Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


October 4, 2018

Poverty Reduction Strategy Reaches Second Reading

BILL 39 —POVERTY REDUCTION 
STRATEGY ACT

Hon. S. Simpson: First, I move that the bill now be read a second time.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act will require the development of a poverty reduction strategy to achieve targets and timelines and to reduce the rate of poverty in British Columbia.

This is a historic piece of legislation. I know I spoke in this House for the first time about these issues in 2005. I think it was in 2011 that I first introduced a private member's bill to legislate a poverty reduction strategy in British Columbia. That wasn't successful. I know my colleagues on this side, when we were sitting in opposition, on numerous occasions reintroduced that legislation for a poverty reduction strategy in a number of forms.

We know, broadly in the community, that there has been a call for a poverty reduction strategy to be legislated in British Columbia and for a plan to be put forward to implement that strategy as we move forward. The call has been for a plan that established targets and timelines that were measurable for how we will reduce poverty and prevent poverty in British Columbia.

Today British Columbia has about the second-worst poverty rate in the country. According to the latest statistics available, which is the 2016 market basket measure produced by Stats Canada, there are 557,000 people who are living in poverty in our province, and 99,000 of those are children. So 12 percent of our population.

We know that over half that number, or at least about half that number, are working poor. They're people who have a paycheque coming into the house, and they can't make ends meet. We know that if you have a disability, if you are Indigenous or if you are a recent immigrant, you are two to maybe three times more likely to be on that list than if not. And as I said, we have almost 100,000 children living in poverty in our province, and we know that poor kids means poor families.

The challenge is: how do we begin to address this? These are alarming statistics. I would imagine and expect that these are alarming statistics for every member of this House. They're statistics that no member of this House can be happy about. Legislating a poverty reduction strategy, I believe, helps to get us there. 

This piece of work that we're talking about today, this act that we're talking about today…. 

Some people say it's enabling legislation because it gives us the tools to put a plan in place and to see how that plan will evolve. I consider it, as much or maybe more so, to be commitment legislation. It's legislation that, in very clear terms, makes a commitment for this ministry and for the government — this government, governments moving forward — to take poverty seriously.

It's a commitment to embrace the challenge of addressing poverty and addressing poverty in a number of ways — to deal with the questions of affordability, to begin to bring those numbers down but also to look at how we create opportunity for people moving forward, to participate in the economy, to be engaged in the economy.

It's how we develop a strategy of social inclusion that brings more people to the table and for those people who are struggling and who are living poor to be able to fully participate in our society and to not face the alienation that comes with the stigma of poverty.

The numbers are incredibly inordinate. We know the numbers of Indigenous and First Nations people who are living in poverty. When you have 5 or 6 percent of the population that's Indigenous and 35 or 36 percent of your poverty list is First Nations, we're doing something wrong. So how do we make reconciliation be about helping to address those issues and working with First Nations leadership, with friendship centres and with others to address those issues as we move forward?

The other thing that we know is that this has to be a government-wide initiative. If this is an initiative of my ministry, it's not going to be successful. It has to be an initiative of government. As I noted, there are 557,000 people who are living in poverty. A little bit less than 200,000 of those are clients of my ministry. So that says the majority of people who are struggling with poverty aren't involved with the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. They're the working poor. They're senior citizens. They're kids, young people who have not been but may very well some day be experiencing a relationship with my ministry. But they're not today. It's a large number.

We have 100,000 people on PWD — persons with disabilities — benefits. But there are about 330,000 working-age adults in this province who self-identify as having a disability, and many, many of them are struggling, and many of them who are struggling are not directly involved with my ministry. So it becomes a government-wide initiative.

We know that many — and I'll speak about this in a minute — of the things that we've done since coming to power have been about focus on addressing this issue and moving forward with aspects of what will be incorporated in the plan — not waiting for the plan, but moving and taking action now. And we'll talk about those in a minute.

When we look at poverty reduction, many people will look at it and say: "This is a social issue. It's about dealing with a social justice matter." That's true, but this is also very much an economic issue, and it has to be seen as an economic issue.

