Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


March 30, 2010

Motion to create a BC poverty reduction plan

S. Simpson: I move the following motion. 

[Be it resolved that this House discuss and debate that the BC Government should immediately develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.]

Hon. Speaker, this is a critical issue for British Columbians as we move forward and talk about the challenges of the economy, and as we talk about the challenges and how British Columbians are impacted by that. One of the things we know is that the impact faced by those who live in poverty is one of the most critical issues that we need to address. 

At the last estimate there are about a half a million British Columbians today who live in poverty based on the federal standard, the low-income cutoff. Of those, about 140,000 are children. I would also point out that these are 2007 numbers, the last year that these statistics were available for. I'm sure that as every member would understand, 2007 was a pretty prosperous year in British Columbia in terms of our economy, and times have gotten more difficult. 

We have seen the welfare rolls increase with employables, and we can reasonably expect that those numbers — the half a million, the 140,000 children — have increased. Those numbers are significantly greater than they were before. 

The other interesting thing about this — and it's one of the real challenges — is that these aren't all people who are on income assistance. What we know is that more than half of the people who live in poverty in this province today have a full-time income coming into their homes, but because of the levels of minimum wage, because of the levels of those incomes, people continue to live in poverty. 

The B.C. Liberals have refused to raise the minimum wage since 2001, and that has resulted in the situation that we face today, with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of British Columbians living in poverty. 

The cost of poverty is substantial. While very few provinces, and certainly British Columbia, have not looked at or done any analysis or assessment of the cost of poverty on our society here in British Columbia, that work has been done in Ontario. 

In November of 2008 the Ontario Association of Food Banks, supported by a group of eminent thinkers including people like Judith Maxwell, released a report that looked at the costs of poverty in their province. They determined that somewhere between $32 billion and $38 billion a year, or 6 percent of the GDP of Ontario, is the cost that they face on an annual basis. They've estimated that to be $2,300 per household — what every household pays for poverty in that province. Those costs are covered by additional health care costs, by legal costs and by social assistance. 

In British Columbia we have a very different situation. We have a situation where nobody is responding to that, unlike in Ontario now, where the government of Ontario has moved forward with a poverty reduction strategy, unlike in six provinces across this country where people have moved forward with poverty reduction strategies. 

The other thing we know, when we look at British Columbia and the situation here, is that the National Council of Welfare, a federal non-profit organization that advises the federal government on issues related to welfare, has looked at this question of poverty across the country. 

When they looked across the country, they determined that eight provinces in this country have succeeded in reducing their poverty rates. It says: "Eight provinces reached record low poverty rates in 2007. Only Ontario and British Columbia did not." This report also showed that no matter what standard you use, British Columbia has the highest poverty rates and has continually had the highest poverty rates in Canada, based on the work of the National Council of Welfare. They look at that whether it be the low-income cutoff or using the market basket measure. No matter which measurement you use, British Columbia has the highest levels of poverty in this country. 

Part of the reason for that is this government's inability and unwillingness to address this and see this as a significant issue. The Minister of Housing and Social Development has refused to acknowledge and doesn't accept the connection between poverty and costs in health care. This is absurd. It's absurd. 

We know those costs will go up. We know that when we look across this country with the assessments that have been done, the difference between visits to hospitals as a percentage between…. For people who are in high-income levels there is about 13 percent visits to hospitals, and about 18 percent for people in low-income levels. There's a significant difference. 

It's time for us in this province to move forward, to put a poverty reduction strategy in place, to join the six other provinces in this country that are moving ahead with poverty reduction strategies — provinces from across the political spectrum. It's time that we had a comprehensive plan that deals with housing, with child care, with training and with income levels. It's time we had a plan that set targets and timelines for this province to bring the rates of poverty in this province down from the embarrassing levels that we have, having more people in poverty per capita than anywhere in Canada. It's embarrassing. It's shocking. 

We need to bring those levels down. It's time for targets and timelines to do that. We need to do it in a transparent way so that every British Columbian can see the efforts that are being made, and it needs to be a legislated response with the force and power of this Legislature getting behind it, putting that in place. 

The Minister of Housing and Social Development rejected a poverty reduction strategy in the last estimates. It's time for this Legislature to tell that minister, to tell the cabinet, to tell the Premier that we as legislators believe that something different should be done, and to provide the advice and direction to the government that it's time for a poverty reduction strategy in British Columbia — one that's effective, one that's comprehensive and one that will actually make us the best place on earth when it takes away and creates opportunity for that half a million British Columbians who live in poverty today. When we do that, we can then actually be proud about where this province stands. 

 

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