 2019.
“The fight against poverty needs to be guided by evidence, not by partisan ideology, and that means having common language and data,” Mr. Duclos said during an event at a textile factory in Vancouver.
The government said it would also establish a National Advisory Council on Poverty to advise Mr. Duclos’s ministry and publicly report on progress.
Data will be published annually to show progress and give government, academics and others insight into “what is working and what needs to be changed to meet these ambitious targets,” Mr. Duclos said.
A 20 per cent reduction by 2020 translates to about 900,000 people and a 50 per cent reduction by 2030 to 2.1-million, according to government estimates.
The poverty line will be calculated using what’s known as the Market Basket Measure: The combined costs of goods and services – such as shelter, food and transportation – that individuals and families require per year to meet basic needs and achieve a modest standard of living.
The cost of this basket is adjusted to reflect the varying costs of its items in 50 communities across Canada. A family or individual that does not have enough money to purchase this basket is considered to be living in poverty. For a family of four, that line ranges from about $32,871 in parts of Quebec to $40,777 in areas of Alberta.
Statistics Canada has several ways to track low-income people that are often cited as informal poverty lines, though the agency has cautioned that they aren’t designed to measure poverty. One is the low-income measure, which identifies people and families who earn half the national median income. The after-tax low-income threshold in 2015 for a family of four was about $44,000.
Census data show 4.8-million Canadians were considered low-income in 2015, up from 4.3-million in 2005. The percentage of the population in that category increased slightly over the same period to 14.2 per cent, from 14.
A proposed Poverty Reduction Act would enshrine the council, targets and poverty line into law.
John Millar, vice-president of the Public Health Association of BC and a representative of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, said he was pleased the government adopted the Market Basket Measure for its poverty line calculations, which allows for geographic disparities, and committed to public reporting.
However, he noted the strategy is lacking in detail.
“I’m very optimistic about it – I’m supportive of it – but I’m always pushing for more,” said Dr. Millar.
Canada Without Poverty (CWP), a national anti-poverty and human rights organization, said the strategy is the realization of Canada’s “strong anti-poverty movement” and provides a solid starting point for ongoing work.
Harriett McLachlan, CWP’s interim deputy director, said the organization was particularly glad to see mention of an accountability mechanism.
“We look forward to further details of the mechanics of the [National Advisory Council on Poverty], in particular whether it will be independent from the government, have authority to make decisions and receive adequate funding,” Ms. McLachlan said in a statement.
Conservative critic Karen Vecchio said her party supports setting realistic targets and that the market basket is a good measure.
“However, it’s a shame that the strategy announced today was nothing more than an election campaign announcement that focused mainly on coordinating funding already allocated and the creation of a National Advisory Council on Poverty,” Ms. Vecchio said in a statement.
“Canadians need concrete action on poverty reduction.”