Our Federal Government Needs to Develop A Poverty Reduction Strategy

by Sharon Murphy, MSW 

In this report, “Behind the Numbers: The Federal Role in Poverty Reduction”, the authors note that days after the 2015 election a Globe and Mail opinion piece pointed out something many antipoverty activists already knew. Every territory and province with the exception of British Columbia has a Poverty Reduction strategy in place or in development. Until now the big missing piece has been the federal government.

This report is quite timely as the Trudeau government just promised such a strategy in their election platform. The most recent international rankings in 2017, shows that of the 41 developed nations, Canada lags behind in several areas related to poverty reduction. The UNICEF report placed Canada near the bottom in terms of global goals to end poverty and hunger.

The problem is we are still discussing the role of the federal government and not actually implementing a poverty reduction strategy. In 2009 the Federal government rejected a Human Rights Council recommendation to establish a poverty reduction strategy. The Canadian government claims that addressing poverty is a provincial responsibility. Much of the current debate centres on the issue of jurisdictional responsibility and many advocates for the elimination of poverty argue that any sustainable plan to address poverty on a national level must come from the federal government. However, the federal government argues that the plan to eliminate poverty is the responsibility of the provinces as laid out in the constitution act of 1867.

Joe Gunn of Citizens for Public Justice, said the Prime Minister’s 2016 mandate letter to Jean Yves Dulcos, the new Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, made a commitment to a poverty reduction strategy which was a welcomed surprise. Canada has worked toward a national anti-poverty plan since 2009. A similar commitment was made in the 2011 liberal platform but there was no mention in the Liberals 2015 Federal election campaign platform.

This leaves anti-poverty activists with several questions like how high on the government’s priority list is this? How soon will the plan be implemented? Joe Gunn believes that the mandate letter could have been framed in a more ambitious manner as a poverty eradication strategy.

The question remains would it have made a big difference.