When I talk to business groups…. I've been travelling and talking to local chambers of commerce about how we generate employment opportunities for persons with disabilities and others, and talking to business groups about this, the Business Council, the chamber and others. I talk about the important economic value of addressing poverty, about an initiative that was first put forward, I know, a number of years ago by the Business Council and the chamber, where they talk about shared prosperity.

Those two organizations — the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and the B.C. Business Council — have talked a lot about shared prosperity. It's an initiative that I very much concur with, and I spoke to their leaders about how we make that work and how we weave that into the work that we're doing in my ministry.

This is a wealthy province. There are many, many people, lots of people, doing very well, but we know there's 12 percent — probably more than 12 percent, but 12 percent identified — in poverty who are facing challenges. How do we share that prosperity?

I know that the business leaders in this province, the vast majority of them, are prepared to embrace that and say: "We want to be part of the discussion on how to do that." That's got to be part of the work that we do, and that will be part of the success of the plan. It's about employment. It's not good enough.

We can meet our targets and timelines that we put in this plan, and we can get the single mom with a child to $28,000 a year in income, which will clear the poverty line, but just. It's not good enough to just get them there and say: "Okay, well, we're done with you now." We have to meet the challenge of saying: "How do we give that mom, who has escaped violence with her child, the opportunity to know that she can get the training that she needs?" The door can be open for an employment opportunity, and not so far down the road, she's not living on $28,000 a year, but she has a good-paying income and a future that she can be excited about for her and her child.

That's about breaking the cycle of poverty. A strategy has to be not about getting just to the measure. It has to be about how we break that cycle. That's why, when we set the targets and timelines in this plan — a 50 percent reduction in child poverty in five years, a 25 percent reduction in overall poverty in five years…. We set that challenge there because I know that in terms of breaking the cycle, I am absolutely convinced that we need to focus on young people, on kids, and on creating opportunities for them and their parents to break that cycle in order for them to be able to have those lives that we all want for ourselves and our families and that they want too. We have to figure out how we get there, as we move forward.

The third economic reality of this is a simple equation of net value. If we have people going to work and paying taxes and not needing to rely on government to support them for their basic and fundamental needs, that's a good thing. We're always going to have lots of people who are going to need our help. We're going to have lots of people who are vulnerable. But there are a whole lot of people out there that opportunity is what they need, and if we can create that opportunity, they will be excited to grab it. Their challenge is how they get to that opportunity, as we move forward.

The timing for this…. Maybe just to step back. The reality of this, too, in terms of the work we're doing and the commitment of the government…. This is a piece of work that we as the NDP have been working hard on for a long period of time, but it's also a piece of work that fit very much into the agreement that brought this government into place, and that is the agreement with the Green caucus. It is the CASA agreement.

If you read that agreement, you'll know that what we've done here, in fact, is part of that agreement, which says that it's to design and implement a provincewide poverty reduction strategy that includes addressing the real causes of homelessness, including affordable accommodation, support for mental health and addictions and income security. It's part of that agreement as well, and I'm excited that the Green caucus wanted this in the CASA agreement. It reinforced the importance of this initiative for me.

As we move forward and look at how we address these, we have other obligations to meet. In the legislation, we speak specifically to an acknowledgment of reconciliation, to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

As we went through the consultation around poverty that we completed, we talked to about…. In the formal consultation, we had 28 sessions around the province. We talked to about 8,500 people, the majority of whom, about 60 percent, are living poor today.

We also had the opportunity in that conversation to talk to key organizations, including the leadership council, the friendship centres, the Métis Nation, and to talk about how we move forward as part of this plan, not just the poverty reduction strategy and the poverty plan as it will unfold in the coming months but also a track of that that is respectful of and focused on the cultural differences and realities for First Nations people.

That becomes particularly important when you look at the inordinate numbers of First Nations who are struggling with poverty and the complex issues that revolve around poverty as compared to the general population.

I'm proud of the work we've been able to do with the friendship centres. We've worked closely with the friendship centres across the province as well as with other First Nations leadership groups — the friendship centres as service providers, the leadership groups — involved them in these conversations, but we know there's more work to do there. The commitment is that work will unfold as we see how, in practical terms, a poverty reduction strategy becomes a piece of reconciliation moving forward. What are the links and the connections we have to make? We will work hard to make that work. 

