Here’s what Canada’s first national anti-poverty plan needs

By Darlene O'Leary, Liz Majic

Originally published in The Hill Times.

By Darlene O’Leary and Liz Majic

The time is long overdue for Canada to eliminate poverty.

The federal government is set to launch the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy (CPRS) in the next few weeks. For anti-poverty groups awaiting the release of the country’s first national plan to address poverty, it is a momentous occasion and the result of years of tireless work. For the 4.8 million people living in poverty in Canada, it is a sign of hope a long time in the making.

The Trudeau government announced its intention to create a national plan in 2015, but the idea is far from new. On numerous occasions, the United Nations has instructed Canada to work towards fulfilling its human rights obligations, including the right to an adequate standard of living, by implementing such a strategy. In addition, Canada has committed to eliminating poverty by 2030 through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Federal leadership in developing a national poverty reduction strategy provides a new opportunity to make significant strides towards meeting these goals. But simply launching a plan isn’t enough.

In 2015, the Dignity for All campaign, co-led by Citizens for Public Justice and Canada Without Poverty, released a model anti-poverty plan after several years of intensive consultation. People with a lived experience of poverty and activists from across Canada recommended that an effective national anti-poverty plan must be:

Comprehensive. The strategy must involve integrated policy in a minimum of six areas, including income security, housing, and homelessness, health care, food security, employment, and early childhood education and care. This must include a whole-of-government approach for departmental coordination, as well as coordination with provincial/territorial and municipal strategies.

Rights-based. People with lived experience of poverty, anti-poverty groups, and community organizations must be engaged in an ongoing way in the further development, implementation, and evaluation of the CPRS. The plan must address the most urgent needs immediately, particularly for those highly marginalized, including Indigenous communities, new immigrants and refugees, single-parent families, children, people living with disabilities, and seniors. It must also set strong targets and timelines with a goal of ending poverty in Canada.

Legislated. The strategy requires federal anti-poverty legislation that includes accountability mechanisms for review and evaluation, based in human rights. This would include reinstating the National Council of Welfare, or a similar body, to provide strong, data-driven research and policy recommendations, and establishing a national commissioner to oversee a process of review and public reporting.

Fully funded. Adequate funding commitments must be made to support a robust and responsive strategy. This includes a plan for tax reform to support income equity, along with increased and targeted funding through the Canada Social Transfer to support provincial/territorial poverty reduction strategies.

Whatever form the CPRS takes, the work of the anti-poverty movement will not be done once it is released. However, this could be a chance for a government that has prioritized the middle class in its budgets and language to shift its focus where it should be: to people who are living in poverty.

The federal poverty reduction strategy is an important step in the work to eradicate poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. Now is the time for the federal government to take this opportunity to lead and set Canada on a course to end poverty once and for all.

  • Darlene O'Leary

    Darlene O’Leary has followed the path of social justice for many years, leading her to work in the areas of refugee resettlement and international development, as well as in an academic setting as a researcher, writer, and professor in the fields of theology and ethics. Darlene has a Ph.D. (Theology) from Saint Paul University in Ottawa. Her dissertation focused on ethics and economics in the context of Canadian Catholic social ethics and the work of Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan. She served as the Executive Director of Galilee Centre, an Oblate retreat centre in Arnprior, Ontario, where she managed operations and programs, including a Spirituality and Social Justice Program. Darlene recently completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship with the University of Prince Edward Island, Faculty of Education, which involved research on Inuit Educational Leadership, guided by the inspiring women who have taken part in the UPEI Master of Education (Nunavut) program. Darlene has been an active member of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, serving on the National Council for several years as the PEI representative. Currently, Darlene lives in Ottawa with her husband, Digafie, and their dog, Che.

  • Liz Majic

    Liz Majic is a legal outreach and education coordinator at Canada Without Poverty. Darlene O’Leary is a socio-economic policy analyst at Citizens for Public Justice.

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