As people of faith, we know that we are called to engage with our world in a way that recognizes and affirms the dignity of all people. We are also called to challenge structures and institutions that create barriers to full life and dignity by working for justice.
In Canada today, it is important that we ask what it means to follow the call to justice. Biblical justice is a call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; to welcome the “stranger” and protect the vulnerable. It means we open our hearts, minds, and spirits to see where there is need, to learn about problems at their roots, and to respond in love and concrete action.
Urgent and strategic action is needed to end poverty in Canada. Fortunately, steps are being taken in the right direction.
Current poverty trends
Right now, over 5 million people in Canada struggle every day to get by. Poverty is a heavy burden to bear. It impacts people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It impacts their sense of identity in the world and their relationship with others, with creation, and with God.
We know, as well, that poverty impacts people differently, and some people experience multiple barriers that make it harder for them to live fully.
Indigenous peoples in Canada have experienced the pain of colonization, residential schools, forced displacement, inter-generational trauma, and ongoing discrimination. This has led to high rates of poverty in many Indigenous communities, along with related challenges. Access to healthcare, education, safe housing and drinking water, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, and other necessities is often lacking for many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities across Canada. It is a national shame.
Racialized communities in Canada often face discrimination that leads to unsafe housing and social exclusion, low-paying and precarious work, and criminalization. Refugees and those with precarious immigration status are incredibly vulnerable to poverty, as they also have to overcome the many challenges of settlement and finding community.
People with disabilities find themselves without the supports that they need to fully participate in their communities. Single mothers often lack the services and supports that would allow them and their children to thrive. Children go to school hungry and find it hard to focus on their educations. Single young adults are often faced with precarious employment that provides little financial security and little relief from overwhelming debt from student loans.
Many others are living from paycheque-to-paycheque, not knowing how they will cover their bills, provide for themselves or their families, and in fear of how they could manage if they lost their job or fell ill. These are incredible burdens to bear, and they require a public justice response.
We know that strong policy impacts people’s lives and makes our communities stronger. As faithful citizens, we must pray and work for Canada to be a country where all can live in dignity.
Learn More: Living Justice: A Gospel Response to Poverty is a CPJ publication that explores worship and action on poverty in Canada. The book provides reflections and workshop activities that examine how faith communities can address issues of justice. Read "Living Justice"
A National Anti-Poverty Plan for Canada
For over a decade, anti-poverty advocates have been calling for federal leadership to end poverty in Canada, particularly through the creation of a national anti-poverty plan. Since 2009, CPJ has co-led the Dignity for All campaign alongside Canada Without Poverty. The campaign has called for a national plan to end poverty that is comprehensive in scope, that is legislated, fully-funded, and includes ambitious targets and accountability mechanisms.
In August 2018, the federal government released “Opportunity for All” Canada’s first federal poverty reduction strategy. This was a major achievement for CPJ, Dignity for All, and all our members and partners who pushed so hard for over a decade to make this happen!
Following the release of the strategy, CPJ and Dignity for All continued to call on the federal government to strengthen the strategy through legislation and increased funding. In November 2018, the federal government tabled legislation for the Poverty Reduction Act, Bill C-87. Again, this was an important step forward.
The federal poverty reduction strategy and the legislation for the strategy include:
• The creation of Canada’s first “Official Poverty Line” –the Market Basket Measure;
• A commitment to reduce poverty by 20% by 2020 and by 50% by 2030 (reductions of 2015 levels as calculated by the Market Basket Measure);
• The creation of an Advisory Council on Poverty that will serve to review and evaluate the federal poverty reduction strategy to ensure targets and timelines are met, to advise the Minister on ways to move the strategy forward, and to engage the public in an ongoing way.
In an effort to strengthen the legislation, CPJ, Canada Without Poverty, and Campaign 2000 lobbied for improvements and amendments by way of an open letter to Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. The letter was signed by over 535 organizations and individuals. In April 2019, Bill C-87 was included as part of the Budget Implementation Act, and CPJ had an opportunity to speak to the Finance Committee in its review of the legislation, sharing our recommendations for improvements.
“Seeing not only ourselves but others as bearers of God’s image, with profound dignity and worth, prevents relationships of injustice in our social, political and economic life.”