The requirement of the legislation is that we have a plan released before the end of the fiscal year on March 31, 2019, and that that plan be updated every five years. The plan will commence as of January, formally, for the purposes of the target and timeline. The reason for that, of course, is that there are budget implications to this work and to meeting these targets and timelines. Most appropriately, we will incorporate those into the overall budget discussions for government. 

Annual reports will be required during this on an annual basis. We will commence next year. The first annual report will come by October 1, 2020, a little more than a year out from that, to allow that. That's a report that will talk about the actions that were taken based on the plan, the effect of those actions on people who are living in poverty and what progress has been made on key targets in the legislation and in the plan. 

In addition to that, the legislation establishes an advisory committee with a number of key groups that must be represented on that committee. That committee will have the opportunity to have commentary in that report and to speak to the work that government has done — to speak to the plan, to speak to the successes of the plan, to speak to the shortcomings of the plan. Those comments will be independent comments and will be incorporated so everybody can understand views that are not exclusively those of the government. 

The targets and timelines are, for many people, the core of this bill. We identified two five-year targets in the plan. The first is for a 25 percent reduction in overall poverty in our province. Based on the current numbers, the 557,000 people, that means 140,000 people being taken out of poverty, using Canada's official poverty line, now the market basket measure, as was identified in the federal plan that was released recently. 

The bill also targets a 50 percent reduction in the rate of poverty for children. In 2016, the latest data we have, 99,000 children under the age of 18 lived in families with incomes under the poverty line. We know that poor kids are poor families. A 50 percent reduction in the poverty rate would move some 50,000 children out of poverty by 2024, the completion of the five-year period. 

So we're looking here at 140,000 people as the base commitment that we have made over the five years. This won't be an easy target to meet. We have a pretty good sense of how we will get there and how we will achieve this. It will be meaningful for people, and it will be meaningful moving forward. 

The other issue that will be dealt with in poverty, around this, of course, is around issues of depth of poverty. We haven't mandated a target for that. It is more complex in some ways. But that is the measure…. The difference between breadth and depth? The breadth of poverty says how many people are below the poverty line. The depth of poverty says how far below that line people are. 

In the case of children, we have the worst depth of poverty numbers in the country. Deep poverty is considered to be at least 50 percent of the way below the poverty line. We have significant challenges around depth of poverty. That is not an easy matter to deal with. 

The bill requires the government to consider both of those issues: breadth and depth. The amount of people below the line who are living with the challenge of depth — that's probably our most challenging issue, all in all.

The other thing that the bill does is it acknowledges groups of people who are more likely to experience poverty. We have identified the list of those who face the challenges most explicitly and from what we heard in the consultation process. I've already said that Indigenous people, those with disabilities, recent immigrants are the most likely to face that.

We also know that rural communities…. And it was very insightful to have taken the 28 trips and meetings and consultations around the province. It was to ensure, also, that this didn't become a Metro Vancouver, south Island initiative. We heard about poverty in rural communities.

The challenges are different than in urban areas, and they will require difference approaches. What we know about this plan is it isn't going to be able to be a one-size-fits-all. There are initiatives that we will be able to apply across the board, but the plan is going to need to be nimble enough to be able to get at the realities of different communities that face different challenges. The work that's ongoing now is to refine what that looks like, heading towards the plan in February.

As I said before, poverty incomes for people…. The affordability gap is a critical issue, but poverty isn't only about income. During the consultations, we heard that from a lot of people who talked about all the factors that make it hard for them to break the cycle of poverty. Whether it's affordability, employment, supports for children and families that they don't have, we heard about how difficult it is. We heard about social alienation.

I think back to…. I grew up in the Downtown Eastside in a housing project on welfare with my mom and sister. In my first campaign in 2005, I was knocking on doors in one of the B.C. Housing projects in my constituency, and I ran into three people who were my peers at Raymur housing project. One of them was now taking care of their grandkids. This was 70, 80 units, not a big development. I ran into three people that I'd grown up with who were living there, all still living in poverty. Their kids had been in poverty, their grandkids, probably.

