For all the energy Canadian politicians have devoted to attacking poverty over the decades, they have never worked from consensus definition of the problem. Canada doesn’t have what other countries call an official “poverty line” – an income level below which people are deemed to be in need.
That changed last week when Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Ottawa will set “an official measure of poverty.” Called the Market Basket Measure, it is a calculation of the minimum annual revenue needed to cover life’s basic necessities in 50 communities across the country. The national average works out to $37,542 for a family of four.
Setting the demarcation line for what constitutes poverty is an important step, and it’s good that Ottawa plans to enshrine it in law. We will have a point from which to objectively measure progress, or lack thereof – as opposed to governments moving the goalposts by cherry-picking whatever metric is most politically convenient.
The proposed definition will also help focus government action. Ottawa should be able to use it to design income support and other poverty-fighting measures for the people who need it most; i.e., the millions of Canadians who find themselves below and near the Duclos Line.
There are reasons, though, to be skeptical about the federal government’s plan to assist those people. The Opposition Conservatives note that lumping previously announced budget goodies into a national anti-poverty strategy, as the Trudeau Liberals did last week, gives the effort an electoral sheen. They’re not wrong.
For the document to become more than a precampaign exercise, the government’s proposed National Advisory Council on Poverty, which also will be enshrined in legislation and will report to Parliament on progress made toward meeting targets, should be fully independent.
Mr. Duclos’ goal is ambitious: He wants to reduce the ranks of the impoverished from 12 per cent of the population to 10 per cent by 2020, then 6 per cent by 2030. Now that we can measure success, Canadians deserve to reliably know whether those goals are being achieved.