– Canadian Council of Churches, Healing Poverty report
The government has a moral obligation to provide leadership in consultation with those most impacted by poverty. This includes implementing structural changes to eliminate poverty and creating new policies that ensure all people have the means to achieve a sustainable livelihood. Our public policy must prioritize human well-being. When it does, we all benefit.
Ask federal candidates to build on our recommendations to strengthen the poverty reduction strategy legislation:
- How will you ensure the poverty reduction strategy and its legislation reflect Canada’s commitment to
end poverty in adopting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
- How will you ensure that the new “Official Poverty Line” for Canada, the Market Basket Measure, is regularly updated so that the measure reflects current costs experienced by those living in poverty?
- How will you ensure that the Advisory Council on Poverty reflects diversity and functions as an accountability mechanism that holds the federal government to its commitments?
- How will you work with Indigenous communities to co-develop initiatives to ensure accountability and implementation of remedies for the distinctive barriers faced by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis persons living in poverty?
Learn More: The “Dignity for All: A National Anti-Poverty Plan for Canada” outlines a human rights framework for a national strategy and provides concrete recommendations for six key policy areas: income security, housing and homelessness, healthcare, food security, employment, and early childhood education and care. Learn more at dignityforall.ca
CPJ’s Poverty Trends report is released every year around October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Poverty Trends provides data on poverty rates in Canada, who is most impacted, and what is happening with poverty rates and policy. Read CPJ’s Poverty Trends 2018
Safe, affordable housing
Safe, affordable housing is a fundamental right. In the midst of a housing crisis in many communities across the country, the urgent need to recognize and respond to this right is clear. The federal government’s National Housing Strategy and the accompanying “right to housing” legislation are important steps forward. It is essential that safe, affordable housing is developed, and that funding is allocated as quickly as possible, with federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous governments working together in ways that respond to their specific needs.
Improved healthcare outcomes
Healthcare remains a top priority for people across the country, as so many do not have adequate care, lack a family doctor, cannot afford prescription medications or dental care, or must wait for important medical treatments, including for mental health and addiction crises. A national pharmacare plan is being explored by the existing federal government, which could provide some relief. We must ensure, however, that Canada’s health care system continues to be strengthened, particularly through recognition of the social determinants of health in legislation and enforce the Canada Health Act.
Good food and nutrition
Good food and nutrition are the building blocks for health and well-being. They are also essential for bringing people together. Canada’s new national food policy, “A Food Policy for Canada”, is a place to build on to ensure school children have access to healthy food; food security, affordability, and culturally appropriate food is available in northern and remote Indigenous communities; and to ensure there are no food deserts in communities across the country.
Sustainable jobs, not precarious work
More and more people across the country are having a hard time finding full-time permanent jobs. As a result, they are forced to obtain precarious, low-wage jobs with little security. The call for governments, organizations, and businesses to provide a living wage is growing, as people find it impossible to manage on minimum wage, often needing to work multiple jobs to get by each month. In addition, government support of work must be forward-looking – by providing support for training and businesses that contribute to essential social needs, including the need for a just transition toward clean energy sources.
A range of income security measures is needed to address shortfalls in income, due to barriers to adequate work or inadequate wages, or due to unmanageable costs, including unaffordable housing and childcare. Over the past several years, the federal government made investments in the Canada Child Benefit, Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, the Canada Workers Benefit, and Employment Insurance. There remain income security gaps, particularly for single working-aged adults and people living with disabilities, that could be addressed by a focused Guaranteed Livable Income.
Universal, affordable, and high-quality childcare
Childcare is unaffordable in so many communities across the country. This often means women do less paid work or have to put off further education that would benefit them and their children. The federal government has provided some support for childcare nationally, but universal, affordable, and high-quality childcare is essential to support children's well being, women’s social and economic engagement, and to support families and communities.
ASK FEDERAL CANDIDATES:
- How do you plan to ensure that Canada’s poverty reduction strategy meets our commitment to the international target to end poverty in Canada by 2030?
- What comprehensive improvements will you make to the poverty strategy to address income security and precarious work?
- Will you prioritize investments in affordable housing to address the national housing crisis?
- How would you ensure that families in Canada have access to affordable and nutritious food?