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Lessening poverty in Canada: what we learned from the federal election

According to Statistics Canada, one in seven Canadians lives in poverty. Recently, Emeritus Professor Lynda Lange recruited a cross-Canada group of experts to produce a policy audit, with each contributor providing non-partisan and peer-reviewed analysis of party platforms for their potential impact on lessening poverty in Canada. (Photo by Julian Ortiz via Flickr)

According to Statistics Canada, one in seven Canadians lives in poverty. Poverty costs Canada between $72 and $84 billion a year. The issue is more than a measure of income—poverty is almost always a matter of low income combined with social deprivation or exclusion.  And like many other wealthy countries, Canada has seen significant increases in poverty and inequality in the last several decades.

Around the world many feel compelled to play a more direct role in the alleviation of global poverty. Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) is one way that University of Toronto Scarborough faculty have contributed their knowledge and specialized training to make a significant contribution.

Over the course of the recent federal election, University of Toronto Scarborough Emeritus Professor Lynda Lange recruited a cross-Canada group of experts to produce a policy audit, with each contributor providing non-partisan and peer-reviewed analysis of party platforms for their potential impact on lessening poverty.

Writer Shelley Romoff spoke to Professor Lange and UTSC Department of Management Senior Lecturer Gordon Cleveland, one of the contributors, about what the audit tells us we can expect.

How did the Canada Poverty Policy Audit come together?

Lange: The policy audit was done at the invitation of Professor Mitu Sengupta of Ryerson University, who is the director of the Canadian chapter of ASAP. I had recently co-authored another volunteer project, the Global Poverty Consensus Report, and agreed to take the lead. Two previous audits of policy, done in Oceania and the United Kingdom, were the model and the inspiration for this project.  We started with a list of areas of policy, which we circulated to members widely for their input. Then it was a matter of searching for auditors who are considered expert in the areas included. Ultimately, not all of the areas identified could be covered although the most significant policy issues were addressed. Fall term was just starting, so we are very grateful to those nine colleagues and experts who agreed to take time to do an audit.

You looked at early childhood education and care. What is promised by the Liberal Party platform? Is there a distinguishing finding that we can expect action on?

Cleveland: There are two items of the Liberal Party platform that relate to poverty amongst children - their newly designed Canada Child Benefit and federal financial and planning support for early childhood education and care services.

The new Canada Child Benefit builds on the general design of the existing Canada Child Tax Benefit, which has been helpful in providing funds to low and middle income families with children, while not substantially discouraging labour force attachment of parents. But it will be more generous, because it rolls together the funds currently spent on the Universal Child Care Benefit, the Canada Child Tax Benefit and the National Child Benefit Supplement, and adds another $2 Billion per year. The Liberal party platform claims that it will move 135,000 children out of poverty.

On top of this, the Liberal Party platform says that the new government will bring together a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial representatives and representatives from indigenous communities within 100 days to work towards constructing a National Early Learning and Child Care Framework.  This policy framework would presumably guide future developments towards high quality, flexible and inclusive care for families and would be funded as part of social infrastructure.  However, federal funding amounts are unknown and the design of any policy changes is likely to be in provincial/territorial hands.  Whether this funding will contribute to reducing poverty is unknown.

What does the audit tell us generally about the Liberal platform in addressing the issues of poverty and inequality?

Lange: There are two things that can be said, apart from the details of the platform that are found in the Audit itself.  One is that poverty as such, in spite of the extent of it in Canada, was not made an election issue by any of the major political parties.  That is one reason this Audit is useful.  The other thing is that the parties that inspired the highest confidence on the part of auditors that they would lessen poverty—the Liberals and the New Democrats—both believe that government can and should play a role in the reduction of poverty.  The previous government believed quite the opposite.

What are your next steps?

Lange: Clearly it would be wise to follow the new government closely in these policy areas to see if they actually are having a good effect and making life better for people living with poverty.  Further formal steps are undetermined as yet, but those interested are welcome to contact me at lange@utsc.utoronto.ca.

 




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