They were good people. They weren't bad people. They were smart people. They could not figure out how to break that cycle. Their kids didn't break it, and the chances are pretty good that their grandkids won't break that cycle. So the challenge for us is to figure out: how do we help people to get at that cycle and break that cycle as we move forward?

We heard a lot about social inclusion. We heard about people who felt alienated from what's going on. We heard about people who said: "I'd love to be able to go to Starbucks and have coffee with my friends, but I can't afford a $5 cup of coffee, so I stay home and watch TV. I don't go out and engage, and my confidence erodes."

As we move forward, we're going to take what we learned from that process and from those bigger issues. That means that we need to address the questions of affordability of goods and services and housing. We need to look at the opportunities for people to move out of poverty, and we need to look at the inclusion of people living in poverty in communities. The bill addresses the need to do that. I'm hearing that from the advisory forum that I have in place, who are giving me that message as well.

I spoke about the advisory committee that gets struck under the auspices of this bill. That's a body that will provide a touchstone for me, as the minister, to be able to work to move forward. So we're heading there. We know that as we move forward to the plan, there will be a lot of work to do.

I want to assure people that we as a government have not waited on the poverty reduction strategy and the poverty plan to take action on this issue. You'll know that the government, since coming to power in 2017, has taken a range of actions that very much are part of a poverty reduction strategy. 

It's the $6.6 billion investment in housing over the next ten years that includes $734 million to fund safe and secure places for women and children who are fleeing violence and abuse and almost $300 million to build the 2,000 modular units that are fully subscribed now to ease the pressures on homelessness, which include 24-7 support services. And 2,500 new supportive homes for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness were also announced.

In addition: closing the renoviction and lease loopholes through the residential tenancy branch and providing new protections for renters moving forward, as well as enhancing both SAFER and the rental assistance program to allow those people who are in the private market but struggling with the affordability of rent to be able to get by.

A critical piece: the first new, significant social program in British Columbia in a couple of decades, the child care program — a $1 billion investment in the child care program to ensure that people can afford child care. We know, from all aspects, that one of the keys to our success is giving people — particularly, single moms with kids — the opportunity to go and get training, to go to work. That means being able to afford child care.

This child care initiative is very broad. One of the most exciting pieces for me is that families earning less than $45,000 a year will be able to receive free child care.

We have invested in children and families: $23 million of additional and ongoing funding and supports for women and children fleeing violence; $26 million to expand legal aid services, including Indigenous and family law; as well, $10 million for new family dispute resolution; $30 million for agreements with young adults who are aging out of care — to support that; and of course, the 50 percent — next year to be 100 percent — cut in MSP premiums to ease the pressures there.

We've also invested money in PharmaCare, in reducing ferry rates — and certainly for seniors. And of course, for those people who travel back and forth across the Port Mann and the Golden Ears, they're saving upwards of $1,500 a year on the elimination of tolls.

In my ministry, we invested over a three-year period about $750 million to provide the $100 increase in rates, to increase earning exemptions and to put a transportation supplement in place for persons with disabilities. And we've invested $100 million in eliminating tuition for adult basic education and English language learning, for providing tuition support for former youth in care, for reducing interest rates on student loans and for an additional investment in Indigenous skills training.

I'm very excited that after all of these years, we're able to get this piece of legislation before the House. I'll be even more excited when we get this piece of legislation passed. But it's only the beginning to get this done. This is about us being able to enact this, to bring it forward. And as I said, it is not my ministry's initiative; it's our government's initiative.

It's working with the federal government, it's working with Indigenous government, it's working with community, it's working with business and, together, reducing the levels of inequality and of poverty in this province and giving more hope and opportunity for those 557,000 people who are looking to have their lives affected and changed.

Hon. Speaker, I look forward to hearing the debate on this bill in the House. I look forward to the discussion. I'm very hopeful that we're going to have strong support on all sides of the House for this bill. I'm hoping we're going to have strong support and the strong commitment and endorsement that we need to take action moving forward.

Then let's get on with the job. I'm excited about it. I know the Premier and our government are excited about it. We know it's not easy. We go into this with our eyes open, but we are committed to making the changes to make people's lives better in real ways and to give them hope that they have not felt for a long, long time.

https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/41st-parliament/3rd-session/20181004pm-House-Blues

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