Binkley - How to rid Canada of poverty


How to rid Canada of poverty

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

14 October 2011 OTTAWA Canada Without Poverty (CWP) has set out a simple action plan for governments to help low income Canadians without derailing plans for balanced budgets and economic recovery.

In a recent presentation to the Commons finance committee, it said the federal government should “set targets and timelines for poverty reduction and elimination and study all fiscal mechanisms, federal as well as intergovernmental, available to help reach these targets.

“We envision poverty eradication being reached through collaboration among governments, businesses and civil society,” Executive Director Rob Rainer told the MPs. “Policies, legislation and programs will exist to ensure sufficient income, employment and social supports for everyone. Canada will have built a strong social foundation, such that everyone can pursue opportunities for achievement and fulfillment, embrace the responsibilities of citizenship and community opportunities, and live with a sense of dignity.”

CWP isn’t a collection of whimsical do-gooders. Its board members all have lived in poverty at some point. “We are supported by individuals and families and by business, labour, faith-based and foundation organizations,” Rainer says. “We do not rely upon and rarely pursue government funding.”

The organization has five Honorary Directors who provide advice based on their deep knowledge of the problem, of public policy, and of the institutions and mechanisms of government. They are former prime minister Joe Clark, former MPs Monique Begin and Ed Broadbent, jurist Louise Arbour and former First Nations leader Ovide Mercredi.

So how bad is poverty in Canada?

Food Banks Canada reported that in March 2010, 867,948 Canadians turned to food banks for food security – the highest level of food bank usage ever.

Statistics Canada data shows that one in five children lived in a low-income household in 2009 – 20 years after Parliament pledged to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. One in three of these low-income children had at least one parent who worked full time throughout the year and still lived in poverty.

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada estimates that four out of five women in prison are there for poverty-related crimes. The cost of keeping one woman in a federal prison amounts to some $334,000 per year.

A 2010 McMaster University study found a 21-year difference in life expectancy between people living in the poorest neighborhood and the wealthiest neighborhood of Hamilton.

Many people are poor only for a portion of their lives.

Rainer says Canada’s economic recovery and prosperity, and the strength of its state of public finance, depend heavily on the health and well-being of its people. Poverty – the overarching determinant of health and a critical determinant of crime – undermines the nation’s economic and fiscal well being. Sick people work less, die younger and draw heavily on health care systems.

Desperate people sometimes turn to crime, drawing heavily on criminal justice systems.

Success in health promotion and in crime reduction will strengthen Canada’s economy and improve public finance, he notes.

“A team of economists, including Don Drummond, former Chief Economist at TD Canada Trust, determined in 2008 that poverty costs Canada $72 to $86 billion per year (about $2,500 per household), factoring health care system, criminal justice system and economic productivity impacts.

“In this context, Canada Without Poverty urges you to see that an effective strategy on crime must embrace a poverty reduction and elimination agenda, to truly ensure the human right to security of the individual, from violence, theft etc. This means supporting people with their right to food, housing, education and so forth. They are all part of the crime reduction agenda.”

Among the possible measures the government could take is expanding on Canada’s existing system of basic income guarantees which more than anything have reduced poverty somewhat, notably for seniors, Rainer said.

“Millions of people live in poverty today, while millions more are highly vulnerable to becoming poor, particularly now in these troubled economic times,” he adds. “The good news is that by making the prevention, reduction, and elimination of poverty one of the highest public priorities—we urge within the top three priorities—multiple benefits will flow back to us all.

“Simply put, ending poverty has the most compelling business case. We are at a moment in time that has never been better for capturing this opportunity. We are not here to ask for money, but in fact to help save money, for poverty costs 5% to 6% of ourGDP each year.

“Knowing the scale of the cost of poverty to Canada, we are confident the return on investment of poverty prevention and elimination will be massive,” he says. “We also know when governments set targets and timelines, and then let the players figure out the how, great things can be accomplished.

“This government has the opportunity to leave a very great legacy. We, and hundreds of other organizations that have endorsed Dignity for All, the campaign for a poverty-free Canada, are ready to help make that happen.”

Clever bunch is the CWP, using arguments even the Harperites can understand. Might even work.

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