By Dan Clement
President & CEO
Published in the online edition of the Toronto Star Oct 1, 2019.
There isn’t a single community in Canada immune to poverty. Yet as election day approaches, party platforms are virtually mum on the issue. With poverty reduction legislation now in place as a foundation, the next federal government — and all those that follow — are required by law to make progress against poverty.
For most, poverty is an uncomfortable reality we’ve come to accept as a part of our society. But those who have lived with poverty know that it is ever present in your life — the choice between rent and food on the table, the fear of unforeseen expenses you can’t meet, the inability to give your children the same experience as others.
When we talk about poverty, we are really talking about the “opportunity gap” — we all have potential; we don’t all have the same opportunity to fulfil it. Tackling poverty is about building hope — a belief in the potential of all Canadians.
Poverty is a driver of the opportunity gap in this country. It can be uncomfortable to talk about. It can seem too complicated to address. But poverty has no place in a resource-rich, compassionate country like Canada. Our failure to eliminate poverty is socially and economically unacceptable.
From a purely economic standpoint, poverty weighs heavily on Canada’s capacity to sustain economic growth. Broader trends in globalization and technology continue to create greater income inequality. We have to be prepared to help people transition to new and emerging industries. We need to ensure a strong social safety net. We must be committed to education to close the opportunity gap for all of Canada’s children and youth.
The good news is we now have the lowest poverty rate in our history, and a federal poverty reduction strategy with targets and timelines, including reducing poverty by 50 per cent by 2030. But we must ask ourselves if we are aiming high enough with a target that is the minimum of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal on poverty. A 50 per cent reduction will still leave more than two million Canadians in poverty and drain billions of dollars from public coffers. Canada can surely be more ambitious and set its sights on eradication.
Modern government policy must be proactive. For those seeking federal office on Oct. 21, it’s time to make the eradication of poverty in Canada a policy priority. Doing so will focus our collective efforts on removing the barriers that keep so many from participating in our economy and having the quality of life that is possible here.
At United Way Centraide, we are in deep — in more than 5,000 communities across Canada. Our work shows that through tenacity, collaboration and evidence-based community investment, we can achieve lasting change and impact on poverty. In 2018 alone, more than a million individual donors, business and labour partners, and volunteers helped raise over half a billion dollars to support vital community programs and services.
We know that the billions spent today on treating the effects of poverty are better spent in removing barriers and creating opportunities to lift people out of poverty and preventing it tomorrow. Vital investments in affordable housing and child care, accessible health and community services, better training to align with labour market needs, and strong, modern income security programs can make poverty a distant memory.
All parties have a responsibility to build anti-poverty commitments — driving progress toward eradication — into their platforms. We need a federal partner ready to roll up its sleeves and dig in to the roots of poverty through investments that accelerate progress on the poverty reduction and housing strategies. When we remove barriers, we can ensure every person in every community has the opportunity to reach their full potential.